Special Needs | Paulann Petersen


Special Needs

Special. Because she needn't
sing a note. Her specialty being
unneeded antic gesture—the at times
right-in-rhythm wave and flap of her hands,
the at other times out-of-sync swoop and pump
of her arms, those tilts, those bobs of her head.
Pulses of joy. Her constant ecstatic motion.
A sung note from her, now and again?
Perhaps. No one can tell. 
                                            One wild
smile after another, she holds her place
on the riser's third tier. In the all-girl
Fernwood Middle School Choir
she's a member
in good standing. 
                                Who would say
she doesn't belong? Not the twenty-two
other girls who specialize in keeping
their eyes straight ahead on their director,
on her gesturing arms. They lip-read
their leader's mouth as she swiftly forms
a lyric's words. She models the script
her girls strictly follow. Their part
is to stay aligned with the song, regardless
of outbursts from the girl who attends
no regular classes, the one
needful of special care. 
                                         Between two numbers,
the girl shouts out a bit of needling impatience,
anxious to get to the next number.
The director laughs, quips aloud,
"She's said what's on all our minds!"
Stretching her arms toward her group,
she coaxes them into the first notes
of "I See the Light," while that girl's
upper body jolts into charades
of the lyric. 
                     On cue from their leader,
the twenty-two have given the twenty-third
their gift. They make room for the odd one
by not giving way to her distractions—
the only possible way this
Special Needs girl could,
with their choir, 
                            stand and sing.

                       —Paulann Petersen


One Small Sun, Salmon Poetry, 2019


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