The “E-E-E-E-E-E”

Anne Whitehouse
The sound could be long and drawn out
like a hissing wind—
or short and staccato
like eruptions from the gut—
I don’t know how it started
among us four siblings
but I know how it grew.
It sounded like so many things—
fear, enthusiasm, excitement—
but what it really meant was danger. 
We thought it kept us safe
but in the end
it prevented us from saying
what we wanted to tell each other.
I think we were afraid
we would speak truths
that we could not unsay
about our parents and ourselves,
and love would vanish like evaporation.
And so one of us would go,
e-e-e-e-e-e, and another
would pick it up and carry it
like a round to the next.
The themes and variations
kept us going for years.
It meant everything,
and it meant nothing—
our secret childhood language
unleashed of words—
an unbearable sorrow
without explanation.


Anne Whitehouse is pleased to appear in riverbabble once again. She was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated from Harvard College and Columbia University. Her poetry collections include The Surveyor’s (1981), Blessings and Curses (2009), Bear in Mind (2010), One Sunday Morning (2011), and The Refrain (2012). Whitehouse is also the author of a novel, Fall Love (2001), which will appear in Spanish translation as Amigos y amantes in 2016. Her poems, short stories, feature articles, and reviews have been published in many literary magazines. She is the winner of the 2016 Songs of Eretz poetry award. You can hear her read her story, “Cyclist,” at The Other Stories.

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