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Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. They received an MFA from Mills College.

Piepzna-Samarasinha is the author of the poetry collections Tonguebreaker (Arsenal Pulp, 2019), Bodymap (Maenzi House, 2015), which was a finalist for Publishing Triangle's Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry; and Love Cake (TSAR Publications, 2011), which received a 2012 Lambda Award. The poet Cyree Jarelle Johnson writes that Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poetry “paints a portrait of crippled body sovereignty in a world that would rather isolate us until we disappear.”

They are also the author of the memoir Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp, 2015), which was a finalist for both a Lambda Award and for Publishing Triangle's Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. With Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani, they are a co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities (AK Press, 2016).

Piepzna-Samarasinha has received a fellowship from the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, and in 2010 the Feminist Press named them one of 40 Feminists Under 40 Shaping the Future. The are a disability and transformative justice movement worker, educator, and lead artist with the disability justice performance collective Sins Invalid. They live in South Seattle, Duwamish territories, Washington.


Bibliography

Poetry
Tonguebreaker (Arsenal Pulp, 2019)
Bodymap (Maenzi House, 2015)
Love Cake (TSAR Publications, 2011)

Consensual Genocide (TSAR Publications, 2006)

Prose
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015)

By This Poet

3

Femme futures

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

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. 

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

barking
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.