A large part of my work is simply documenting the moments and ways I feel most disabled. I don't know if most able-bodied individuals think about this—and I'm not going to say I speak for all or even most of the disability community—but I don't always think about how disabled I am. Admittedly I'm beginning to think about it more and more, but it isn’t a constant thought running through my mind, though difference is something I’m always aware of. Awareness and conscious thought differ in the sense that I’m not oblivious to the fact that I’m in a wheelchair while most people aren’t, but it’s forefront more in my mind at particular moments, like when a friend wants to have coffee.
These are the moments when it becomes clear that I'm not like everyone else. I have to consider the accessibility of the coffee shop, which isn’t limited to the entrance, but also the spacing between tables, noise levels. I have to think about time differently. It takes me longer to get ready to go out into the world. I order differently, if I even order at all. I try to capture moments like this because these are the moments when I'm most myself. My take on losing a kite to the sky is very different than the perspective of an able-bodied person because I have a different lived experience that allows for different layers of metaphor and connotation.
That's not to say these moments are always profound, or self affirming. To wake up feeling exhausted, numb with a headache means something different—maybe gestures to my shortened lifespan—in the context of my experience. This same moment for an able-bodied individual might suggest there was a good party last night. Nothing to worry about beyond a couple aspirin. These moments are opportunities for me to document difference, to highlight that no one experiences life in the same way.
I’d like to explore difference from other angles as well, because of course difference isn’t exclusive to disability. I don’t know that I have the authority to say much about race, gender, sexuality, or religion, but I might be able to gesture toward them through the power of metaphor and metonymy. One way I can see some of these topics coming into the manuscript is through ekphrasis. I’m currently working on a long poem sequence about Vivian Maier, a reclusive street photographer who virtually never sought to publish her work, and stored her negatives in pill bottles. She lived her life entirely different than most.
As controversial as Heidegger may be, I’ve always been intrigued by his thoughts on ontology, how an object is never more present than when it stops performing its main function. We’re never more aware of a telephone than when it stops making calls. But making calls isn’t the only function a telephone can perform, it’s simply the primary function. A telephone is capable of much more. It strikes me as an ontology of disability, and I hope to write several poems that explore these ideas of functionality and capability by both writing poems that consider specific parts of the body, but by also extending my scope into the natural world to hopefully begin thinking differently about the functions and capabilities of nature.
This pamphlet refers to breathing
as inspiration and expiration, transformed into
what they might call life, but
I liken it to speech,
the cadence of syllables sputtering
off my lips.
I cannot stop thinking about breathing,
breathing in different ways.
I can only speak in nine to ten : syllabic phrases, seven : if my stomach is empty.
Sometimes I will stop
, and start
over… Sometimes I will stop speaking,
and start over, if the pauses
May I have a sip of Mountain Dew, please?
The carbonation helps my stomach expand.
I will stop speaking,
and start over,
if the pauses fall in poor places.
I do not know how to palette the spiritual
innuendos of inspiration
and expiration. How oxygen feeds the body
before being exhaled like a memory:
not quite what it was, damp with life.
The sentiment sticks like oatmeal
in the back of the throat. Belly breathing:
the words I use
to explain how I breathe.
This pamphlet says my torso is shaped like a bell
due to weak thoracic muscles:
the ribcage compresses
and constricts the upper respiratory system, forcing
the child (me) to breathe from the diaphragm,
which pushes the lower ribs out.
The whistle in this chest is a finch caught in the throat.
THE KINDEST HUMAN
it was august in a target parking lot.
my mom was helping me
back my wheelchair into the car
when a man we’d never met appeared
like a thought, hands reaching
open. the event is a little
murky, like an accident you can’t believe
just happened. the haze was thick,
and he slid through the air,
eyes puddled, asking you need help?
and we said thank you, but
we’re okay,and he started to walk away.
i may have sighed in relief. then
he turned around, and said here,
here, holding five dollars. please, take.
and we said thank you, but
we’re okay. you can keep it. and he said no.
here. take. please, you need.
but we insisted, no,
no. we’re fine. and he replied, i understand.
too. i help. please. i understand.
now we no longer knew how to respond
to this human being trying to help
us, to give us what he had, what
he in all likelihood should not be giving.
we took the five dollars and said, thank you.
then he smiled and walked
back into the haze,
like a mirage.
THE DISABLED BODY
assembles. resembles. and rejects
the disabled body in theory
navigates. elucidates. and bridges the disabled body
in theory. the disabled body aggravates.
and negotiates the disabled body
in theory. the disabled body articulates.
and deviates in theory.
the disabled body argues. and belongs
in theory. the disabled body blooms.
bevels. and breathes. in theory
the disabled body believes. grieves.
the disabled body celebrates. clicks. and cracks.
corrodes. and atrophies.
elects. and elicits in theory. the disabled body electrifies.
the disabled body folds. in theory
the disabled body evaporates.
forgets. and frowns. the disabled body fucks.
and fumbles. and grows. and thrives.
the disabled body grins.
in theory the disabled body governs.
and hiccoughs. in theory the disabled body hijacks. hides.
and hopes. the disabled body illuminates.
imagines. jumbles. and jokes. in theory
the disabled body jives.
jibber-jabbers. the disabled body lingers. laughs.
leaks. and lacks in theory. the disabled body means.
proposes. and radicalizes the disabled body
in theory. the disabled body nudges. shocks. and oscillates.
the disabled body radiates. quakes. and trembles.
in theory the disabled body quiets. listens.
revels. shits. the disabled body exists
in theory. tangles. utters.
understands. in theory the disabled body unhinges. upsets.
and vibrates. values. and ventilates. in theory
the disabled body weathers. and withdraws
in theory. the disabled body wrights.
excites. yawns. zig-zags in theory.
the disabled body yearns. in theory the disabled body
functions. the disabled body
works. the disabled body
reflects in theory