Home 9 Issue 9 In the Light by Enni Harlan

Enni Harlan, age 15


This poem is a self-portrait of me over the years, and is mostly about my experiences growing up with selective mutism. The poem frequently switches from third person to first person when I refer to myself, because the way I viewed the world was a lot like reading a book about someone else. I heard all this dialogue around me, and it was like I was watching myself, and I had no control over what I said – so I said nothing. It was a long time before I was even able to say my name in class, which is why when I say my name aloud onstage at the end of the poem, it’s such a groundbreaking moment. The poem also mentions my Korean American culture as well as the people in my life who helped me through all of this; my brother and my mom in particular, both of whom held my hand and spoke for me when I couldn’t speak for myself.

In the Light

A little girl with brown braids
          walks into a classroom with alphabet carpeting
                She sees the floor and her Mary Jane shoes
          her mother’s hand holding her own
This is Enni she hears fainter
than the voice of the imaginary girl beside her
               On Wednesday she finds a penny with rust and slides it over the
               desk under her hand thinking that they won’t know what it is
Today it is Sunday, we are going to see Halmoni
What is your name?
But she doesn’t talk
          I thought you were mute until you spoke when the sign fell by the door of the girls’ bathroom
they say
And she hears everything
And I heard everything
watching the world silently like the television Umma rarely turned on
               You didn’t say a word today Enni
          Do you really have selective mutism?
Or maybe you just don’t try

And I reach out and touch the blue foam pyramids that silence the noise from the walls

On a rainy day everyone stands in line to pretend to play the piano because we’ve just seen Fantasia for the third time
On a rainy day the girl who can’t speak plays Bach on the electric keyboard in kindergarten and now they remember
When I leave the piano I’ll wait in the halls for someone to play with me
the way Hugo did before he threw sand in someone’s eyes and fell on the concrete then left the school running and never came back

In third grade she raises her hand and says here
but everyone will call her Annie for three weeks after
Why is your brother so loud when you are so quiet, they say
and I feel stupid for wearing a pink and white headband on the first day of school when they can’t even hear me

I wait in the halls of the medical building
by the therapist’s office
sketching the fire extinguishers in
red boxes on the walls
               I think as I wait for Oppa to come out
maybe I’m Leonardo da Vinci
as long as the boxes of books are full
and the waiting room noise machine is on

When they ask me again if I’m mute
I think maybe
I’ve gone back in time
but the years go faster when you get older
and the chair with the adjustable footrests is gone

I will cry when I read Les Misérables
and you show me how to turn white flour red
On Tuesday you send me to Halmoni’s house with a bag full of lemons to get anchovies for kimchi

It is 2020
I am on a stage
and the lights are above me
I will be playing Chopin Ballade No. 3
My name is Enni Harlan, I say.

My name is Enni Harlan.
I have lived fifteen years
and I think maybe today they will hear me

          On the other side of the light