SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 83

Black Hole Christie “Black Hole: Color ASL”: A Personal Response Karen Christie Rochester Institute of Technology Deaf poets create poetry using ASL to share stories and emotions yearning to be expressed. These stories are often part of the Deaf Experience which means they are familiar to most Deaf people. In “Black Hole: Color ASL,” Debbie Rennie has created a poem about the personal journey to Deaf culture, Deaf identity, and beyond (the poem was first published by Sign Media in the collection Poetry in Motion: Debbie Rennie in 1990 and here we show a clip from the 1987 National Poetry Conference). Perhaps, when you view the poem you will feel as I did: it is MY story too. Like many Deaf people, I was not born into a Deaf family. Finding my way into the Deaf community happened much later in life. I attended Hearing public schools and grew up thinking I was a Hearing person who could not hear. Yet, along my life journey, there came a time when I found a path which led me to other Deaf people. This is where the poem, “Black Hole: Color ASL,” opens—with the description of a ladder. Why a ladder? Well, if you are looking for a way into a new place, it might be through a door, it might be a new path in the woods, or it might be a ladder. If it is a ladder, the direction one is aiming for is upwards—moving toward a goal or a higher place. In the poem, a person is walking along, comes to a ladder, and begins to climb. As she climbs the ladder, she looks all around, both back down to the familiar and upwards to the unknown. Where is she heading? If you look at her facial expression, you can see that she is somewhat unsure—which was exactly my feelings when a young Deaf woman told me as she opened the door to the Deaf club, “You will be welcomed at the Deaf club, you are Deaf.” Going through the door to the Deaf club, I was nervous, but moved forward anyway. Where was I headed? In the poem, the person continues climbing, and she stops when she arrives at a point on the ladder where paint gallons sit in a line on a plank. Red, yellow, blue, green, and black paint symbolize ASL. The title tells us “Color ASL.” And the person in the poem dips her HANDS into the paints! She looks up and splashes the colors across the canvas of blue sky like fireworks -- much like a Jackson Pollack painting. Here you see, she is wondrous; she is joyous. Her hands shift as she splashes paint and morphs into signing hands. Again, this provides flashes of memories for me. At the Deaf club, old Deaf grandfathers teased and flirted with me shamelessly. As I became more skilled, I learned how to play with my signs and became proud of beginning to learn how to fully use a language. Along this climb into the Deaf World, one needs important cultural tools, and the primary cultural tool of Deaf people is ASL (see Christie and Wilkins, 2006 for further discussion). While engrossed in signing/splattering colors across the sky, the ladder begins shaking. She falters and looks down at someone below shaking the ladder, beckoning her to return back down. This part of the poem reminds me of another poem written in English by the poet Mary Oliver. In the poem “The Journey,” which is as much a transformation poem as this one, Oliver also shows that such a life journey is not without detractors: “One day you finally knew/What you had to do, and began,/Though the voices around you/kept shouting/their bad advice.” So, our journey includes others who try to pull us down, back SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 83