Open Reading Period Selection


In stock

ISBN: 978-1-62557-822-8


Publication Date: November 2020


Participating in the 2024 PopSugar reading challenge? Read Fingerspell  for prompt number 30: a book with a one-word title you had to look up in a dictionary.

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



The sign for shoes,
not a fingerspell.
I hear a plane,

my hand takes off,
obliquely. The shore,
attached to the water.

Tall trees beyond
the road, their roots
Beyond my elbow.

I sign spring.
When no one is looking,
clouds. The rain

deciding who.
Cells, alone with silence
and books of time,

stacked beside
gestures of opening
books. The city beyond

walking up staircases,
inside a room where
no one is sitting.

It’s evening. We
take off our shoes
and listen. I

show you a video
of murmuring
starlings, their rising

and falling. It’s like
this. You
happening in me.


Lindsay Illich’s Fingerspell is not only a book of elegy, motherhood, and eros; it’s also a book of astonishing, idiosyncratic seeing—in which knee caps are like “stone fruit,” the city of Washington DC represents “the remains of an idea,” grief is an accumulation of snow “into which / the heart sinks,” the act of waiting is “a splint // my body’s wrapped against,” and the sound of a running vacuum is evidence of love. I’m deeply moved by so many of these poems—by their articulations of loss and love, certainly, but also by their visionary hopefulness. “We are,” Illich tells us, “water / pouring through letters,” and an eclipse, she reminds us, has the power to lift us above our societal fury—”if only momentarily.”

—Wayne Miller

About the Author

Lindsay Illich

Lindsay Illich is the author of Fingerspell (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), 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 also co-authored Teach Living Poets (National Council of Teachers of English, 2021). She teaches at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts.

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