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
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.
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)