Jennifer Wolkin


Tan (Upon learning about the first recorded case of Broca’s Aphasia)

Broca called you Tan, because that’s all you said
when admitted to Bicêtre—the place you’d stay
forever with just one word, living with dread.

Louis Victor Leborgne—locked in your head!
That’s your old name, by the way, you couldn’t say
anything but Tan, a new namesake, that’s all you said.

Other functions remained, only speech production fled-
you understood the world, just words were kept at bay
fastened inside your throat like a choke-hold full of dread.

Broca couldn’t have known until you were dead
why you couldn’t convey more words than
Tan, Tan, Tan, Tan. Really, that’s all you said.

In retrospect, you had a localized lesion that didn’t spread-
Brodmann Area 44 & 45 (now, Broca’s Region) shorn in disarray
leaving you bereft of conversation and your demons to dread.

I often wonder, if your lips weren’t lead
what words, so precious, you’d choose to relay.
He called you Tan, because that’s all you said-
with just one word, did you live with dread?


Jennifer Wolkin is a health and neuro psychologist, speaker, mental health advocate, and mindfulness-meditation practitioner. She is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing and literary translation at Queens College. She is most passionate about writing at the intersection where the mind, body, brain and spirit meet: about the holistic human experience. It also feels like a call to action for her to give voice to those who have sometimes literally lost theirs, and to note, humbly, what it’s like on the “other side of the room” (ie, the clinician’s side).