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3 Poems by Paul Hostovsky

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

Passive Voice

It is given to me

is the passive they’re parsing

in linguistics class.

I’m the sign language interpreter

for the Deaf student making

eyes at me

and noise with her corn chips’

plastic wrapper.

She’s tonguing a corn chip

and wrinkling her nose

which she knows I know

means ooh salty,

and telling me in

no uncertain terms,

It is given to you.

Sometimes it happens

that way, love

just lands in your lap,

starts conjugating itself

in the second person


I will ask her to marry me,

to give up linguistics,

come live with me in

my house in the suburbs

among the Thickly

Settled signs.

Here’s the church

and here’s the steeple,

the Deaf people will sit

where they can see

the sign language interpreter.

We will name our first child

Vowel, after

the dilating mouth

of pleasure,

fill our home

with the tongues of a hundred

speechless lives–

the plosives of fish

browsing the fishbowl,

the shrugging shoulders

of the spider plants,

the noiseless stutter

of candles—

it’s all just tremblingly,

achingly waiting

to be


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 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 more 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


Paul Hostovsky makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. His latest book of poems is Mostly (FutureCycle Press, 2021). Website:




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