School for the Deaf

Adam Pottle

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You gasp, awakened by

a bucket of cold water.

 

A gauzy autumn morning. A drained sunrise.

You shiver, strain to see the house

parent’s fingers whipping & flicking in

the fibrous grey light—wordless yet

communicative fingers.

 

You wipe your face with

your sheet, bite back a sob.

 

The teachers always tell you to use your voice

even though you already have one.

 

When you speak or try

to speak, it's like laying an egg through your mouth,

like balancing a tire on your throat,

like lifting a barbell with your tongue,

hoping it doesn't tip or catch on a corner,

You must hoist your voice. Right now

you can't lift it. It's too heavy.

 

From what you can see

on the house parent's lips, you can't use your fingers.

When another boy picked his nose, the principal tied

his hands with rope. Could do the same for signing.

 

You watch your dorm mates

whose names you don't know,

even though you've been here two weeks.

 

In the cold dorm you watch their mouths,

hoping to find seething shapes,

hoping their teeth will strain whatever vapour words are made of,

hoping their tongues will lift & toss their words,

hoping their words will clench before you.

 

Their words slide like arrogant ghosts

through the fibrous dormitory air.

 

After class,

you practice mouth movements before the mirror,

trying to build your voice's muscle, pushing against

the words, as though they might bury you alive.

 

You see the house parent's thick digits—

knuckles furred like a tarantula's knees,

the shrill dorm light fattening the fat hairs,

spidery hands seeking to measure, seize, grasp, coax, convince.

 

The house parent a dull husky man

who laughs like a wolverine,

toothy laughter carried by a thrusting jaw

meant to ward you off.

 

You can't believe that

a real person's laughter

can be so hostile

Adam Pottle, "School for the Deaf" from Changing the Face of Canadian Literature. Copyright © 2020 by Adam Pottle. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Changing the Face of Canadian Literature (Guernica Editions Inc, 2020)