Forensic Women

Cian Nugent - The Ceremony

childhood barn

The Beginning of a Short Biography of Josephet Zellner

Zellner did not hear a spoken word until the age of five. His parents were both mute, having been injured during a shoo-fly pie cook-off that occurred a few months after their arrival in America. They communicated with him by hand signals, drawings, ostensive language (pointing with fingers, toes, and nose gestures), and facework. The day his parents bundled him off to the old schoolhouse was, Zellner later said, one of the saddest days in his life. Obviously, the boy's early student years were difficult, and he was treated as something of a novelty by both his fellow students and teachers, who tended to him as if he were a class project--a sprouting bean, or a dull piece of agate. After five years of communicating with slate and chalk (always tied around his neck--and in fact he wore it until he married), he spoke his first words. "I am without equal," he said, in a voice of hard, keen authority. He spoke perfect Pennsylvania German--though in a dialect of his own making. It was as though, in those five years, he had been fashioning internally a syntax, delicate and luminous, that would be equal to the silent and expressive language of his parents. His poems, aphorisms, and Bauraspruche are often constructed around a single image, rendered in language that circumscribes a particular qualitative experience of that image.

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