At the Helena bus depot a deaf man and his sister
wait in a hard, sideways wind.
When the driver asks the man a question,
he points to his ears and shakes his head No.
Raising my eyebrows, I tilt my head,
circle a shape in the air with my hands,
His face breaks into such a good smile.
Yes! He nods his fist at the wrist, Yes, sign.
The bus is nearly empty. The man and his sister
go all the way to the back,
which I have been warned to avoid.
We chat back and forth some.
In respect for their privacy,
I sit down mid-way up the aisle.
They converse rapidly in silence,
hands moving like flowers and birds.
It’s quiet on the bus.
Until, he bursts out in laughter,
loud, off-key bellows of one
who has never heard his own voice
And as always, the other passengers
swivel their heads, faces clearly shocked,
assuming a monster, or idiot, their ignorance deafening.
He ignores them, doesn’t seem to notice,
continues laughing with his sister.
The hearing people finally face forward.
They fall asleep, they snore,
and they dream of being normal.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Sheryl Noethe attended a high-school alternative program, Urban Arts, which allowed her to learn to write poetry. After winning the The American Academy of Poets Award and a McKnight Fellowship, she published her first collection of poetry, The Descent of Heaven Over the Lake (New Rivers Press, 1984).
Now living at the foot of Mt. Jumbo in Missoula, Montana, Noethe is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Montana Arts Council Fellowship, the CutBank Hugo Prize in Poetry, and the Emerging Voices Award from New Rivers Press. She has also received an honorable mention for the Pushcart Prize. Her second poetry collection, The Ghost Openings (Grace Court Press, 2000), was awarded the Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award and the William Stafford Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection, As Is, was published by Lost Horse Press in 2009.
Her work has been included in numerous anthologies, including Poems Across the Big Sky, Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, and I Go To the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights.
From 2011-2013, Noethe served as Montana's Poet Laureate. "Normal" is a poem she wrote while traveling the state by Greyhound Bus during her tenure.
Hear a TWQ interview with Sheryl Noethe about those trips.