I. Looking at you was the hardest thing. Taking off my clothes While you stayed dressed, II. Nothing. III. My body a knife, my shoulder Its blade, I cut a path before me. Or sometimes I’m an apprentice ghost Unsure in the art of haunting; No one sees me as I pass. IV. No one sees me as I pass Though someone is always looking, Translating texts of skin and eyes As: our lives are whole without her. V. The intention of the taker doesn’t matter; Shame lies only in not being had, Pain in too much having. VI. If you weren’t older by twenty years, Superior in race, middle-class By marriage and sighted, You couldn’t whisper strip And then refuse to do the same. We get away with what we can, And this poet gives what she gives. VII. Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s: Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return. VIII. I am not you; that’s you and not me. From a distance the boundaries stay clear, And fear lies coiled and sleeping in its place. IX. Up close, I look at you, give you My body without its mask of blindness, Allow you to see me, my eyes As they work at seeing you. And not because, as I have said, I loved you more, or am most good, Just well-rehearsed as vulnerable.
Near the Naked Juices I passed A man my fingers walking Across his back he turned and held up A box said what Might this be I said oh You’re tactile too what’s your name He said William Amos Miller I said I thought you were born in 1872 he said so You know who I am yes you’re the man Who journeyed to the center of Earth In your mind he smiled on my arm said do You know that the Earth also journeyed To the center of my mind I said I never thought of that he asked Again about the box I shook it sniffed Said Mike and Ike is it fruit He inquired not exactly well I think I shall have an apple wait You haven’t paid oh My money nowadays is no money he pushed Outside we walked across the ice To the intersection he made to go across Wait you can’t go across we have to wait For help oh help he said crouching Until our hands touched the cold ground He said I said we said we see With our hands I jumped up and said you’re the man
Where does the future live in your body? Touch it 1 Sri Lankan radical women never come alone. We have a tradition of coming in groups of three or four. The Thiranagama sisters may be the most beloved and famous, but in the 20s my appamma and great aunties were the Wild Alvis Girls. Then there is your sister, your cousin, your great-aunts everyone infamous and unknown. We come in packs we argue we sneak each other out of the house we have passionate agreements and disagreements we love each other very much but can't stand to be in the same room or continent for years. We do things like, oh, start the first rape crisis center in Jaffna in a war zone in someone's living room. When war forces our hands, we all move to Australia or London or Thunder Bay together or, if the border do not love us, we are what keeps Skype in business When one or more of us is murdered by the State or a husband we survive whether we want to or not. I am an only child I may not have been born into siblinghood but I went out and found mine. Made mine. We come in packs even when we are alone Sometimes the only ancestral sisterlove waiting for you is people in books, dreams aunties you made up people who are waiting for you in the clouds ten years in the future and when you get there you make your pack and you send that love back 2. When the newly disabled come they come bearing terror and desperate. Everyone else has left them to drown on the titanic. They don't know there is anybody but the abled. They come asking for knowledge that is common to me as breath, and exotic to them as, well, being disabled and unashamed. They ask about steroids and sleep. About asking for help. About how they will ever possibly convince their friends and family they are not lazy or useless. I am generous- we crips always are. They were me. They don't know if they can call themselves that, they would never use that word, but they see me calling myself that, ie, disabled, and the lens is blurring, maybe there is another world they have never seen where crips limp slowly, laugh, have shitty and good days recalibrate the world to our bodies instead of sprinting trying to keep up Make everyone slow down to keep pace with us. Sometimes when I am about to email the resource list, the interpreter phone numbers, the hot chronic pain tips, the best place to rent a ramp, my top five favorite medical cannabis strains, my extra dermal lidocaine patch—it's about to expire, but don't worry, it's still good, I want to slip in a PS that says, remember back when I was a crip and you weren't, how I had a flare and had to cancel our day trip and when I told you, you looked confused and all you knew how to say was, Boooooooooo! as I was lying on the ground, trying to breathe? Do you even remember that? Do your friends say that to you, now? Do you want to come join us, on the other side? Is there a free future in this femme of color disabled body? 3. When I hear my femme say When I'm old and am riding a motorcycle with white hair down my back When I hear my femme say When I'm old and sex work paid off my house and my retirement When I hear my femme/myself say When I get dementia and I am held with respect when I am between all worlds When I see my femme packing it all in because crip years are like dog years and you never know when they're going to shoot Old Yeller When I hear my femme say when I quit my teaching gig and never have to deal with white male academic nonsense again When I hear us plan the wheelchair accessible femme of color trailer park, the land we already have a plan to pay the taxes on See the money in the bank and the ways we grip our thighs back to ourselves When I hear us dream our futures, believe we will make it to one, We will make one. The future lives in our bodies
I know crips live here. So many couches and blanket throws. I know crips live here. A bathroom filled with coconut oil, unscented conditioner and black soap. I know crips live here. Your Humira and T on the bottom shelf of the fridge. I know crips live here. Only house on the block with a homemade ramp, property standards so mad. I know crips live here. Big exhale at the shower chair, the slip pads and the air purifier. I know crips live here. I see all the things in reach around your mattress of glory, the vibrator, the library books, the TV, the stuffed animals. I know crips live here. Straws and Poise pads and crosswords and weighted blankets and stim toys. I know crips live here. You've been home for a couple days. A week. That's the imprint of your ass in the couch surrounded by empty bags of food and plates and the Advil and the heating pad. I know crips live here. 50 pounds of epsom salts, from the farm store, your painkiller display like an altar. I know crips live here. I see your EBT card and your fought for DSHS care attendant. I know crips live here. How you taught yourself to be an herbalist so you could afford to manage your pain. I know crips live here. Everybody late. I know crips live here. Your dogs, cats and stuffed animals are part of your family. I know crips live here. Your disabled parking placard a candle in the window. I know crips live here. Welcome You are home.
I want to be disability for you. Make new signs for you. They are saying things about us online in their underwear. The listserv is blowing up. Ableist verse, ableist verse and I’m talking to you. I’m a green circle for you and there you go again into my cover letters. Pinned your last dispatch to my Outlook so every day starts with you. Got your text. Got your chat. Got your tweet. Got you all over me. I want to be disability for you and capital crawl for you and accommodate you.
All Hallows Eve, Sweet Briar College, 2003
I came as a ghost to the party, no costume required, I only had to wear the brilliant skin, the ruinous eyes, the body poised in transit, unwriting the myth of sex. I came as a ghost to the party, though we pretended not to notice a palpable hovering in the interstices of conversations, a presence so insubstantial eyes passed through it, hands reached through air, bodies jostled on the dance floor and never felt a thing. Still, some there were haunted, drawn away from the company, its clenched knots of desperate clever banter, to contemplate the thinnest air as if, despite themselves, they heard and heeded a ghostly tongue; their bodies swayed in answer. Staring into that void they glimpsed themselves, turned back, shuddering, to the masquerade. I came as a ghost to the party against my better judgment at the persistent, earnest urging of my friends, as if a ghost had friends when they hoist the flag of whiteness and huddle there under purity and privilege, surrender—fatal— the furious, frailer, darker parts of themselves. Recently they had rallied to kiss the ass of a black man who had accomplished admirable things—though most there had not read them or only read a story, as pleasantly exotic and sweetly soothing as those wonderful spirituals about wading in the water and summertime. So extravagant was their ardor that I, a member of his tribe, could not get near him or have one word. Still, I know he saw me, sitting there, tense, alone, before his lecture, unmoored and vanishing in the cocktail Hell before his dinner— did not only see, but recognized a kindred ache. The first and second and third rule of thumb, the commentator said, is do not scare the white people. And so we stand apart, raise no specters of over-educated house niggers breeding insurrections, mustering ghost armies of strangers, lepers, freaks, the wretched of the earth, furious, innumerable and not afraid to die. I came as a ghost to the party. you didn’t wear a costume, someone said. I came as an activist, I replied, modeling my black ACLU t-shirt, Lady Liberty emblazoned down my front, at my back, a litany of rights. I might have said the costume’s in the eye. You will weave for me a shroud and I will walk among you like a ghost, mask of the red death, memento mori. Blind with pride and rage (I will ask no one for help), I quit the place, leave the lake behind, the band’s god-awful din, the strafing voices—the rent in the world’s fabric miraculously healed by my going. The dark deserted road is unfamiliar, its grade, its curves, the woods casting shadows from either side, but any path is right that leads away. I lose my way, keep going, going, deeper into the maze, finally turn back. Returned, the band’s on break; They’ve put a mix tape in. I dance like one possessed, furious grace. When strangers, not of this place, say a quick goodnight, I run after, take me with you, I say. A solid hand upon my solid knee, warm hands returning the pressure of my warm hand— two women rescue me, deliver me— ghost in the machine once more human girl—home with promises of brunch and company they will or will not keep. No matter. I lock the door and slide the chain, rest back against the frame, breathing relief. May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire. The malediction takes me by surprise. I say it once again with clear intent: May they all die horribly in a boathouse fire. These words be kerosene, dry wood, locked doors, a match.
His eyebrows cast shadows everywhere. You are a difficult language to speak. His long beard is thick with distrust. You are another curiosity seeker. His hands are not cheap trinkets. Entire lives have been wasted on you. His face is an inscrutable promise. You are nothing but paper and ink. His body is more than a secret language. Tourists are rarely fluent in it. His eyes will flicker with a bright fire when you purge your passport of sound. Let your hands be your new passport, for he will then stamp it with approval. A deaf man is always a foreign country. He remains forever a language to learn.
The first thing I learned was to look wide
at the darkness
and not want anything. He'd say, Just look
at the darkness
and tell me what you see. I'd say, I see stars or
Just the stars, Dad.
And he'd say, Don't call them that yet. What do you see?
Just the stars, Dad.
But then I'd be quiet and let my eyes go and look wide
at the darkness.
It was like a dome. I think it frightened me to stare
at the darkness.
I see light. I see a million little lights. And he'd say
They aren't all stars.
Some were planets and some were planes and I'd say, Yeah,
they aren't all stars.
But not really believe it. But say it so not to feel stupid out there
in the darkness.
First, I was twenty-five with no sleep ( )
& my body said feel this And I didn’t
want to ( ) then It turned into a constant & ( )
burned to be felt I couldn’t harden
away from it couldn’t ease ( )
or sleep or not-feel my way away because it was myself &
what my child could see ( ) & what I was watching
Can I translate myself to you?
Do I need to?
Do I want to?
When I say crip I mean flesh-proof power, flash mob sticks and wheels in busy intersections, model mock.
When I say disability I mean all the brilliant ways we get through the planned fractures of the world.
When I say living in America today I mean thriving and unwelcome, the irony of the only possible time and place.
When I say cure I mean erase. I mean eradicate the miracle of error.
When I say safe I mean no pill, no certified agency, no danger to myself court order, no supervisory setting, no nurse, can protect or defend or save me, if you deny me power.
When I say public transportation I mean we all pay, we all ride, we all wait. As long as necessary.
When I say basic rights I mean difficult curries, a fancy-knotted scarf, a vegetable garden. I mean picking up a friend at the airport. I mean two blocks or a continent with switches or sensors or lightweight titanium, well-maintained and fully-funded. I mean shut up about charity, the GNP, pulling my own weight, and measuring my carbon footprint. I mean only embrace guaranteed can deliver real equality.
When I say high-quality personal assistance services I mean her sure hands earning honorably, and me eating and shitting without anyone's permission.
When I say nondisabled I mean all your precious tricks.
When I say nondisabled privilege I mean members-only thought processes, and the violence of stairs.
By dancing I mean of course dancing. We dance without coordination or hearing, because music wells through walls. You're invited, but don't do us any favors.
When I say sexy I mean our beautiful crip bodies, broken or bent, and whole. I mean drooling from habit and lust. I mean slow, slow.
When I say family I mean all the ways we need each other, beyond your hardening itch and paternal property rights, our encumbering love and ripping losses. I mean everything ripples.
When I say normal I don't really mean anything.
When I say sunset, rich cheese, promise, breeze, or iambic pentameter, I mean exactly the same things you mean.
Or, when I say sunset I mean swirling orange nightmare. When I say rich cheese I mean the best food I can still eat, or else I mean poverty and cholesterol. When I say promise I mean my survival depends on crossed digits. When I say breeze I mean finally requited desire. When I say iambic pentameter, I mean my heart's own nameless rhythm.
When I say tell the truth I mean complicate. Cry when it's no longer funny.
When I say crip solidarity I mean the grad school exam and the invisible man. I mean signed executive meetings, fighting for every SSI cent.
When I say challenges to crip solidarity I mean the colors missing from grant applications, the songs absent from laws. I mean that for all my complaints and victories, I am still sometimes more white than crip.
When I say anything I know the risk: You will accuse me of courage. I know your language all too well, steeped in its syntax of overcoming adversity and limited resources. When I say courage I mean you sitting next to me, talking, both of us refusing to compare or hate ourselves.
When I say ally I mean I'll get back to you. And you better be there.