I walk the forest, needle-floored, cross the grassy plain, slope down to cattails, coves, an inlet, sand: the silver, velvet lake. The sun, descending, warms the water’s mantle.
Laced by treetops, evening’s light lingers.
Swarms of swallows rise and fall, lift and plunge, break the bronzing surface. Arrowed wings taper, fan like flukes. Birds lunge and snap, feast: green mayflies glide, leave
foot-long wakes, feather-thin, metallic.
Alone, not lost, I swim out far. I wonder if you think of me. The nesting swallows whistle, sing, call home the darkening dusk. I drift to shore and sit, chest-deep.
One by one, faint stars appear.
“My deaf side was lonely,” said Dr. Pia Taavila, a professor in the English Department. “Coming to Gallaudet was a homecoming for me.”
Born in Norway as a hearing child of deaf parents, Taavila said, “The week that I arrived on campus for my interview, I cried the whole week. Being ‘back’ and signing with deaf people was very touching.”
“I remember going to school as a kindergartener,” said Taavila, “and signing to my teacher. I couldn’t understand why the teacher didn’t understand me.” Despite having eight siblings, none of the children spoke at home, all using sign language with each other and with their parents. “I know how my [deaf] students feel about speech therapy, having gone through it myself for years,” said Taavila.
In her early years in Norway, Taavila’s elementary school sponsored a school-wide writing competition that all students could enter. “My teacher at that time encouraged me to try entering some of my writing, and I thought ‘Why not?’”
A win in the contest encouraged Taavila greatly, setting her feet on the publishing trail, netting her publication in literary magazines during high school, publication in The Journal of Kentucky Studies as a graduate student at Michigan State University, and into a non-profit publishing business, The Kirkland Press, where she and the agency published 26 books of history.
Typically, said Taavila, when a writer sends in an entry or several entries to a publication, he or she expects that most will be rejected. When she sent in 14 of her poems to The Journal of Kentucky Studies in the mid-1980s, she was floored when she learned that all of them were accepted for publication. Her works have been published regularly ever since.
“I think that being a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) influences my poetry,” said Taavila. “One critic wrote that my poetry is very ‘painterly.’ I’m very visual. I think that my identity as a CODA definitely shapes my work.”
She has been presented the Denny C. Plattner Award for excellence in writing by the Berea College (Berea, Ky.) literary journal Appalachian Heritage for her poetry. In addition, Taavila had five poems published in the winter issue of storySouth, and five poems accepted for an upcoming issue of The Ozark Mountaineer. She has regularly attended writers’ conferences and workshops, enjoying the feedback and encouragement of former poet laureates Mark Strand, Robert Hass, and others (Andrew Hudgins, Alan Shapiro, Robert Morgan). She is a frequent contributor to The Tactile Mind among other journals.
“My favorite poems,” said Taavila, “are those that are from the past or that relate to my family. I also have a special fondness for my love poems.”
*This new poem by Taavila has not been published before. (Lake Cheston is on the campus of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.)