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"Elegy in Translation" by Meg Day

About this Poem 
“I’ve been thinking about the parallels between the historic and ongoing violence done to disabled folks—via legislation, education, medical intervention, and systemic exclusion or literal elimination—and the more intimate, covert violence that is supported by ableism in our private lives. This poem engages accessible desire and the dangerously common misperception that disability needs curing. What this incomplete rendering does not reveal is that this text is part of a contrapuntal poem; the second column is in American Sign Language.”
—Meg Day

Elegy in Translation

            I was trying to wave to you but you wouldn’t wave back
                                    —The Be Good Tanyas

Forgive me my deafness now for your name on others’ lips:
each mouth gathers then opens & I search for the wave

the fluke of their tongues should make with the blow
of your name in that mild darkness I recognize but cannot

explain as the same oblivious blue of Hold the conch to your ear
& hearing the highway loud & clear. My hands are bloated

with the name signs of my kin who have waited for water
to reach their ears. Or oil; grease from a fox with the gall

of a hare, bear fat melted in hot piss, peach kernels fried
in hog lard & tucked along the cavum for a cure; a sharp stick

even, a jagged rock; anything to wedge down deep to the drum
inside that kept them walking away from wives—old

or otherwise—& the tales they tell about our being too broken
for their bearing, & yet they bear on. Down. Forgive me

my deafness for my own sound, how I mistook it for a wound
you could heal. Forgive me the places your wasted words

could have saved us from going had I heard you with my hands.
I saw Joni live & still thought a gay pair of guys put up a parking lot.

How could I have known You are worthless sounds like Should we
do this, even with the lights on. You let me say Yes. So what

if Johnny Nash can see clearly now Lorraine is gone—I only wanted
to hear the sea. The audiologist asks Does it seem like you’re under

water? & I think only of your name. I thought it was you
after I love, but memory proves nothing save my certainty—

the chapped round of your mouth was the same shape while at rest
or in thought or blowing smoke, & all three make a similar sound:

Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Meg Day. Originally published in TYPO. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Meg Day

Meg Day

Meg Day is the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014), winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the Publishing Triangle’s 2015 Audre Lorde Award. She lives in Pennsylvania. 

by this poet


the way
my lineage is deaf
not deaf
the way
America is deaf
not deaf
the way
my president is deaf
not Deaf
the way
not deaf
the way
my family is D/deaf
not Deaf
the way
DEAF-WAY is Deaf
not Deaf
the way


Maybe it’s easier, having been named
            after someone: nobody
expects that you’ll rule the underworld
            or judge the dead, but
they call you Pluto anyway. Planet, too.
            I know a


            Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
            preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
            concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.

We weren’t supposed to, so we did
      what any band of boys would do
& we did it the