Dear Hearing World

Raymond Antrobus

copyright ©2018

after Danez Smith

I have left Earth in search of sounder orbits,
a solar system where the space between
a star and a planet isn’t empty. I have left
a white beard of noise in my place and many
of you won’t know the difference. We are
indeed the same volume, all of us eventually fade.
I have left Earth in search of an audible God.
I do not trust the sound of yours.
You wouldn’t recognise my grandmother’s Hallelujah
if she had to sign it, you would have made her sit
on her hands and put a ruler in her mouth
as if measuring her distance from holy.
Take your God back, though his songs
are beautiful, they are not loud enough.

I want the fate of Lazarus for every deaf school
you’ve closed, every deaf child whose confidence
has gone to a silent grave, every BSL user
who has seen the annihilation of their language,
I want these ghosts to haunt your tongue-tied hands.
I have left Earth, I am equal parts sick of your
oh, I’m hard of hearing too, just because
you’ve been on an airplane or suffered head colds.
Your voice has always been the loudest sound in the room.

I call you out for refusing to acknowledge
sign language in classrooms, for assessing
deaf students on what they can’t say
instead of what they can, we did not ask to be a part
of the hearing world, I can’t hear my joints crack
but I can feel them. I am sick of sounding out your rules –
you tell me I breathe too loud and it’s rude to make noise
when I eat, sent me to speech therapists, said I was speaking
a language of holes, I was pronouncing what I heard
but your judgment made my syllables disappear,
your magic master trick hearing world – drowning out the quiet,
bursting all speech bubbles in my graphic childhood,
you are glad to benefit from audio supremacy,
I tried, hearing people, I tried to love you, but you laughed
at my deaf grammar, I used commas not full stops
because everything I said kept running away,
I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn’t know
what a natural break sounded like, you erased
what could have always been poetry

You erased what could have always been poetry.
You taught me I was inferior to standard English expression –
I was a broken speaker, you were never a broken interpreter –
taught me my speech was dry for someone who should sound
like they’re underwater. It took years to talk with a straight spine
and mute red marks on the coursework you assigned.

Deaf voices go missing like sound in space
and I have left earth to find them.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week is “Dear Hearing World” by Raymond Antrobus, from the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection, The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins). “’The truth is I’m not a fist fighter,’ writes Raymond Antrobus, ‘I’m all heart, no technique.’ Readers who fall for this streetwise feint may miss out on the subtle technique – from the pantoum and sestina to dramatic monologue and erasure – of The Perseverance. But this literary debut is all heart, too. Heart plus technique. All delivered in a voice that resists over-simple categorization. As a poet of d/Deaf experience, his verse gestures toward a world beyond sound. As a Jamaican/British poet, he deconstructs the racialized empire of signs from within. Perhaps that slash between verses and signs is where the truth is.” (Judges’ citation) Listen to Raymond Atrobus read from "Dear Hearing World" here.

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