once upon a twin: poems (Raymond Luczak)

Reviewed by Sarah Katz

Raymond Luczak’s latest poetry collection, once upon a twin, movingly explores the life that might have been had he been born a twin. Put another way, he examines the pervasive presence of an absence, as Sara Paye puts it in her thoughtful review of the book for the Sierra Nevada Review blog. As Luczak describes in the first poem, his exploration of twinhood doesn’t come simply from wishful thinking; “9 months” explains that his mother can’t remember when she miscarried a child—whether it was in February, March, or April 1965—but that the timing is close to her pregnancy with Raymond. The metaphorical ending of this first poem is poignant and sets up the investigation for the rest of the book:

up & down oak street where i once roamed
the trees are mostly gone
but the shadow of my other half
still runs a mean yellow stripe
right through the road of my life
the mystery of never knowing him

In the poems that follow, it becomes clear that Luczak’s desire to have and to have had a twin is rooted in the loneliness and rejection that he experienced in childhood as a deaf gay person, both among his hearing peers and in his own hearing family. These poems are talky—reminiscent of Frank Bidart or Frank O’Hara—and lack punctuation, making them feel simultaneously intimate, accessible, and urgent, as if told to a friend or close family member. Many of the poems are directly addressed to his twin, we readers made to overhear them.

Through prose poetry, contrapuntal poems, list poems, and other forms, Luczak expands the notion of what can be autobiographical, since many of the poems are fictional representations of his so-called twin (and even these are peppered with real people and scenes from his childhood and adulthood). As a deaf person, what I found most interesting was his probing into whether his twin would be hearing or deaf and what the consequences would be in either case, such as in this excerpt from “if you were my twin”:

you would listen for me what everyone was saying
youd fingerspell who was saying what was so funny
id finally laugh just like everyone else
you would smile knowing what would make me laugh
i would also look for things that make you laugh
nothing like seeing my best friend laughing so hard
rolling over on the living room carpet because
i was funny hysterically better than anyone in our family
nobody in my family would agree on that
you didnt care because i still made you chortle

As someone from an all-hearing family, I can relate to this desire to not be lonely, to “laugh just like everyone else.” Incidentally, I am a twin, and my brother did (and does) connect me to my family in ways that my other siblings normally don’t. As Raymond imagines, this rapport arises from a special kind of connection that only twins share.

In his poem, “my other (deaf) twin,” he imagines his twin as deaf, seeing his face and hands illuminated as:

crystalclear as dew clinging

to the underside of grass blades
mirroring the joy of dawn

Through similes like these, Luczak portrays an imagined relationship in which two people profoundly understand each other beyond simple communication, whose “stories we sow / will outroot us.” There is a sense of communion here that transcends connection, that speaks in a religion of its own making.

But the collection doesn’t always focus on twinhood. One particularly powerful poem is his list poem, “the easiest words to lipread in a schoolground,” which lists harmful epithets that intensify with each addition. Another is “deaf rich boy 79,” in which Luczak imagines himself as a deaf rich boy who’d “own the entire town beyond pamida” and own “a pair of expensive designer jeans at the down under shop / at stern & field on aurora and suffolk”. And yet another is “heretics,” a poem that resees sign language as a language one could “worship,” as one worships God. But these poems, too, connect back to twinhood by feeding into the collection’s reason for being: to find community in a world that mocks him for his identity.

Luczak’s masterful poems ask us to resee memory as an unreliable source of information about the world, but also one that holds within it possibilities that can’t easily be verified or fulfilled. They demand us to consider the deaf perspective, how it is its own religion with its own devoted followers and its own sacred language. And they ask us to contemplate the magic of twinhood and how such a connection of resemblance could be an avenue to true belonging in a world that rejects difference.

Title: once upon a twin: poems
Author: Raymond Luczak
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
Date: 2021

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About the Reviewer

Sarah Katz’s poems have appeared in District Lit, So to Speak, Rogue Agent, MiPOesias, The Shallow Ends, Bear Review, among others. She has contributed essays and articles to a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Slate, and others. Her first book of poetry, Country of Glass, is forthcoming from Gallaudet University Press in spring 2022. She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with her husband.

Read Raymond Luczak’s poetry, “MACS9467-JD” and “Amberlight,” in this issue of Wordgathering.