Looking at you was the hardest thing.

Taking off my clothes
While you stayed dressed,


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.

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. 

The intention of the taker doesn’t matter;
Shame lies only in not being had,
Pain in too much having.

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.

Historically, it was a woman’s fate, a slave’s:
Submission to a gaze s/he can’t return.

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.

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. 

From A Protocol for Touch (University of North Texas Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Constance Merritt. Used with the permission of the author.

The law wants my body reasonable
My body won't fence in its demands
Expects the world to stop
Whenever it wants to lay down
Throws up its middle finger
At deadlines, task lists,
Long awaited meetings
It ain't open to negotiation
Wants you to stop telling it to
Calm down
It has three settings: rest, spark, flare
All that talk about your inconvenience & your hardship
It calls that Bullshit
It will not wait in line
It will not be polite
It will not use its inside voice
It wants all the space
In every room of the house
The entire sky & the full lawn of grass
It wants to set it all aflame
My body is a pyromaniac
My body is the art 
Of Angela Bassett's right hand
Letting reason go up in smoke

Originally published by The Deaf Poets Society. Copyright © 2017 by Camisha L. Jones. Used with the permission of the author.

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

Copyright © 2018 John Lee Clark. Used with permission of the author.

Where does the future live in your body? 
Touch it 

Sri Lankan radical women never come alone. 
We have a tradition of coming in groups of three or four, minimum.
The Thiranagama sisters are the most famous and beloved,
but in the ’20s my appamma and great-aunties were the Wild Alvis Girls.
Then there’s your sister, your cousin, your great-aunties 
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 with no funding. 
When war forces our hands, 
we all move to Australia or London or Thunder Bay together
or, if the border does 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 

Because sometimes the only ancestral sisterlove waiting for you
is people in books, dreams 
aunties you made up 
people 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 

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 that there is anyone
but the abled. They come asking for knowledge 
that is common to me as breath, and exotic to them as, well,
being disabled and not hating yourself. 
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 and 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,
i.e., 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’m 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
P.S. 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?

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 
Touch it.

Originally published in Hematopoiesis Press, Issue 2. Copyright © 2017 by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 12, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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.

You are home. 

Copyright © 2018 Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Used with permission of the author.

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. 

Originally published in Boston Review, April 2017. Copyright © 2017 by Jillian Weise. Used with the permission of the author.

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.

From Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems (Headmistress Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Constance Merritt. Used with the permission of the author.

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.

From Mute (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Raymond Luczak. Used with the permission of the author.

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.

From Rocket Fantastic (Persea Books, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Used with the permission of the author.

Then God said
let there be sound
and divided the silence
wide enough for music 
to be let in and it was a good groove 
And God said
let there be overflow
sent sound in all directions
pin drops & children's laughter
phones ringing & plates clattering
and it was kind of good but too much at times
So God said
let there be volume control
let there be choice how loud life should be 
and there came the power to fade
the voices, the annoyances, the noise
and that was mighty good for all the unnecessary drama
Then God said let there be surprise, startle even
at the bird's chirp, the ice maker, 
the cabinet slammed shut
let there be delight
at the first calls in months
to father & best friend
and these were such good reasons for choking back tears 
that God saw
the dark & the light
dangling brilliantly from each ear
and God whispered amen
then smiled when it was heard.

From Flare (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Camisha L. Jones. Used with the permission of the author.

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

Originally published in CURA, Issue 14. Copyright © 2014 by Khadijah Queen. Used with the permission of the author.

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.


Laura Hershey
November 2010

Copyright © 2012. Used with the permission of Robin Stephens.