The seven poems you will find here below, as well as seven others that will follow in a second post, were curated by us over the past several months, and represent only a small segment of poets with disabilities writing vital, engaged and powerful work today. To arrive here, we asked many disabled poets to offer their work, and this process raised issues that permeate debates in the disability community. We learned that some poets prefer not to claim disability as an identity, publicly or at all, and because this is a “disability” series, those poets did not wish to offer their work. We were also faced with questions raised in the recent and provocative debate between “disability poetics” and “crip poetics”: Who is the audience? Are we writing for other disabled people? For the nondisabled, or for everyone? How do we write for both while emphasizing the disabled poet’s aesthetic?
Our goals here are many. In curating this group of poems, we want to show aesthetic range, thematic variety, and formal power. We don’t want to repeat the ableist claims that appear so often in the media, even sometimes in this paper, that disability is a condition to be cured; Deafness is a condition to be cochlear-ed. These claims are ignorant of disability pride, Deaf pride, and our culture. In offering this work, we reject the stereotypes and misconceptions disabled people deal with every day from nondisabled people, and even from other disabled people. We refuse to box the poems in by requiring a fidelity to subject. It is enough that the poets say: I am disabled and/or Deaf. The poems can do anything.
We are grateful to Jennifer Bartlett and Peter Catapano, who edited the first poetry collection for this series in August 2018. We believe these poems express complexity, nuance, joy, tenderness, love, incisiveness and brilliance. We hope you will take them in, read them with the care with which they were written and selected, and understand that we disabled people do not just deserve or ask for the right to exist in this world with the same dignity and respect nondisabled people receive. We demand it.
This room’s a long way from when I was the ice
blue shadow pooled inside a center
of gravity I left in the shape
of a body Shivering made
its own music Sirens chipped
bits from our borders Looped guts
were a harmonica Don’t say we’ve nothing
to live for We are I go
back twenty kitchens
ago, stare out In my sleep Our skins rotate
toward sun A president is a boat
we didn’t pay for We don’t choose
to get on My mouth an
archipelago Your bones a school
of fish A country what won’t unyoke
slicked in our floating rib That hook
shine’s a lit kitchen from a frost-hard
road Built by slaves The smoke
of the world is never still My stomach full
of twigs cracking I mean I’m filling out
the forms Her bones glow under
ground The foxes are back Everything
might spill Sorry am I talking
too quiet too fast too  A body drained
of a name again A name spilled
milk again Paper money We age stringing chair
to chair under florescence Office ER
laundromat Thus silver ripples
through generations You’re just
another year moving through
like a cold front I’m just another name
for meat Last year crouched
under the newish war and chugged
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal
On the anniversary, I drive along a spine of mountains in an old blue truck through a purple desert, darkening indigo. My throat unrolls a fist of smoke. Around my wrist, a silver snake and when the pines appear, there you are among the long black trunks, storm-grey eyes. You wave in the door’s mouth. A shepherd dog stands beside you. your hair is longer now, and you’re holding a knife, thumbing blades of aloe to take to your mother. You tell me I look dimmer, like the light in me is underwater. The same song and a pair of boots by the bed. You braid my hair at the table, ask about the baby. The windows reflect a photo that isn’t there. I tell you about the miles of empty, broken chairs along the side of the road. You stack young firewood in the iron pit. We throw coins into the fire and talk on the porch through the night. In the canyons, wolf eyes like sapphires. I keep remembering the water is boiling. On the stove, a pot, filled with cold water. I put down the lid, but somehow, I know the phone is still ringing inside.
DEAF ERASURE OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE TSA AGENT AT ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL
This is the good news: [inaudible]
& we have a plan for you. Can you follow
what I’m saying? Follow me. Bless you,
[inaudible], there’s no need to [inaudible].
Doesn’t this happen to you all the time?
[Inaudible]. I said step in here. Why would you—
copy. Copy that, I’m here with—yes I’m here
with [inaudible] now. Like I was saying before,
I’m not here to preach [inaudible]. You are
what you are. Even Jesus wasn’t believed
& it’s not like he could put some marker
on his drivers license. Have you had the [inaudible]?
My cousin had the [inaudible]. But the other
way. Spread your [inaudible]. A little farther
down the line & I would’ve been Paul
or [inaudible] back from his lunch break.
That’s the power of [inaudible] right there.
Somebody’s looking out for you today. Next time
you might not—[inaudible]. Copy. Copy
that. I’m going to place my fingers here & then
they need the room. [Inaudible]. Okay that’s
enough. I need to go & tell them what I’ve seen.
A LITTLE WEALTH & IT DIES
the olives! they won’t let them harvest the olives!
yes, if you want to kill a people you have to starve
the wallets too. yes, in the nice hotel in the airport
lounge my leather bag my headphones someone’s
rent my skymiles & i feel it bubble. who cares
if the world ends if it ends over there? who cares
if the apocalypse after we fat on duck & gin? try again.
if god is the first mirror, i’ll pay for my heaven in cash.
bet he say nigga with an -er
like i do, now.
A TOAST DELIVERED FROM MY FLOOR MATTRESS
To the blue sunrises when I hear her
voice in my ear, saying alcohol is
a depressant, there is a reason for
how low I feel. To the mornings I wish
a human into my bed, a cactus
onto my nightstand. To the early kind
of awareness, the graying skylit hush,
clouds, the vaguely hungover bodymind.
To the whole concept of mimosas, hair
of a classier dog than what I bit.
To teenage chaos, to the truth or dare
phase, the cigarettes we pre-New Year’s lit
on the porch at that house party. It’s all
a myth, this growing up thing, a close call.
Before the seventeenth century,
the English language had no noun
for comfort. No way to describe
that state of better-off-ness
for sleeping on a bed of hay
than on a bare plank. No word
to express how much that hay’s
texture might be improved
without the creep of insect
or midnight scuttle of mouse.
Comfort was only a verb—to solace,
to strengthen, to give what aid
or blessing one could against
a hemorrhagic wound or lung
splitting with rot. To be
comfortable meant nothing beyond
able to bear someone else’s idea
of help: the smoke of censer
at prayer, the crumbling wafer
of last rites—bodily gestures
that lead a spirit into the dark.
When the nurse cracks the door,
the thin wedge of light raking
at my eyes, reminding my body
that it is body still, she asks if I
am comfortable. I say yes, reach out
my silent hand for touch.
Make no apologies for yourself
Because you are covered by a listening skin
Because every ache you feel is not your own
Because of your mother’s loss
and your father’s rage
Because of how many rivers they’ve crossed
Because you plummet even if you cannot swim
Because of the lynching tree
Because when you enter bookstores
books fall off shelves into your open palms
Because you ask questions of the universe
so the world opens before you like a page of text
Because of those clouds and that murder of crows
Because poets are your wounded idols
Because the truth, even if it hurts is to be cherished and held
Because when people die you believe that they walk with you daily
Because the river has a mouth that speaks their names
Because the river flows with stories
Because you sit on the shore and listen
Because alone is more comforting than together
Because your pen is oceanic
Because you are big-eyed and eyes wide
Because you suffer from what you see and hear
Because you have sinus arrhythmia
your heart is linked to your breath
and your breath is short,
Because asthma is only one of the monkeys on your back
Because your heart is the vehicle you choose to ride this go ’round
Because it can go forward and backwards in time
Because bookstores have always been oracles
Because poetry is your archeological tool
Because you dig and dive
and you trust the ride of journal and journey
even if you don’t always float
Because your heart beats to your breath
Because of this music, you dance raw and wild
Meg Day is the author of the book of poems “Last Psalm at Sea Level.” They teach at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania.
Nina Puro is the author of “Each Tree Could Hold a Noose or a House” and other books. They are a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative and a social worker.
Cade Leebron lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, American Literary Review, The Establishment, and elsewhere.
Khadijah Queen is the author of five books of poetry and hybrid prose, most recently “I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I Had On.” She is currently working on a memoir.
Glenis Redmond is the poet-in-residence at The Peace Center in Greenville, S.C., and at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J.
Vanessa Angélica Villareal is the author of “Beast Meridian” and a doctoral student at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
Artwork curated by Jim Datz
Disability is a series of essays, art and opinion by and about people living with disabilities. The entire series can be found here.
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