Paul Hostovsky

People in Deaf Houses

Here’s the church and here’s the steeple.
The deaf students have barricaded the door,
hot-wired the school buses, moved them
in front of the gates, and let the air out of the tires.
They’ve shut the campus down, and the police
can’t do anything about it because they don’t
know sign language. And neither does the president
of the college. And neither does the chairman of the board
of trustees, and neither do the trustees themselves.
The trustees can’t be trusted with this college, this
church, this school, this blessed sacrament…

In the deaf world deaf is good. Deaf people marry
other deaf people, and live in deaf houses,
and do not throw deaf carpenters’ telephone numbers
away, but give them to other deaf homeowners
looking for a good deaf carpenter, because deaf
is a good and trusted name all over the deaf world…

Here’s the hospital and here’s the urology unit.
Open the door and see all the doctors
with their deft fingers and expensive educations.
Here is one performing a vasectomy
on a deaf patient who has elected to have it
because he doesn’t want any children.
And the surgeon has a slight accent, maybe
German. And the sign language interpreter
has a professional code of ethics,
and is signing what the surgeon is saying
but not what the interpreter is thinking
about German-speaking surgeons and vasectomies,
about Aryans and eugenicists and the forced
sterilizations of the congenitally deaf
in Europe only 40 years ago, about the protests
going on right now at Gallaudet, and about
cochlear implants being performed in this very
hospital, on deaf children who haven’t elected to have them…

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
He was a teacher of the deaf. He had a deaf mother,
and a deaf wife too, and he knew
that deaf people marry other deaf people
and live in deaf houses. And he deplored that fact.
He deplored deaf people. He urged Congress to act,
to prohibit deaf marriages, to reduce the risk
of more deaf babies. He wasn’t a Hitler,
or an Eichmann exactly. He didn’t advocate
killing the deaf. He loved the deaf. He taught the deaf.
He was only trying to eradicate the deaf
for their own good, for the good of the world…

Here’s the church and here’s the steeple
and the deaf students are burning
their oppressors in effigy. They’re saying: Look!
To anyone with eyes to see, they’re saying: Look!
And the interpreter’s fingers are flying,
and the surgeon’s fingers are snipping, and the nurse is
adjusting the light above the deaf patient
lying on the table with his johnny hiked up, his little
deaf penis the center of attention. And the interpreter
who has been trying all this time not to look at it,
looks at it. Takes a good long look.

Paul Hostovsky's latest book of poems is Dear Truth (2009). To read more of his work, visit his website at

(author retains copyright)