Dana Isokawa
Essay on Speaking

A person supposedly speaks sixteen thousand words a day,

meaning the world utters 128 trillion words a day:

612 million Moby-Dick’s, 228 million War and Peace’s,

thousands of I chair here go lettuce oh shit no rice street o’clock’s

across the globe. When I speak a lot in a day,

I feel like a shop at closing time,

ransacked displays of empty crates and trays.

Some days it’s hard to get past two thousand words.

People pay to be silent for weeks,

though one study found 67 percent of men

opted for an electric shock over fifteen—

fifteen—minutes of silence.

Twenty-five percent of women opted for the shock.

I might choose the zing of electricity out of curiosity

though I usually prefer quiet. Even now

when people call on me in groups I feel like

coffee that sloshes out of its cup when a car brakes too fast.

I have to push the self into the audience, rehearse

lines at home for my role as Human in the City.

Is this seat taken? You dropped your subway stop—

If I don’t speak up, others behead my sentences

at the subject and I vanish again,

mistaken for another nowhere. Saying nothing

is like claws scrabbling against a glass tank.

Not that I have anything to say that will

amaze the room, but all it takes is

a few words, then a few more, to join

the chorus of mutterings, the world’s unwieldy

text, even if when I look you in the eye and speak,

you are on another block, down the path,

talking shit about some other day, even if

you are far on to the next shock,

the next astonishment.

Found In Volume 52, No. 06
Read Issue
  • dana isokawa
Dana Isokawa
About the Author
Dana Isokawa lives in New York City, where she edits The Margins.