Alec holds a receiver to his ear.
He takes his work with him everywhere.
Alec talks so loudly a small starling launches from his beard.
Mabel, deaf, is quiet, her hands motionless in her lap
like two dead mice.
Her skirt is shaped like a bell.
Alec’s legs dangle from the branch—
the shadows they cast look like a primitive language
made to distinguish between man and woman,
between the external and internal ear.
Mabel uncurls her left hand. In it
is a dead man’s ear. The right hand opens
to a mirror. She speaks to the ear and watches
the reflections of her pretty mouth.
Mabel shifts the mirror
to reflect Alec, his mouth
wide and open, his head tilted
back. He’s heard a joke about suffragettes.
She can feel the branch shaking from his laughter.
She knows the three bones in her middle ear should too.
The grubs in the tree’s heartwood
coil at the vibrations. Mabel’s tongue can become
a cochlea. A peach’s fuzz in her mouth,
she knows laughter. She hears it
in every swallow.
Shevaun Brannigan’s work is forthcoming in AGNI and has appeared in Best New Poets and Slice. She is a recipient of a Barbara J. Deming Fund grant and holds an MFA from Bennington College.