listening underwater

Our voices disappear, behind
turned heads, within
darkened rooms, under
running water, and among
the hum of crowds, until
your world becomes
a scratchy out of tune radio station
where you fill in the blanks
and pretend to sing along
smiling a nod.

At We Write Poems this week, a prompt of mine set the stage. Poets watched documentaries and wrote a poem from their viewing. Visit We Write Poems for a closer look at the prompt and other takes on it.

Process Notes:
My daughter TL is deaf. On Netflix TL and I watched the movie, See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary. Wow. TL performs with a group called EOS, Expressions of Silence. A group of hard of hearing and deaf children with a brilliant reputation, they perform songs in sign language at many venues throughout the school year. TL’s performances bring people to tears, she becomes the music, the words…she gives them life. My daughter is a star! 🙂

The movie follows four deaf adults through pieces of their lives as both deaf people, and as deaf entertainers. For us, it was a highly engaging movie. One of the four adults is TL Forsberg, a rock star from Toronto. She has beautiful speech, like my TL. Their beautiful speech and engaging personalities cause many people to think that they hear far more than they do. This piece came from the descriptions both TLs provide about communication.

I like the piece, but it makes me feel sad. “Our voices” and “your world” sets up tension. I almost pulled the “our” out of the piece, but there really are “two worlds” so I left it in the poem. How about all of those prepositions at the end of lines? To me, it makes the list prominent.

14 thoughts on “listening underwater

  1. Brenda, thank you so much for this prompt. And what amazing range between both poems – the poem with your prompt suggestion, and this, this succinct, almost sort-of-a-prayer (maybe incantation is the word).about being deaf in our world.

    Both poems are very personal, each in their way (but it is more than only as appropriate). Before even reading your process notes (and thank you very much for those too) I could feel the soft intimacy of this poem, even just in the title, “listening underwater”. Beautiful. While my experience with the deaf community is limited, what a wonderful phrase, and more echoed within the poem too.

    This is the kind of intimacy of writing that only invites a shared understanding. It says simply “what is so”. Actually that’s what your other poem did too, including then even the conflict of your own experience. This is poem being life.

    You said your daughter “becomes the music”. Maybe that’s no accident. I think you “become the poem”. We can stand humble and appreciative for your voice.

    I understand (outside & best as I can) how this feels some sadness here in this poem – our society still does draw lines, who is in and who is out, “smiling a nod”, yet as statement of who we are, as a greater whole (deaf and hearing) I still take good heart when truth is made simple like this does, unadorned, honest, direct.

    The poem’s phrasing is perfect just as it is. I even in curiosity tried rewriting the poem, moving those prepositions to more conventional place, and the poem looses its’ grace and bridging flow that way. So your instincts were right on best for the poem’s sake. Thanks for everything you shared here!

    Pardon my slow response please. I am just returned from two weeks away with only sketchy contact to all of this. But what pleasure to find your poem now Brenda.



    • Neil, you’ve deepened my appreciation of my own work…that’s really something. I love this piece, and I find myself coming back to it every couple of days, in this case perhaps I did become the poem. That was one of the best compliments I’ve received about my writing, Neil. You affirm me, and that feeds my desire to write more. Thank you for sharing both your insight on writing and your experience with deafness.


  2. I loved this poem, Brenda. TL sounds like an amazing person. It’s true that deaf adults often maintain a culture somewhat “away” from the hearing world, but family is never refused. It’s not like converting to a cult – more like adapting to a different way of communicating.

    My friend Rachel married a deaf man; their child hears, as his mom does, and she always speaks to him in sign language along with speaking aloud. Rachel also learned to sign and was in a group of hearing adults who signed the National Anthem at our local ballpark. I was there – we both cried, it was lovely. Thanks for sharing this part of yourself, Bren. Amy


    • TL is amazing, thank you. The deaf community has accepted me with open arms. When TL was younger the older kids were excited that I was learning to sign. We talk about all of the wonderful people and experiences her hearing loss has opened in our lives. In many ways it’s been a gift.

      EOS performed in the National Anthem Project in Washington DC when TL was just 11. It was her first BIG trip with the group. The group got to sign a song with Taylor Swift on that trip, beginning TLs admiration of Swift. 🙂


  3. very well done, Brenda. Nice learning a bit about you and your daughter. Your daughter has found her own path, her own way of adapting and being fulfilled. I admire that.


  4. It is not surprising that your pride in your daughter shines through the poem. The title is great – when SCUBA diving, everything has to be mimed! I am becoming deafer by the day, and so is my husband, (who won’t admit it). Misunderstandings abound.

    You left a kind comment on my 6-word-Saturday, asking a question. In case you don’t get back there, here’s how I answered you: “Shows what a bad writer I am: we had far too many mangetout peas, and craved a different vegetable having eaten them every night for about 5 weeks. Then the scarlet runner beans came along – again, far too many – and now I’m looking forward to winter cabbages, broccoli and the like.

    The glaze is made of: the grated rind and juice of an orange, a large dollop of liquid honey, ground black pepper, coriander and cloves, finished off with a good slurp of Grand Marnier. I baste the ham with this regularly during the cooking, and pour the juices off at the end for a sauce.


    • The glaze sounds divine, Viv. I’d love to visit for dinner, perhaps I’ll just dream it. When temperatures cool a bit more here (next month already), I’ll bake a ham. My son, Arthur will be delighted. 🙂 As for scuba diving….yay! you got the title. When TL talks to me about how she hears, I always think it must be like being under water. Thanks for your visit and the cooking tips….it would be fun to watch you whirl around your kitchen.


  5. It had that effect on me too – wow. There’re always two worlds, for all of us, and I like often to tune out, like the world is a scratchy out of tune radio station. Thanks for sharing in the process notes, Brenda. An intelligent & intelligible poem indeed.


  6. Wow! A powerful read.
    I think you were right to leave the ‘our’ in – as you say there are two worlds and those of us in the ‘hearing world’ don’t always appreciate that.
    I hadn’t noticed the prepositions at the end of the lines but once pointed out I read the piece again and I think it helps make the list more powerful.
    A great read – thanks.


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