Crossing Borders Commission

By Raymond Antrobus

A new commission by Raymond Antrobus as part of the 'Crossing Borders' series.


For Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent

When three deaf women
were found murdered,
their tongues cut out
for speaking sign language,

the papers called it
a savage ritualistic act,
but I think the world
should have gone silent.

Should have heard the Deaf
gather at Saint Vincent,
should have heard the quiet
march towards Port-au-Prince –

and we all should have heard
the Deaf for a moment,
and asked what silence
needs to be sacrificed.


The British government did not recognise
British Sign Language until 2002.

Before then, all official languages
were oral. The Deaf were a colony
the hearing world ignored

and now the irony, that the words noise
and London are the same sign in BSL
and it is getting so loud

audiologists are preparing
for the deafest generation
in heard history.


In Montego Bay, a sign
written on the outside walls
of the Christian deaf school says

Isiah 29:18 In that day the deaf shall hear

above a painting of a green hill paradise –

Harriott, the only Deaf teacher in the school
tells me no one speaks sign well enough
to enter any visions of valleys.


My dad never called me deaf,
even when he saw the audiogram, he’d say
you’re limited,
so you can turn the TV up.

He didn’t mean to be cruel,
he was thinking about his friend
at school in Jamaica, he fought a boy
who stabbed his eardrums with pencils,

deafening him.
Dad never saw him in class again.

Maybe that’s what he was afraid of,
that the deaf disappear, get carried away      

bleeding from their ears.