Words Fail Me

Autumn by Phyllis Koppel


Words Fail Me

Snow is falling in my brain, gentle,
relentless. It starts with a small silence,

a gap
in the easy rhythm of talk. A familiar word fails

to arrive.
Bewildered by the changing landscape,

beginning to be frightened, I push on,
awkwardly: hard to keep up

appearances. Listeners glance away, pretend
not to notice, or supply quick replacements, share

their own stories of missing nouns. Cold comfort
to think this a preparation for death,

a gradual letting go of words, mind,
their interplay, once so full of colour,

like                      those trees in fall, leaves
red, red-gold — what are they called? —

I used to know the Latin name —
now smothered in blank white.

Surely I am not so far from home, have known
these woods since childhood, found

gifts of chanterelles, black trumpets — ah!
I think I recognize a known thing, plunge

grateful hands into                      a drift.


“Words Fail Me” read by Janet Barkhouse


About Janet Barkhouse

Janet Barkhouse attended the National Theatre School of Canada as a teen, and acted professionally (ACTRA, CAEA) for more than a decade before moving to Nova Scotia's South Shore where she lives and writes. Her debut book of poems, Salt Fires (Pottersfield, 2018), follows on publications in journals and anthologies, two chapbooks, and several children's books. She may be reached through janetbarkhouse.mywriting.network. Photo credit: Nicola Davison

About Phyllis Koppel

Phyllis C. Koppel’s short stories have appeared in the juried Toronto Writer’s Cooperative Anthology, volumes 5 and 6, Fish Food Magazine based in New York and the Spadina Literary Review. Her travel logs have appeared in The Baja Times. Her self-published novel, The Story of Two Suitcases, made it to the quarterfinals of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel of the Year competition. Her latest historical novel is set in 17th century colonial México and documents the first successful African slave rebellion in North America. She studied writing at the Humber School of Writers under Wayson Choy and at the UCSD under Alice Walker. She identifies as visible minority, Latina woman who is a permanent resident of Canada. See phylliskoppel.com

One thought on “Words Fail Me

  1. Kelly Bannister

    Absolutely love this poem – the words, the architecture, the intimacy. Thank you Janet.


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