The way you listen is as revealing as a candid camera. You’re sensitive, cultured, kind, cheerful. Your schooling is the most important part—you’re basic—yet a part of you easily improved. You know how you sound.

A simple cut, an amusing cord. You surprise many people, sham a regional accent like the darling Southern girl with the high pitch because everyone’s more attractive there. Girls spin into a shriek when you convey, by the sound of your voice, that your family comes from north, away.

You want to sound like the people in your town, a perfect slur, their tongues sleepy and their lips lazy. Every day you condition the unappreciative to listen, as if you might earn value.

Every word, every syllable, every sound is given a chamber with your teeth kept closed while you are talking—the most direct expression of your innermost self. You should be careful. They love the sound of their heritage, the slur and blur, the enclosure, a fault you will correct.

You’ll find, as you practice in front of your mirror, that you look much prettier talking with a drawl. To-mah-to, to-may-to, tu-may-da. You think of others you could change, vocal fidgets, but colloquial speech loses its punch if you use it relentlessly. You’re teased to the point of torture. You start talking in elaborate synonyms to make a point—lady instead of woman—incongruities, fantasies.




Pardon me. Permit me!

Prior engagement.



Forget y'all.



Editors' Note: 'Speak' was created by selectively removing text from an originating source as part of an erasure piece. Following standard erasure practice, no words/letters have been added to this text (although occasional punctuation has been), and all words/letters appear in their original order. The original text comes from The Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining (1963), Chapter 14: When You Speak.

Song: Ever South by Drive-By Truckers


Art by Nunzio Paci

Nunzio Paci is an Italian visual artist based in Bologna, working in painting and drawing. He has developed a practice concerned with scientific and environmental issues, with particular emphasis on anatomy and the man-nature relationship. His work has been exhibited throughout Europe, the US and Asia and reviewed extensively. Instagram: @nunziopaci

Kristine Langley Mahler's nonfiction has appeared in Sweet, Split Lip Magazine, and received the 2016 Rafael Torch Award for Literary Nonfiction from Crab Orchard Review. Recent work is also forthcoming in The Rumpus, Quarter After Eight, and Storm Cellar.