Poetry. Women's Studies. "Fingerspell" is a word familiar to those who use sign language; it means a word for which a sign doesn't exist, a word that must be spelled out using the ASL alphabet.
I began learning sign language at the suggestion of my daughter's doctors. From a genetic screening, I learned early in the pregnancy that she had Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down syndrome, a condition that also put her at higher risk for related medical complications. When she was born she needed surgery to repair a duodenal atresia, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, as well as an atrial septal defect—a hole in her heart—all of which were terrifying. Those days following her birth, hospital stay, and the season of her infancy seemed underlit with precarity, an intensity that heightened emotions at both ends of the spectrum. I felt every emotion as if through a vivid filter, supersaturated. I was learning ASL, caring for my daughter, and writing these poems, and I began to understand language as embodied beyond the vocal. I was seeing the linguistic and the gestural as participating in a kind of poetic that was unfamiliar yet deeply satisfying. And because I was new to ASL, at a point in the language acquisition process primed for improvisation, trying to make due with my limited vocabulary, my poet brain was being charged with novelty, with new ways to speak. I felt I was under a beautiful spell.
Lindsay Illich is the author of Rile & Heave (Texas Review Press, 2017) and the chapbook Heteroglossia (Anchor & Plume, 2016). Rile & Heave won the Texas Review Press Breakthrough Prize in Poetry. She teaches at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts.Author City: Milton, MA USA