Lifestyle & Culture

Poem: Voices I Hear. August 31, 2015.

August 21, 2016



iStock photo.

I know my authentic voice because it comes to me in the night
when all I want is to fall asleep.
It waits  for this moment when I’m too tired to object or shut it out.
It speaks to me as in a waking dream, telling me truths
it has fetched from deep inside me.
It is smarter than the person I’ve become, whose synapses
no longer make the connections needed to function effectively,
the ones that used to be second nature..
Now they abandon me in the moment before I articulate the profound thought
that flashed through my mind
a second ago
that would have connected the dots of the discussion,
or produced the precise word
that summed up that person’s character flaws.

At night my authentic voice  pulls no punches.
It needs no words to lay fully formed revelations upon my helpless brain.
I can’t resist other than to take a bathroom break and hope the voice
will have lost its patience and gone to visit my sister instead.
I read a New Yorker story and, back in bed,
still thinking about Alice McDermott’s nun,
fall asleep.
In the story, the suicide’s widow names her baby St. Savior,
after the sister who was kind to her.

In my dream, the voice returns.
Just this week it told me these truths:
my new website is like Windows 8, a great  advance over Windows 7.
You know, you could touch its screen to start a task,
not have to hit a key to open a file or folder.
Ah but to find the spot to touch was difficult, impossible in fact for those who needed it most.

My website too makes great advances,
Boasts a dashboard, login required, sophisticated
As our users are not.
Will they change the channel in disgust?
The voice says watch out,
Be forewarned.
Plan now for version 2.

Once a voice saved my life
Or so my mother said.
My  mind then too had its problems
Not due to aging, but to delirium.
In the Kingston Avenue Hospital for contagious diseases
the first few days after contracting polio,
my father’s mother Lena came to me.
I was named for her, my middle name is Leah.
She could have escorted me to heaven, the afterlife I mean.
But she told me to go back, my time wasn’t up.

I obeyed, and lived another 65 years
Or more—I’m still here.
My voice has had its ups and downs,
Been muted in hostile settings
let out in writing
prompted mainly by voices,
thank god for those voices
that refuse to leave my head.

—Barbara Jay

Barbara went from a master’s in 16th-century English literature to a decades-long career in computer programming. She then founded the Justice of the Peace Association and now runs a website called, the association’s national database, which allows prospective brides and grooms to find a JP to officiate at their wedding.

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