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“A deaf man is a foreign country./ He remains forever a language to learn,” declares the speaker in “Instructions to Hearing Persons Desiring a Deaf Man,” one of many “educational” poems in Raymond Luczak’s newest collection of poetry. A deaf poet, Luczak offers plenty of helpful tips for men pursuing a relationship or romance with other men who also happen to be hearing-impaired. From the poem “How to Fall for a Deaf Man”:
Do not be startled by how
much eye contact he requires.
Do not be afraid of his face.
Do not feel surprised
when you call him later on the voice relay service
and find how clearly you understand him.
But like any other cultural or physical difference, being deaf can also lead to feelings of rejection and despair (“an empty chair…a day wasted wondering why I even bother”), especially when encountering the competitive and sometimes hostile meat market at gay bars. From the poem “Mannequins,” a critique of those who fear the unknown:
They stand around us, barely moving,
always talking about us deaf men–
our language of hands flickering like Zippos–
with friends, as they try to hear above the loud music,
amidst drafts of beer and wafts of musk.
Luczak explores the conflicts and collisions with the hearing world as an unavoidable part of a deaf person’s everyday navigation, and he does so with sensitivity though he’s honest about the frustrations and challenges to one’s patience. In the poem “Waiting For You to Learn Sign Language,” there’s even a bit of an incentive: “Love, open your hands. You are a corked geyser.” Being deaf offers this gay poet (and his beloved) access to a unique communication and landscape of tactile metaphors that enriches the poetry on the page:
is a loom, our bodies the warp and woof
in ever-changing patterns,
kisses wrapping loose strands
like language weaving
inside our hands
Though the context of Mute is deafness, which gives startling resonance to such lines as “we traded names in ASL,” “dirty jokes that we couldn’t lipread” and “Cochlea, a French horn, pressed its keys/ entangled in a skein of nerve yarns,” the second half of this collection is actually a series of elegies to departed friends and lovers. Some were deaf, some died of AIDS, bringing special attention to the fact that no sector of the gay community is spared the adverse effects of this lamentable disease. In any case, the word “mute” owns up to the multiple nuances of its definition “inability to speak”:
I wonder, now, how you explained away
your hearing aids, your hands, your loneliness
to strangers peering into your eyes,
windows of a strange house they’d never seen
before. I barely knew you.
Words fail when hands alone bleed.
Luczak writes beautifully about loss (“I’ve had to master the art of losing”) and though he inhabits a world of silence (or rather absence of sound), he rarely strains to speak on the page. In the title poem, the speaker mirrors this panache: “My hands wish to fly free of my voice, not caring whether you understand.”
But of deeper relevance is his poetic skill, the ease with which he operates with rhyme (see the villanelle “Repetitions” and the couplet sonnet “The Elegist”) and the transcendent, transformative tone of his message to those who take language (in any of its manifestations) for granted. From the poem “One Day When I Lose My Speech”:
Fields of sunflowers will cascade like creeks
tumbling back into the ocean of my hands.
I will sprinkle kisses of rain across their faces.
I will stay green in times of drought.
by Raymond Luczak
A Midsummer Night’s Press
$11.95, Paperback, 61p