As a deaf child, I spent a lot of time by myself. Although I had a loving family with three siblings who learned sign language and Cued Speech, communicating with other hearing children and adults—and “accepting” my own speech and processing delay—was often fraught with confusion, embarrassment, and a sense of despair. I was aware of myself as being “looked at,” and often speculated, unproductively, about what others saw.
Perhaps aptly, questions about love run through my work. To what extent can it help us? Can it fail us? If love is sometimes painful, then how painful should it be, and how often? For how long?
They Fall Apart
You piece the shapes of my mouth together
tracing messages, my constellations
bounding deer. You don’t hear me yell
until I hold your small palm to my throat.
Sound is funny. We laugh at the words.
They get in the way, odd winged things.
Words dart around us for nothing.
We snicker at those lassoing them together
because all for what? Tangled words
march away into air, constellations
wilder than lightning. We watch others yell,
incensed, thrusting thunder from their throats
and laugh, leaping into the hill’s throat
behind the school, gathering lilacs, pretty things
we want to remember. School bells yell
to return. Children gather together
like wolves. In dirt, we sketch constellations.
Their mouths must hurt from so many words.
You think maybe they don’t. Give me their words!
your mouth says. A cracking in my throat.
I don’t want to fight with constellations
too hard to see. There are greater things
I say, things that fit well together,
that don’t fall apart. But still you yell,
Give me the words! I’m tired of your yell.
I point to their lips. You read the words.
You look with your O mouth, your O throat,
squinting and the sounds fly away together,
blurring by, dying constellations
we cannot see. They look like nothings.
Our eyes hurt at the sight of nothings
their mouths shape. We map lips and yells
flashing by, ineffable constellations,
stitching together their half-words,
craters in the dark. We feel together
for thunder, sewing symbols to their throats
for nothing. They get in the way, their throats
tangling the air with wayward words,
the signs never right, never falling together.
The Deaf Body
Although We Cannot Go Back
“The photographs tell it all. In one, Private England, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over his head, as he masturbates.”—Seymour M. Hersch, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” New Yorker (May 10, 2004)
Let us two leave it all behind bury
the hatchet the photographs
your dreams of choking
on an American’s cock
or the shit spreading on your tongue
into your thinning eyes
as you forget your family your body
the only remainder
but of what
Let us two open your palm of blood
that we cannot wash away but
let us imagine your souvenir
of pain winging
doves of peace
Let us pretend for a moment
this never happened
That even though we could
we would not leave marks
that do not come from love
Would you have placed
your mouth on mine called me
by my name.
And what would my name from your mouth say.
Would it say I made this for you.
Would it say.
Sarah Katz is Publications Assistant at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. She has an MFA in poetry from American University, where she received the Myra Sklarew Award for her thesis. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, NANO Fiction, the Ploughshares blog, jmww, RHINO, Temenos, and others.
She recently received the 2015 District Lit Prize in Poetry judged by Sarah Vap.
Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at sarahbea89.