It's just poetry, it won't bite

The Sign Language Class

10.22.10 Posted in words to linger on by

Jeff Campbell is a teacher, father, husband, and poet. It is symbolic of his life that he often struggles to determine what order to list those aspects in. His musings, poetry, and explorations of the truth can be found at his blog.  

The Sign Language Class

By Jeff Campbell

“Voices off” you remind us
by joining your finger and thumb at your throat
at the beginning of every class.

Your voice is forever off except that your dancing fingers and deft hands,
moving arms and shifting body positions, your animated, eloquent expressions
these speak for you.

To me they seem a surrogate voice
I think to you they are a much-loved first born.

Suddenly immersed
as I am
in this silence

I fear that I might drown in it.
Sometimes I find the mucky bottom
of this river of noiselessness

I kick up off it
emerge from the waters and gasp for a moment above it all.

My fingers are mush-mouthed and my hands are clumsy
my arms and body move in two separate directions
my expression is only ever wonderment and confusion.

Regardless of the message I am trying to send,
there is no direct route 
from the message part of my brain to these traitorous hands.

“Don’t you understand”
I want to shout

I am not allowed to shout
“My hands are for other things.”
Eating, scratching, skipping stones.

Interesting. Ironic.
I am the one rendered mute here

and yet
when you brought them in,
representatives from your deaf community

for the class panel discussion,
a strange, silent discussion,
I catch only some of what they “say”

isolated words and phrases
like a broadcast from a half-tuned radio station, 
one with compelling news

from the other side of the world.
We share these little moments
this commonality.

One is a high school teacher like me;
another loves poetry.

Later there is this admission to wondering about some sounds
the sound of a tick-tocking watch
or the Star Wars soundtrack

it helps me to see what I’ve taken for granted
and at the end of it all,
miraculously I understand all the signs

when the old guard reminds us solemnly
that those deaf and not-deaf
really we are all the same.

This all makes me feel
I stand next to a brick wall

and you are on the other side
and my hands, my traitor’s hands

are about as likely to convey meaning
as they are to smash down a literal wall
of rock and mortar that might lie between us.

I felt diminished today
immersed in that silence
but also awakened.

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