Originally, ventriloquism was a religious practice. The name comes from the Latin for to speak from the stomach, i.e. venter (belly) and loqui (speak). The noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the un-living.
The Genealogist has found my Great Grandfather in the Stage
Newspaper. When she tells me I laugh, sure she has written
the wrong man into our history. I report back to my mother
and she fills the phone-call with fragmented time, says, ‘It’s him.
I remember the dummies hung up in their house. Staring at us
from across the room, their shocked expressions pulling
our stomachs, their bodies the same size as our own.’
My Great Grandfather is dressed in burgundy, a brown bowler hat,
those thick round glasses I have seen in photographs. He climbs
onto my knee, my tentative hand pressed against his spine,
his jaw slack and open, his story made from other people’s silences.
Sooner or later I will learn his throat, know exactly what he yearns
to say. But for now, he is dumbstruck; the man who once threw
his voice away, so someone else, someday, would call it back.
Rebecca Tantony reads The Ventriloquist’s Voice