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                Dad would ask so many questions                            I hated interpreting

for him                         hands stuck on refrain                   it wasn’t that my parents were deaf

        but that other parents could hear                    I found that strange                        we had to move

                        our bodies to speak                there was no yelling down the hall                   dinner table laughter

                left Dad wondering                         we spent our time                   repairing

words with our hands                    we were a family of mechanics                  and everything was work


I respected my mother. She was Polish

the same way my father hated women:

it was in their blood. After their divorce,

she raised us alone. Four kids by choice –

no birth control in this Catholic house,

no help from dad. We all knew distance.


        Mom gathered the deaf community               as she would children            she’d always worked

her own personal ministry           she transformed the Holy Mass                                lent interpretation

                to them                        translated the Word of God                        maybe even repaired it

        they bodysung the hymns           flurries of fingerspeech                 the symphony of the deaf

                        applause like peppered jazz                        light-plays with twisting palms           gasping laughter

silent jokes                 singing with their whole bodies                 a careful idiom of movement


They all knew I would go long-distance:

the only college graduate from our Polish

Michigan family, I never found any house

rough enough to settle. I wasn’t a woman

to follow my sisters. Not ready to choose

anything but a constant state of divorce.

 

                        She spoke in couplets            advised between the pauses                     Don’t move

                Family is everything                        Never forget to pray                      God does His work

Be thankful                         had a face like Doris Day                               her spacious laugh

                        direct from the throat                    clear speech                               spent time interpreting

        lips like letters                   Braille of the tongue                       sight-reading for the deaf

                one doctor told her he could salvage 60%                                     but she refused repair


My mother told me about the divorce

& I was happy. She’d kept a distance

between us even still. It was a choice,

she’s said, that she regrets: the Polish

habit of diffidence. Her womanhood

carried on that lonely, broken house.

 

Dad took things apart                     knew the way they fit together                 knew how to repair

                        anything by touch                    felt the gears                     felt the way they moved

        against each other           explored for the severance inside                                    navigated deafness

with the tactile                  loved to use his hands                   he was always working

                a neighbor once asked him to mend her sidewalk                     she couldn’t interpret

                his gentle mumbling               the smile on his face                               his private laughter


Four kids & our mother in one house

didn’t leave much room. The divorce

moved us into the city, a one-woman

act fresh from the suburbs, distant

& white. My mother made Keilbasa;

cabbage when we had no other choice.

 

        Walking conversations were difficult                       had to keep a clear path                       if we laughed

we’d miss each other                     I learned rapt attention                 was constantly repairing

                        broken eye contact                                                 the body interprets

                other bodies              translates vibration                         every slight motion

        Dad could feel it in his feet          Mom in the air                          they worked

                to keep us in their sights                       when other senses failed             when both were born deaf


We bullied the nanny. Mother chose

to take us four to the Orphans’ House

& told us that on her family’s Polish

name that she would leave & divorce

herself of us. We hated the distance

that would mean & loved the woman.

 

                I lost sign language fluency                  moved away at eighteen              once told a deaf

old woman at a funeral that she was a loser                        meant to sign “headlight”                    she laughed

        but I couldn’t bear the shame            I’d lost my parents tongue                           had to work

to say anything                         lost more than words                                     hands can be repaired

                        so I stumbled through the alphabet                                fingers moved

        slower now                        trusted my brothers instead                               their quicker interpretations


My mother showed me what a woman

could be. She said I always had a choice,

said I never had to stay. I could distance

myself however far I needed. Her house

would always be open. After her divorce,

all she had was us. Us & her Polish blood.

 

Most of my family interprets                      always in conversation with the deaf

        made work out of it                        makes me think:                              is it even reparative

to fix their language?     Their deft movements?                My parents silent at the table            hands laughing


The Polish keep our curly-haired women

close by. We keep divorces final, keep choice

alive. The house, the family, the quiet distance.

So, this past quarter I worked on a 10-week-long poetry assignment where I asked my parents for stories about their lives from before I was born. Then, I created characters and voices out of these stories, and I wrote a series of sestinas from them in those voices. (If you don't know what a sestina is, look here.) This is what I called a "braided sestina," which intertwines the two voices into one long poem.

My parents both grew up in Saginaw, Michigan down the street from each other. They've been together in some way, shape, or form for 48 years.
Add a Comment:
 

Daily Deviation

Given 2012-11-23
Voices from Saginaw, MI: 1952-1974 by `Nestalgica is about family, the ties that bind, and the ties that are unbound. It's about loss, and moving away, and moving back, and a mother who loves you, and the ways our ancestors did and do things. The form is absolutely amazing, and the poem drags your heart all over the place. ( Suggested by AzizrianDaoXrak and Featured by Nichrysalis )
:iconafaedare:
afaedare Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2013
I so, so loved your poem. You have a gift for making people see what you're saying and tugging at their heartstrings with simple, real scenes that, woven together, form a simple, real story that is satisfied to unfold itself and doesn't cry for attention. I missed reading something like this. The poem captivated me without screaming in my face and I enjoyed every moment. Thank you. Best,

M
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:) Thank you so much. I worked really hard to let the story speak for itself - that's one of the things I love about Sestinas... you really can follow the words. Glad you enjoyed.
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:iconazizriandaoxrak:
AzizrianDaoXrak Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hi there! This is just a friendly little note to let you know your piece has been featured!: [link]

Please consider taking a look at the other pieces and faving the article to help support the other artists :)
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:iconfirstandlastmen:
FirstAndLastMen Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
wooooah. what a scorcher of an ending...
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:) Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed.
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:iconpzzpod:
PzzPod Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012
Wow, Max!!! This is wonderful! Congrats on the DD and very well-deserved. I can't wait to read your first novel. :hug: :D
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Haha, if it ever happens. ;) Thank you so much, Kim! :hug:
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is amazing, very touching.
Are the staggered bits meant to be taken as the person who can't remember sign-language trying to communicate with a deaf person?
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much! And sort of. The staggered bits are in my father's voice, who naturally has somewhat more of an associative mind to him than my mom, who's very linear, but it's also kind of about the space between words in sign-language, how they don't always exactly move together the same way verbal speech does. That's always fascinated me. :)
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! I understand now. And yes, sigh-language is very interesting. I used to know a good bit but I haven't used it in so many years that I forgot.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
It's something I've always wanted to learn. Someday, I'll have to take a class. I live too far away from most of my family to benefit from it at all, unfortunately.
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:iconfreakiegeekie:
FreakieGeekie Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I only knew what I did because I had a friend whose younger sister was deaf. When they moved off, I no longer had any use for it so I stopped practicing.
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:iconghostanonymous:
GhostAnonymous Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
:)
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:iconghostanonymous:
GhostAnonymous Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
very moving dudett or dude
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:) Cheers, thank you so much!
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:iconghostanonymous:
GhostAnonymous Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2012
:P
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:iconghostanonymous:
GhostAnonymous Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
woh very deep .............
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:iconmidnightdroplets:
midnightdroplets Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
A breathtaking tale of strength.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. It was an inspiring project in many ways, what you saw not unimportant among them.
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:iconyou-cee:
YOU-cee Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Gratz on the DD! <3 :iconblushinplz:
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much! :aww:
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Student General Artist
This is lovely, and heart-tearing. I love it.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
So glad you do. Thank you so much!
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:iconcallingcujo:
callingCujo Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
Beautiful!
Wow i live in michigan too :O
not to far from here i think pssh
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Heh, it's a fascinating area of the state. Actually, the whole state is, really. Cheers. :)
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:iconcallingcujo:
callingCujo Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012
Yeah, it is :D
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:iconjohnson-bunnells:
Johnson-bunnells Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Are your parent deaf? Or did you just add that?

I really liked it, I faved it;)
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
My dad's parents are; this is from my mom and dad's point of views, respectively. :) Thank you so much!
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:iconjohnson-bunnells:
Johnson-bunnells Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Ah, my parents are deaf, so I was wondering.
You're welcome;)
:iconletmehugyouplz:
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Really :) It's a very unique way of growing up
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:iconjohnson-bunnells:
Johnson-bunnells Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, it is
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:iconjoyfullivin:
joyfullivin Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
That's beautiful and sad all at the same time
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:nod: I thought so too. Thank you so much!
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:iconfierylioness:
fierylioness Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is beautiful. So very poignant, and so very real. I'm quite impressed.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed. :)
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:iconlilaurenthys:
lilaurenthys Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
Tri Cities represent...

There's something about this old area of Michigan, with its Poles and Germans and everything else...

I just moved back to Michigan from Georgia. It is like a breath of fresh air to see all of the old and run down. The rich with history.

I was raised in Bay City, my father's home, the place where my parents met, my paternal ancestor's home as long as anyone kept record. I love it. Thank you for helping me get back into this life.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
God, I couldn't agree more. There's so many interesting facets of it, especially the racial divides and immigrant histories. I'm glad to hear of others' appreciations of it. :) Thank you for the lovely comment, cheers!
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:icontychoaussie:
Tychoaussie Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
My family moved to the tri-cities from Bavaria somewhere in the 1850's before the civil war and started farms in Amelith, My Grandmother's family were originally Polish immigrant miners in Manistique. In fact, I once read that by the time of the civil war, first-generation German immigrants numbered nearly 24% of the entire state's population, enough to cause serious concern and debate within the new state legislature that perhaps the "Germans" might try to create a "New Germany", what with all their German-speaking communities, Lutheran churches and private schools. They briefly debated about restricting the voting rights of these naturalized Americans, but of course, one of the first organized regiments to arrive in Washington, D.C. to support the Union in 1861 were the sons from Michigan...

You picked a really good subject for your poetry, Nestalgica. One that doesn't get heard very often. There's a nice historical book from MSU press about the immigrants of Michigan, and some really great history at the museum in Frankenmuth. The uniform and sword of my great-grandfather hangs within that museum, from his service under the command of Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish/American war. His foot chest resides in my basement, awaiting eventual restoration.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
A young woman in my graduating class did her senior thesis on that very topic of German immigrants in Michigan, actually. :) She loved it. And what a fantastic piece of history to have in a museum... I hope the chest finds a similar resting place of equal import!

And while I agree it's a fantastic topic, it really picked me. I only wrote about the stories my parents told me, so I had to stick more or less to whatever they told me! It was an incredibly challenging but wonderful project, and I feel so fulfilled that I got to do it.
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:iconwingdiamond:
WingDiamond Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
Home of the Saginaw Spirit! :w00t:
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Woop woop! :D
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:iconsolaces:
Solaces Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012
wow, just...wow.
This is absolutely phenomenal. This is the kind of poem I trudge through those American Best anthologies for--something with both substance and eloquence. I applaud you!
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow, thank you so much. :) Such glowing praise! Much appreciated.
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:icontychoaussie:
Tychoaussie Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
One time, about 25 - 29 years ago, I attended a wedding in Saginaw. I do not even remember who were the bride and groom; perhaps my cousin's wedding. Perhaps it was a catholic wedding. I've attended many such weddings for my various cousins, friends, and family over the years.

What I do remember though, was this fair and attractive young woman about my age, of whom I could not catch her eye, who stayed close to her two deaf parents and signed with lightning-fast flency...

We arrived at the hall after the wedding, and there they were again, sitting within the center of the sea of white tables that were decorated with paper, and plastic forks and small, empty plates with wedding cake frosting around the edges. They were alone, save for occasional friends or perhaps family that came over to them in order to say hello. The daughter dutifully translating with her sign language.

I did not dance; I had no practice; However I was willing to try in order to catch her eye. I asked politely, but she declined. I could not convince her to dance with me. I watched on & off through the evening as she continued to sit with her parents and enjoy the sounds of the night, as the DJ played traditional German & polish mix of music, interspersed with pop music of the the early 80's... as the other young & old danced and celebrated with one another.

Through it all, she was an enigma. Youthful & beautiful: a mystery who communicated with her parents via the movement of hand and face. Her father, I was told, repaired radios and televisions for a living. This was yet another intriguing mystery! A deaf electronic whiz who evidently was adept at repairing radios and televisions, but could not hear the sounds of the audio from any given radio or television.

The original details and context of that mid-Michigan wedding are long since gone from my memory, but the mystery of that trio endures.
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
That's such a lovely story. I'm actually incredibly curious if my grandma and grandpa would have known them; the deaf community there is very tight-knit, and my grandma was a big part of it. If you ever remember any other details about the wedding, I'd be delighted to hear them. :) It's certainly telling how vividly you remember such things so many years later, though. Thank you so much for sharing, this was a real treat to read... I'll be sure to keep it close to me.

Cheers!
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:iconelectrohydropyro:
ElectroHydroPyro Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Because putting words in random places is reeaalllly professional. -.-
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:iconnestalgica:
Nestalgica Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
:) The placement may seem random at first, but I assure you that all the spacing is quite intentional.
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:iconvanshira:
Vanshira Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Because the location of the words totally changes their meaning.
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:icondessiemarie:
DessieMarie Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
I do believe that your tag says "Hobbyist digital Artist", not "Professional Writer".

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if you can't look past the positioning of the words to what they read then you really shouldn't be speaking....
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