Wednesday, June 29, 2005

FINGERED: deafblog serial #5

by Joseph Santini
copyright 2005

"Hey," said one of the bartenders as they gazed at the crowd, "do you think Deaf people can think?"

"As long as they have $3.50 and don't spill Hefeweizen on the floor, they can do whatever they want, Earl," said his boss. Michael was a big... well, bear of a man? Not right, because he was totally bald. Even his eyebrows were thin hairs that looked painted on his face.

"Cause, see, I have a little voice in my head, right, that talks when I think, but that's because I can hear. They don't know what voices sound like, so how can they have one, right?" Earl gazed at his boss expectantly. He was the chick magnet from hell - handsome, graceful, and intelligent as a mailbox. Stuff went in till someone took it out. Still, Michael thought, Earl was sweet enough to make any poor woman ride the Excess-o-Guilt to Florence Nightingale city should they try breaking up with him. Mike resolved (again) that Earl would be on vacation when his daughter came home on break from Wesleyan. "Voices in your head, huh?" He went back to serving beer.

: : : : :

The light over the table in the Bowery Bar was so bright that Amil, watching Natalie talk to her friend, had seen for a minute only a golden glow, as if they were two sorceresses bathing prayer with light.

The one on the right, he knew, was Katherine, in charge of tonight's events; the sign proclaimed her Mistress of Deaf Professional Happy Hour, and described tonight as Special Poetry Night! All he understood of their conversation was bits and pieces, even after a week of intense study. He wanted to go up to her, speak to her. Ask about those classes. But something held him back. She wasn't sure how she felt about the Blonde Guy, for instance. And he had other considerations to think of before his personal desires. For now he hugged the shadows, while he hungered for the light.


"So Mark saw Amil, thought Amil attack me will! So - face like bull - horns - CHARGE!" Natalie giggled as she mimed Mark's full-on attack. Kate took a sip of her drink, brushing back the feathers of her hair from the sweet Irish tones of her face. As Mistress, she believed she had many duties. One was playing counselor in lieu of the bartenders (who couldn't sign anyway, and that cute guy just looked really stupid!)

She was doubly glad to do it for Natalie, even if it had taken five pints of Guiness to get the girl talking. Still, it was hard to keep a neutral face as her new friend explained what had happened at her sister's wedding. Kate had had designs on Mark once; she liked the loner/outsider types. He'd never made a move. Oh well, his loss; he'd never see her model her string bikini collection now.

Not that she had a string bikini collection. But she could do. She took another sip and decided she hated all men who displayed no respect for potential string bikini collection modeling. Then she realized what she was thinking and decided it was Water Time. The Mistress must be responsible, she thought.

To her right a Deaf couple rose from their table. Their conspicuously bare table. Sighing, Kate interrupted Natalie to engage in her second duty as Mistress, which was: Make sure they leave tips. No good setting up nice parties and getting reputations as "bad Deaf people," even if Deafies did sometimes think that tips were things that happened to other people.


It was Natalie's first ever poetry night, although she loved poetry. She'd just never found a terp around willing to work the English ones, and, well, ASL poetry was relatively rare where she'd been the last two years. She was nervous, not knowing what to expect, and excited, as she always was with new experiences. And this promised to be more fun than her mother's latest exciting recipe.

Kate came back from scolding the tip-hoggers and sat across from her again. "So... what's up with ASL poetry? I never before saw."

Kate frowned, then smiled. "My friend Pat explained, how? Poetry, point what? Recognition. Someone describes, explains feeling, experience, dream, maybe loss. Writer, uses words. Influence of words different from influence of image, motion, time. Can't stop ASL poetry to analyze one sign, like written! So - influence, affect, advise, what happens? Feeling in you, pulled out. Externalized. See. Recognize."

Natalie thought she understood, but it was still too abstract. Kate understood. "Wait, see," was all she said, as her eyes roamed around. "Hey, look," said Natalie, "Waiter over there, seems problem." Kate looked and sighed. Another Mistress responsibility; bars never had enough pens. She pulled a box of bics out of her pocket and walked over as the lights dimmed.

The first poem Kate watched was... well, disappointing. Some girl got on stage and, signing in a very englishey way, described the visual music of trees. In the middle of leaves falling all around on the ground without a sound, Natalie felt a hand brush her shoulder. She looked up at Mark's face, smiling, and froze. Kate was still walking around doing Pen Distribution. She was alone.

He sat next to her, his long legs fitting awkwardly under the table. "You thinking what?"

"Uh, interesting," she signed, nodding her nose at the girl now departing the stage. She glanced around. Mostly only hearing people were applauding. She winced in sympathy, but Mark just laughed. "Important, she tried," he said, then got serious. "Mine, when I started, they sucked!"

She blinked. "You performing tonight?"

"I'm last." He pointed to a list Kate had whipped out by the stage. She was checking off names, calling for Janna Middleton now. "This girl, she's excellent, skilled! Watch."

The first poem Natalie had thought of as englishey. This was anything but. It had a visual rhythm Natalie could see but not quite internalize yet, the way she'd been taught to internalize English poetry. Something I have to learn, she thought. Still, it was... clear.

Janna signed about America, the handshapes flowing into pregnancy then baby. The child was Deaf. That sign too morphed, becoming a paintbrush. But, the poet said as an aside while the child painted, that child could only paint in one color.

The poem continued as the child grew. It found another color, outside of the world its parents had told it to stay in. It destroyed the original drawings. It painted new ones to show its new view of the world. Then... it found another color. The cycle repeated, more and more quickly, until Janna's hands were blurring, then they came together with a strange, quiet crash over her head, and slowly separated, fingers flat and held together and pointing at each other, to describe an arc flowing down around her head. The sign for rainbow.

Then the sign melded again into America, and another child came, and the hands dropped at her sides.

There was a moment of silence. Natalie was entranced. Four more poets came after Janna, and though none were as good as she Natalie began to see... patterns. She began to understand how ASL poems were put together. Some people used the same devices Janna had, of a story coming back to a point. Others seemed to build up an image, like the guy who (remanuated) retold a poem which ended with a tree reflecting in water. "Clayton Valli, his poem. Deaf, died last year, yeah, one year ago," Mark commented.

Natalie ordered a cup of coffee. The glow of Guiness was gone, her mind churning so fast that the alcohol couldn't keep up any longer. "Mark Allbody," Kate fingerspelled to the audience from the side of the stage, and Natalie felt a pressure leave her as Mark stood and walked up.

It was a love poem. You could tell so much by his face alone; his expression became longing as soon as the stage light hit. ASL poetry has acting equal amount to ... words, I guess, Natalie thought, and she remembered her English Lit teacher explaining how Shakespeare the poet created a character, a Poet, in order to write his series of sonnets.

Mark's hands spoke of two people far apart, of one being so desperate to touch the face of the other again that he cut off his finger. Sent it across the sea. It crawled to a face burdened with sorrow, climbed up to its cheek. The face grew joyful as it was caressed, then saddened again as the finger exhausted, fell to the ground and faded.

Natalie applauded firmly, hands in the air. Normally she hated doing it, hated the "Oh, isn't that cute," look on hearing people's faces. She looked around anyway.

And saw Amil, who was gazing at Mark with his head cocked to one side, half-out of the shadows by the stairs.

She stood up, automatically. Something else took her over - an instinct, and she let it. In the CIA they'd trained her to trust her instincts. He saw her and got a... bloofy look on his face. Is bloofy even a word?

"What are you doing here?" she said, her arms folded. She wasn't sure what expression she had on her face right now, and didn't care. She was surprised when he started speaking and signed a few of the words. He spoke in his usual way, so she understood him pretty clearly. That instinct was still running, though... I just came to... I heard it was a Deaf night. I wanted to see more sign language.

"I see. But why stand in the shadows? You couldn't have seen very clearly back there!" She laughed, as if the answer wasn't very important.

Oh, he said, I guess I was just shy.

"Yeah, that's understandable," she said. He was watching me, she thought. Something told her it was more than just like. He was watching me with his business eyes, that's it, she mentally nodded to herself.

"Well, it's time for me to leave," she smiled, "work early tomorrow. You should get in touch about those classes!" Friends close, enemies closer. Another lesson she'd learned. And with that she turned away to Mark, to thank him and find Kate and go home.


That night she was restless, her body alternately hot and cold. She sat up and grabbed her sketchbook from the side of the bed, tried to sketch Mark's poem. Sketching had been another lesson - capturing someone's face, to help identify them later. But it proved difficult, and soon she realized why - she was trying to draw a poem, not a person. The sketch wasn't too bad though. She put it away and went back to sleep.

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