Where does the future live in your body?
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
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
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
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.
About this Poem
“I wrote this poem in 2016. Trump had just been elected and I was very newly in my forties, and both of those things meant that I really needed a future for myself. I was one of those kids who had a hard time imagining that I would live past twenty-five. Being a disabled, mixed-race, Sri Lankan and white, nonbinary femme survivor, I had a hard time imagining a future, so I made one up. A lot of us die young because of the forces that want to kill us, so we lack those possible models, as Janet Mock said, of what these futures that are free can be like. Part of that is bringing together these Sri Lankan threads of imagining a future out of utter devastation, which Sri Lankan poets have done over and over again. Disabled people resist and survive out of the vibrancy of our bodies and minds and are are some of the most innovative people on the planet—and that’s in there. This poem is about me claiming my grown, surviving, older, haggard, hot, porch-witch, over-forty self. It’s really interesting to go back to this piece now, as I’m about to turn forty-seven, and remember all the ways I’ve settled into being nonbinary, older, disabled, autistic, and femme, and having a wild, beautiful pleasure garden of survival, out of all those places. Sometimes you write the future, and sometimes you make the future.”
—Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
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. They 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.
Tonguebreaker (Arsenal Pulp, 2019)
Bodymap (Maenzi House, 2015)
Love Cake (TSAR Publications, 2011)
Consensual Genocide (TSAR Publications, 2006)
Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2015)
Date Published: 2019-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/femme-futures