“we’ve always come on boats. we’re going to keep coming.”
(from the worst thing in the world)
I find it easiest to review books which I liked but had some issues with, because then I can discuss those issues at length. Truly awful and genuinely wonderful books can sometimes take a backseat, which then results in me not posting about some of my favorite books.
Bodymap was wonderful.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer disabled nonbinary femme of color poet who writes a lot about the personal experience of these intersections – vividly, with great feeling and meticulous attention to the rich detail of everyday life. It’s revealing, relatable, I had so many yes this! moments that I lost count. Here’s one:
“white bois with eager butts
and nonprofit jobs you wanted
are just like whole foods take out:
when you are too tired
to cook your own food
you can pay too much
for a tasteless version of your culture
that promises it won’t kill you.”
(from every time I see you I think what the hell was I thinking?)
The collection is sorted vaguely thematically, grouped into e.g., disability poems, family poems and so on. But one of the key points is that these categories are impossible and frankly pointless to disentangle. For example, queer people can be sick and disabled, and their (our) experiences will be distinct from those of queer non-disabled people or disabled non-queer people:
“that’s me sitting in a straight-backed chair in business casual
saying yes, I’m his sister yes, I’ll stay in the room
during the procedure”
( from love you like a 7 am healthy San Francisco free MRI)
There is a lot of sensuality and sexuality, and yes, queer disabled sex poetry. This is something I see incredibly infrequently. (Xan West does similar things in short fiction erotica as distinct from poetry.)
“Of moaning and cajoling and coercing, yes, there, fuck me, oh yes sudden breaking into oh fuck! my hip! no, no! Being absolutely normal. (from crip sex moments 1-10)
I think it is telling that I am on the asexual spectrum (not sex-repulsed though) but I still cannot stop quoting these erotic poems, they are so on point:
“Texts were our favourite slutty adaptive device.” (…) “Your house was so cripped out you had a couch in every room!”
(from crip sex moments)
And there is an incredible, lengthy poem examining the fact that many young, talented, artistic people become very sick and/or disabled, and the possible reasons why – she writes specifically about queer people of color, but I was trying to think about all the people I know and it feels to me that this is in general true of multiply marginalized people. I’ll just quote the beginning:
“There’s an underground river flowing through every queer-of-colour community I’ve ever been a part of and kissed.
The underground river of kids who went away.
The girls and boys who got sick and tired, spent hours curled up sleeping.
An underground river swelling its banks
filling the riverbed
carrying us away”
(from dirty river girl)
There are just so many feelings that I have had at some point that are expressed in this book. Especially related to disability, illness, activism while being disabled, being in love while disabled, belonging to multiple cultures and as Germans would say it, having a migration background. I constantly had the thoughts: “This is a thing?! I thought it was just me but it is totally a thing.” For example this sentence, the situation and emotions that it depicts is not exactly the same as access intimacy and there might not even be an expression for what it depicts, but i could instantly relate to it:
“when you rubbed my arms with arnica
and said oooh, baby, you’re about to get what I have”
This book provided me with an amazing journey of recognizing that I am both similar to and distinct from someone. For example I’m not femme (I’m not very butch/masc either) but a lot of the femme poems, specifically the hard femme poems, were just so incredibly clear, incisive and well put. I felt like I was coming to an understanding that I did not have before.
“we heal with salt packets and microwaved motel water
we heal with youtube mixes named too blessed
we heal bleeding and pissing in the dirt outside my house”
(from because every brown femme needs / where you find homegirl medicine)
Then we progress through the collection to ethnicity, belonging, assimilation and dissimilation. Have you had these conversations with your relatives?
“even though yr grandmas whisper keep a white name / for the passport keep as many passports as possible” (wrong is not yours)
And what do you do when:
“It’s enormous fights on the internet on every page that purports
to be about Sri Lanka from a multicultural perspective”
(from what it’s like to be sri lankan in 2012 / for those of you who aren’t)
Really, what do you do? One possible answer is “Read the poem.”
Then there is activism and teaching and basically my aspirational goals right there:
“because you teach with your tits and your tie. your gender is one of your best gifts to your students. you show them another way to be girl or boy that is hope lodged right by their gallbladder.”
(from maestra teacher: a rebel teacher manifesta song in many parts.)
One thing where my experience differs from the author is that I am parenting a 10-year-old (who is my stepchild). As I was reading, I kept on wondering if she would discuss parenting while queer, disabled, a femme of color etc. and in the last few sections she actually does write about it. In a really breathtaking, going-all-out way, with sparkling fighting spirit:
“you know I’m gonna raise her to know how to smile
and give good cut eye, rock the library
and then go explode the whole known world
which is like explore but with just one letter different
(from you know I’m gonna)
Then there is beauty:
“yashna said she was coming back from new delhi
driving all her shit to oakland from durham
I asked her where home was
she stopped perfect silent in the middle of writhing screaming queers
said home? home is right here
and touched her chest light”
Reading this book felt like coming home. Go give it a try if you can.
Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library (Oh my G-d my library has books like this one!! What an immense privilege to have.)
You can buy the book: