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.

I know crips live here

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. 

Brown Love

Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening
and waiting after you clear to make sure the Sikh man or
the Black woman or the hijabis behind you get through

Brown love is asking the Punjabi guy working at the starbucks knockoff
if all the tea sizes are still the same price

and he says no,
it hasn’t been like that for at least four years,
but he slips you an extra tea bag without talking about it.

Brown love is the unsmiling aunty
at the disabled immigration line

anything to declare? No? No? Have a good day.
and your rice, semolina, kari karo seeds and jaggary all get through
even though they are definitely from countries
where there are insects that could eat america to the ground

Brown love is texting your cousin on whatsapp asking
if she’s ever had a hard time bringing weed tincture in her carry on 

brown love is a balm
in this airport of life

where, if we can scrape up enough money
we all end up
because we all came from somewhere
and we want to go there
or we can’t go to there but we want to go to the place we went after that
where our mom still lives even though we fight
or our chosen sis is still in her rent controlled perfect apartment
where we get the luxury of things being like how we remember
we want to go to the place we used to live
and even if gentrification snatched the bakery
with the 75 cent coffee where everyone hung out all night
we can still walk the block where it was
and remember

and the thing about brown love is, nobody smiles.
nobody is friendly. nobody winks. nobody can get away with that
they’re all silently working their terrible 9 dollar an hour
food service jobs where tip jars aren’t allowed
or TSA sucks but it’s the job you can get out of the military
and nobody can get away with being outwardly loving
but we do what we can

brown love is the woman who lets your 1 pound over the 50 pound limit bag go
the angry woman who looks like your cousin
who is so tired on the american airlines customer service line
she tags your bag for checked luggage
and doesn’t say anything about a credit card, she just yells Next!
Brown love is your tired cousin who prays you all the way home
from when you get on the subway to when you land and get on another.
This is what we have
we do what we can.

Related Poems

jersey fems at the philly zoo

a flamingo knows, 
even without pink lipstick, 
fem is a feeling. 

black boots. Raritan
tap water memories flow. 
murderous brown geese. 

fly from Johnson Park, 
arrive, then turn up their beaks
'fuck dis sposta be?'

they inquire. I 
find cover in the leopard 
print fem next to me

because here, always 
someone's looking, someone's stares
caught in plexiglass

refracting the light 
in your life. no. it's not you. 
they look to consume.

especially spring, 
and when the ice cream melts
before it's lapped up. 

is lilac and lightning strike
before a great storm. 

electric strangers
cuff biceps unexpected 
back draws straight—horror.

they look to consume. 
they desire to control.
predatory birds; 

eagles, owls, all. 
swooping down with catching claws, 
no glass to hide you. 

I want my armor
an exoskeleton, tough 
hewn of crushed velvet

bristling with defense 
a kevlar of tenderness
enveloping me. 

this is what happens 
when the tree blooms: the axeman 
runs to chop it down. 

this is what happens 
when creatures meant for the deep 
somehow crawl ashore: 

they will be lapped up 
by the hot eyes of the sea 
pulled tight by strange hands 

knives licking their necks
the scent of wisteria
fireworks: flash/bang. 

flash fire, roll flame
clip wings from those who maim us 
declaw them all, bare. 

maybe the will burn 
corralled, while lights dance in the sky.
steaming macho ash. 

and if they must live 
then make me invisible. 
hide me. erase me. 


Why do they call us "the patient"
We are not patient.  We endure.
The anxious tedium of public hospital 
waiting rooms, because waiting
is the punishment of the poor;
interminable buses to inconvenient places
where we count up our cash, calculating
whether we can take a cab home 
instead of riding our exhaustion;
the angry contempt of specialists, taught to believe
any pain they cannot explain is insubordinate,
deliberate, offensive.

We are not patient. We are denied.
Not medically necessary, they say, not proven.
Feel free to appeal.  We are experts at appealing,
so we begin again, gathering documents, faxing releases,
collecting letters and signatures, 
giving our numbers, all our numbers, 
to dozens of indifferent, underpaid clerks,
stacking up evidence for the hearing, where we will declare
as civilly as we can to the affronted panels
that it is necessary that we breathe,
sleep, digest, be eased of pain, have medicines
and therapies and machines, 
and that we not be required to beg.

While I am waiting, I am using my pen,
steadily altering words.
Where the card says "medically indigent" 
I cross it out and write indignant.
Where my records say "chemically sensitive"
I write chemically assaulted, chemically wounded,
chemically outraged. On the form listing risk factors
for cancer, I write in my candidates: agribusiness, 
air fresheners, dry cleaning, river water, farm life,
bathing, drinking, eating, vinyl, cosmetics, plastic, greed. 

I am making an intricate graffiti poem
out of mountains of unnecessary paperwork.
Where the doctor has written "disheveled" I write untamed.
Where it says "refused treatment," I write refused to be lied to.
Where it says safe, side effects minimal
I say prove it. What do you mean minimal?
What do you mean side? I write
unmarketed effects unmentionable.
Where it asks, authorization?  I write inherent,
authorized from birth.  

Are you the patient? she asks, ready to transfer my call.
I say only with my own sweet, brave body.
I say, Not today, no.  I have no patience left.
I am the person who is healing, I say, 
in spite of everything. I will have to put you on hold she says. Yes,
hold me I say. That would be good