Most of us have things about ourselves – how we talk, think, move, or look – that we sometimes wish we could fix. In this week’s poem, the speaker addresses one such thing, her stammer, and allows herself to both accept and mourn each word, “a fledgling who somehow got in / then finds the window shut.”

Betsy Sholl is the former Maine state poet laureate and lives in Portland. She has published eight collections of poetry, most recently “Otherwise Unseeable” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), which won a Maine Literary Award for Poetry.

To My Stammer

By Betsy Sholl

Like the little engine that c-c-couldn’t

pull its heavy load,

like a fledgling who somehow got in

then finds the window shut,

or the stones Demosthenes mouthed,

hoping when he spit them out, you’d fly—

despite all the fixes, you persist.

At least no one’s doing like the Romans

who cut the frenulum,

that tiny bridle holding down the tongue,

or like the French who snipped off its tip

with a small silver guillotine.

Even Freud’s passé, who tried untying

the sack of traumas stuffed deeper than sleep.

Now they take pictures of misfired pistons

inside the brain, and say it has nothing

to do with us, I’m no uptight cat

refusing to blurt my canary out.

But still no fix, Little Word, stuck

behind my lips, building your nest

out of leaf stem, old string and spit.

No way to unstick the window you fly at,

hit glass and fall back,

leaving your shape smudged on the dusty pane.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Betsy Sholl. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

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