Monstering

Disabled Women and Nonbinary People Celebrating Monsterhood

Filtering by Category: writing

Ambulatory: How the Little Mermaid Shaped My Self-Image with Cerebral Palsy

CW: Ableism, body horror, death

Like many other little girls born in 1989, the year that The Little Mermaid was released, I was obsessed with Ariel. I never saw the movie in the theater but watched the VHS obsessively starting when I was two or three. At that age, I was far too young to understand the romance between her and human Prince Eric. I identified with her fun-loving curiosity, musicality, and independence. But long before I knew what a metaphor was, I also unconsciously related her desire for legs to my cerebral palsy, which affects my balance, gait, and coordination. "She has feet!" I told my babysitter, thinking hazily of my own goal of one day walking independently.

However, unlike Ariel, I didn't really want to change anything about myself. I imagined that Ariel could stay in the sea with me and be my friend. When my aunt and uncle bought me a Prince Eric doll to go with Ariel, I was inexplicably appalled. My mom understood this implicitly when she said to me, "Ariel's our friend, right?" My view of Ariel had shifted subtly. Instead of relating to her desire for legs, I now wanted to stop the story before Ariel could change herself.

At the time, I had an Ariel doll that I brought everywhere. She had a removable, green tail that I could pull over her legs, transforming her from a mermaid to a human and back. One day, I accidentally knocked Ariel's leg out of its socket. Spooked, I immediately threw the doll and all its accessories into the trash. My mom retrieved it from the trash and explained to me that Ariel was not broken.

In 2009, when I told my college roommate this story, she joked, "You threw away a doll for being disabled!"

In a complicated way, dolls can reflect or reinforce whom society considers attractive or even "normal." All children should have access to dolls and characters that reflect their identities, such as race, disability, and body type. I received catalogs offering to custom-make dolls resembling individual children but found it off-putting and creepy.

I noticed that most characters were white, like me, but almost none were disabled. As an adult, I discovered that disabled authors of color are doubly marginalized, even in the disability community, due to this lack of representation. I think that some of us as disabled children identified primarily with our race or gender but not with our disability. Or we unconsciously found metaphors for disability, like I did with the little mermaid. Although I never thought that anything was "wrong" with me, the eerie feeling that something was wrong with Ariel had been unshakable.

I wasn't the only disabled student in my school, but even in preschool I began to realize that I was different from most of the other children. My desire to stay under the sea with Ariel was inseparable from the idyll of my parents' house and the radical self-acceptance that they helped teach me. Ariel moves from one world to another, which is how I often felt navigating between disabled and non-disabled people.

Today, due partly to countless hours of physical therapy, including therapeutic horseback riding, and exercising at home with my parents as a child, I'm ambulatory. I can walk semi-independently, either with crutches or a walker. My dad used to say that someday I would reach what he called "step three" and be "a community walker." Despite his good intentions, we learned and realized that this wasn't a realistic goal. Although I can get around semi-independently, there are certain places, like the subway, where I'll travel with family and close friends only, never alone. My gait will always be distinctive, and I'll always need some type of assistive device. My family and I never considered total assimilation, or eradicating any trace of my disability, a healthy goal. It's part of my identity and always will be. This is why I find popular narratives of curing or "overcoming" disability both inaccurate and insulting.

Despite my strong sense of self, as an insecure teenager, I sometimes used to wonder what a non-disabled version of myself would look like: more developed muscles, straight posture and gait. Now I realize that there's no ideal version of anyone. This is how I'm supposed to be. Why disavow or wish away the source of my art and some of my most fascinating, unique experiences and relationships?

In high school, I revisited the story of "The Little Mermaid." I read Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale and realized that it was much darker and more visceral than the sanitized Disney version. The nameless mermaid not only loses her voice; she also literally has her tongue cut out. Her new feet bleed each time she takes a step. Whether you interpret this as representing the physical pain of menstruation or the way that some people sacrifice and silence parts of themselves for their partners, the symbolism is rich. Imagine: all that for a man who doesn't even like her back! At the time, I vowed I'd never change for a man. I often made pronouncements like this.

When I was nineteen and a sophomore at Stonehill College, I took a creative writing class and used Ariel as a metaphor in my story "Categories," eventually published in Deaf Poets Society. As I've become more involved in the disability community, both in-person and online, I learned that I wasn't the only person to use mermaids as a symbol for disability. Disabled artist and activist Annie Segarra recently used the amphibious nature of mermaids as a metaphor for being an ambulatory wheelchair user, sometimes walking and sometimes needing assistive devices.

The little mermaid's self-abnegation—her attempt to destroy what makes her unique—will always disturb me. In the original story, the mermaid fails: instead of staying human and gaining an immortal soul, she dies and turns into sea foam. The little mermaid briefly succeeded at assimilation—at becoming something she was not. But the cost was her voice and her life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

GRACE LAPOINTE is a freelance contributor at Book Riot. Her fiction has been published in KaleidoscopeDeaf Poets Society, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change. Her essays have appeared in Wordgathering, as part of Grub Street's "Why I Write" series, in The Body Is Not An Apology, and elsewhere.

A Borderline's Survival Kit

CW: Ableism, addiction, drugs, self-harm, self-hatred

 

Ironically, if you want to stay alive, sometimes you have to jump off the edge.

You need something to believe in, but you're not left with many choices. When the only options are a rusting razor, a bottle of rum and three packs of cigarettes, another stranger to have reckless sex with, and mind-altering medications that make you drug-dependent, which one do you pick?

I picked them all, just like some people jump from one psychiatrist to another, trying as many brands of antidepressants as their bodies can take, in the hopes of finding the one that suits them best. Those were the worst five months of my life.

It started with self-harm. Non-suicidal self-injury was what mental health experts called it. When people see my right arm, a canvas of badly-etched scars, they jump to the conclusion that it was from a suicide attempt, but I did not try to end my life. It was always hard to explain with reasons they didn't want to hear in the first place. To me, self-harm served as a frail attempt to convert emotional pain into physical pain, something I know I can tolerate better. To others, self-harm is a performance act, a sad call for attention. I grew tired of explaining myself and realized that alcohol and nicotine were easier to hide, except from my roommate. Drinking and smoking became a nightly regimen. I had to get myself drunk just to get through another night in that long stretch of depression.

Somewhere in between being sober and staying drunk, I did try to get better, but the first time I consulted a psychiatrist did not go as well as I hoped. I was misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder. The rivotil worked for a few months or so, but then it lost effect. It was not enough to help me get through. I stopped attending therapy when I decided to give up on myself. Not long after, I lost my virginity to a boy I met online. There were 12 more encounters in the span of three months. I was in the peak of mania, drowning myself in hypersexuality.

It was not the sex nor the vices that got me hooked. It was the feeling of destroying myself slowly. Every time, I would end up feeling emptier than before, the temporary feeling of being visible and wanted fading too quickly. There was just something so addicting about hurting myself; it felt like the only thing I was good at. 

My mother knew nothing about my self-destructive behavior, nothing but the scars, but she encouraged me to see another psychiatrist. It was then that I was treated for bipolar disorder and BPD. I have been making progress, but to this day, I remain dependent on lamotrigine and quetiapine. When I miss a dose, I suffer from too many side-effects: I immediately lose control of my emotions, and intrusive thoughts impair my judgment. 

I cannot stress enough how much I hate having to live with bipolar and BPD. People talk about being emotionally unstable, but my body aches with every switch of emotion. I lost control over my actions, and because of this, I lost respect for myself. There were too many bruises and regrets.

How badly did I want to stay alive? I did not feel alive, but I was breathing. In those moments, that seemed more than enough.

My demons clawed their way out of my worldly vessel, wanting release, and I let them. I still have the scars from their escape. The scratches inside my throat sometimes still sting. 

The problem with struggling with invisible illness is that people often don't believe what they cannot see. It does not help that many people with BPD have mastered the art of veiling your symptoms with faux normalcy. The curse of being blessed with manipulative tendencies is that you can manipulate people into thinking you are well, when you are actually far from being so. 

People only see addiction exactly as it is, nothing more. They don't bother understanding the reasons behind it. The truth is that only when you die do people feel shame. They only pretend to care when it's too late. They call us monsters for our struggle to stay sane and intact, for plunging into vices just to make one more day bearable to live, but who is truly worse? I would rather be a monster who embraces her disabilities than one who does not realize her own monstrosity. 

 

About the Author

ELIZABETH RUTH DEYRO is in her final semester at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, completing her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. She majors in writing, specializing in nonfiction and critical writing. She is a prose editor for Culaccino Magazine and Minute Magazine. She writes for BioLiterary and The Cerurove, and reads for Monstering and The Mystic Blue Review. She also serves as the Social Media Head of the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Inc.

words as weapons (sharper than knives)

CW: Ableism, oppression

 

disappointed. disinterested. disengaged. 
distrust. discarded. disgrace.

the words above all have a negative connotation: they evoke bad feelings & emotions—some more than others—but perhaps i have omitted the worst. perhaps you don't think it's the worst. but then again, you're probably not disabled.

what does that word mean to you? i imagine it's either interchangeable for sympathy &/or empathy, right? either a turn of the head or a knowing glance. a contest to distinguish between the scrounger or the sufferer. 

it is just a prefix, i hear you say. but does that justify alienation? the letters mean nothing on their own, but we as humans add weight to them.

perhaps i am not being clear here. what i mean is, whether people self-identify as disabled or whether that label is stuck upon them, from that moment on, they are disposable. disfigured. bad. bad. bad. they are a stereotype, a predefined definition. a statistic. an anomaly. an excuse to be given. people shy away from the word, cringe at it, make a big deal about discussing it. they don't like to hear about it, because of course disability wouldn't exist in a perfect world.

these are not my views, & perhaps not yours, but the evidence swings the other way: history has a habit of repeating itself in terms of oppression against minorities. disabled individuals—thought to be subhuman were targeted in the holocaust & are targeted in things like genetic cleansing, even today. foetuses are being aborted at the mere suggestion of some sort of impairment.

yes, having a disability is hard. but that does not mean that abled people should make it harder for us to deal with and find ourselves in this strange world of feelings & emotions & an affiliation towards categories & labels. our minds are stronger than the eyes that look down on us. please let us portray that.

i am disinterested in what you think of me, dissatisfied with what you see me to be. i am disabled, yes—but that does not mean i can be discounted or discredited. all that means is that i am differently abled—& that really is not as bad as you believe.

 
 

About the Author

L.MUNIR is a law student from the united kingdom. when not studying, reading, writing or being entirely monstrous, they can be found napping, advocating & petting cute cats—though as of yet—due to technological limitations—not all at the same time.
 

Hiraeth

CW: Abuse, body horror

 

I am running down claustrophobic corridors, all flickering shadows, gunmetal grey sharp-angled walls and low ceilings. The walls are too close. The corridor seems to stretch on forever. I'm looking for my mother's fetus—I know, in the way that one knows things in dreams, that it is here. I know intuitively I'm not on Earth—I'm aboard the spaceship that took my mother's child while she was pregnant and placed me in her womb. I startle awake from the dream I've experienced several times since I was little. Each time it's the same warren of hallways and the same sense of overwhelming panic that I will fail to recover my mother's real child. 

Growing up I was told that I was just like the other kids. I just had ADD and a bit of trouble with reading, some handwriting issues, but nothing big. I knew that was a lie just like I knew I wasn't human. I felt it deep in my bones. As a child I found the world chaotic and confusing. Meandering through the library looking for science fiction, fantasy, and monster tales was peaceful and comforting. Through my reading I began to stockpile words and ideas that matched my experiences and dreams. I was slowly building a language to communicate. I was ten when I found a word that adequately captured the feel of the dream: changeling. I first learned about changelings in the book Moorchild. A changeling, in this case, meant a being that was part fairy/part human, cursed to never truly fit in either world because they weren't fully one thing or the other. Within Moorchild I saw a glimmer of my dream on the page for the first time. That thrill of seeing a secret part of myself written casually on the page shocked me and deeply endeared me to the story.

I was ten when I first read Moorchild. At the time it felt like there was a larger significance than I could articulate around the shift from single- to double-digit numbers. That year I stopped seeing one therapist (motor and math skills), started seeing a psychotherapist for the first time, and was diagnosed with three anxiety disorders. It was also the year I went on my first long camping trip during which I likely suffered a second concussion that, like the first, wasn't properly treated. I didn't tell J.—the person who organized the trip and whom I had been seeing for several years to address a variety of issues around motor and math skills—I just walked it off. I hadn't yet realized that my pain response was abnormal. Ten was also a pivotal year, a junction in time I can point to as the beginning of my disintegration from my family. At the time, I didn't know what was to come, but little warning signs began to appear. Suffice to say ten was a momentous year for my psyche, and when I came across Moorchild, I devoured it. I read and reread that book until it appeared to have been mauled by a small inquisitive creature. The book sparked a curiosity about changelings, and my research into changelings intensified my fascination with monsters and the supernatural. 

From a young age, I knew I wasn't like the others and the stress of trying to pass caused significant damage that I'm still undoing. I turned to research as a way to try and make sense of the world. I suspect that early in life I picked up on the fact that I wasn't just quirky—my brain was wired differently from other people. Other kids had after-school events; I mostly had tutors and doctors. Other kids didn't go to the hospital twice yearly (between the ages of 4 and 8) and yearly (between the ages of 9 and 18) for testing. Ultimately I reached the conclusion that my brain wasn't "normal." I resented the lies from my caregivers that everything was fine. I understand the impulse to lie to a disabled child, to want to protect them from the seriousness of their diagnosis. In my parents' case they were motivated by a desire to keep me from sliding into hopelessness. In their minds, if I knew what was wrong with my brain I wouldn't try, but if I thought I was normal I would maintain a good work ethic. I'm not sure where they got that idea, but it didn't work—I grew up a perfectionist, convinced that I was a monster. It makes sense that a monster would seek out others like them and, finding none in meatspace, I instead turned to fiction and myth. 

Monsters are built from cultural anxieties and fears. Changelings were born from anxiety around the Other and disability/disease that resists explanation. The changeling myth helped provide an explanation for a range of life occurrences such as sudden death or disappearance, mysterious illness, and eccentric and bizarre behavior. The term changeling was used to describe an individual, usually a child, who demonstrated notable sudden shifts in behavior and/or appearance. A changeling was a substitute for an infant, child, or adult who the fairies had abducted. The substitute left by the fairies might be a sickly fairy child, an older member of the fairy tribe, or an animated log that manifests as a human that is slowly dying. The changeling was characterized by a number of behaviors (such as developmental delays) and certain physical appearances (such as stunted bodies).* Changelings were similar to fairy abductions—the mysterious disappearances of children and adults attributed to fairies, though in the case of fairy abductions, nothing remained. The person simply disappeared, seldom to return and, if returned, markedly and forever changed by their time amongst the faye. The idea of a shadowy Other on the outskirts of civilization has haunted our collective unconsciousness for millennia and is one of humanity's oldest fears. The changeling myth tapped into the fear that a parent can do everything possible to protect their child, yet still lose them to a shadowy Other on the outskirts of civilization. The changeling also tapped into the fear of the imposter. Whether permanent (like the vampire) or temporary (like a possession), it pokes at the deep lizard brain fear of the Other as well as the anxiety that the Other can look identical to your child or kin. It can pass for human. Monsters are frightening enough when they look monstrous (c.f., Frankenstein), but when they look human, that amplifies and warps the terror.

The changeling myth identified the disabled as not human and thus made it acceptable to kill the child: 
"A number of people...believed their loved ones—either adults or children—had been transformed into alien and frightening beings. Unconsciously externalizing a felt evil, they sought to determine its source, and, if possible, to exorcize it. If someone became a changeling, it was not neglect, disease, or a taint in the blood line that was responsible. And if the affected creature died, either naturally or as a result of changeling tests*, it had not been meant to live. Besides, the real person had been taken by the fairies. She or he was elsewhere" (Silver, 2000, 65).

Most changeling incidents involved children, i.e., those perceived as dependent or subordinate in the social hierarchy: "The belief in supernatural etiology and intervention permits the more dominant group—here adults—to reject an imperfect infant ('It's the fairies' child, not ours') and allows as well for denial ('We didn't do anything; it was born normal')" (Silver, 2000, 66).

It has been speculated that the story of changelings was a way to explain over 100 diseases and disorders such as PKU, autism, and progeria as well as explain the signs of neglect. While changelings have largely fallen out of the cultural lexicon—newspapers and other news sources no longer report changeling cases, as was the case in Victorian times—, but the anxiety around the Other, and around disability, is still very much with us. 

Monsters provide a convenient holding place for the things we don't want to look at or consider. Culturally, we still hold a lot of anxiety around disability. Certain fears—the Other, disease/disability that resist explanation—are deeply embedded in the human psyche. So while the fear and anxiety might change shape and name, its rudimentary form stays the same. The monster adapts to changing cultural norms and values holding ancient fears dressed in conventional attire. Thus we see the changeling myth in one of the earliest stories of space travel (The Man in the Moone) and in how many refer to autism. Many of the changeling references in regards to autism are on a science fiction angle, i.e., phrases like "children from another planet" or "living with a martian." What is interesting to note is that the language surrounding changelings is eerily similar to the language surrounding autism and vaccines. In both cases the narrative goes: I had a good child, the good child was taken, in its place is a bad and/or sickly child, I want my good child back.**
 
When I was 18 I gained access to my medical records and saw the initials NLD for the first time, along with several other diagnoses. I was both relieved and enraged that I had been right all along. I was not normal, but disabled, and notably disabled in some ways—the current diagnosis is autism, severe SPD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. I suspect that the feeling of otherness born from a neurodiverse autistic brain led me to feel that I wasn't my mother's child. My mother's child was elsewhere, I surmised, in outer space. This makes sense, considering that I turned to science fiction and comics at an early age as a way of coping with feeling so culturally out of place. Outer space equaled safety and, in many respects, felt like where I truly belonged. It would make sense, then, that if I belonged there, that would be where the real child was. These days I now jokingly refer to myself as an alien changeling—melding science fiction with the changeling myth. Admittedly, however, I have largely accepted the fact that I will likely never leave this planet. 

 
 

Footnotes

*Typical characterizations of the changeling included unresponsiveness, resistance to physical affection, unexplained crying, atypical social development, often physically ugly (large heads, stunted bodies, old distorted face, dark or sallow skin), developmental delays in walking or speaking (though some showed exceptional ability in a specific area), gluttonous appetites, and disruptive behavior. Some were active while others were immobile and doll-like losing any semblance of life over time. Prompt baptism was considered an excellent preventive but if the child (or in some cases the adult) had already been changed there were various tests or exorcisms to try and return the child/adult. Infants were almost never returned, but there was the possibility that adults might be returned (though even if returned they were not quite right having spent some time with the fairies). The tests or exorcism ranged from mild (such as tricking the changeling into betraying its nonhuman nature by doing something preposterous before your eyes or having the changed person touched or sprinkled with holy water by a priest or minister) to severe (leaving the child outdoors such as at the foot of a hill in particular those thought to be inhabited by fairies or by rivers, flogging, having bits or hunks of iron thrown at the afflicted individual, branding with fire, abandoning it in a ditch or on a grave, and shoveling which entailed placing the suspect on a hot shovel or over a hearth fire with instructions to go up the chimney). The idea was that exposing the changeling to peril of life would compel the fairies to return the "real" person, i.e., rather than see their own offspring suffer, the fairies would intervene and bring back the human child. Exorcisms would have been done by a priest or minister, the family/local community, and/or a fairy doctor who, amongst other things, treated changelings. 

**One autism parent memoir considered a "classic"—The Siege by Clara Claiborne Park—uses the "autism as child-thief" metaphor at length, referring to the birth of an autistic child as akin to myths of fairies stealing babies in the night, only to replace them with mimicked shells of their former selves (C. Park). To quote Dr. Mitzi Waltz, a lecturer in Autism Studies at the University of Birmingham, "This metaphor is redolent of changeling myths, which may represent the oldest legends concerning autism as such. In these stories, the changeling must be killed, beaten, or abandoned, or the correct spell must be said, to force the return of the 'real' child it replaced" (Waltz). Unfortunately, the acts of killing, beating, abandoning and even searching desperately for the correct "spell" to "cure" autism and thus return the hypothetical normal child are all too common amongst parents of autistic children, as they continue to play out the only autism paradigm most have ever known: a pyrrhic quest for a non-existent cure. This topic deserves further elaboration: what effect does the concept of cure have on parents who are reluctant to face the reality that the child born to them is different from the child they desired? (Ne'eman, 2007, The Empty Fortress: The Fallacy of the Missing Self section, para. 3, https://case.edu/affil/sce/Texts_2007/Ne'eman.html).

 

About the Author

JACK is a genderqueer autodidact and HSP autistic with severe SPD with interests in developmental psychology, anthropology and film theory. They live in Seattle with their husband and a vocal black cat and work as a medical massage therapist. For more of their writing please visit tk746.wordpress.com.

 

Works Cited

Silver, C. B. (2000). Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press. 

Eloise, J. MG. (1996). The Moorchild. Simon & Schuster, Inc. 

Ne'eman, A. (2007). "Dueling Narratives: Neurotypical and Autistic Perspectives About the Autism Spectrum." Atlanta, 9, 11.

Suggested Reading

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/britchange.html
https://www.amazon.com/Burning-Bridget-Cleary-True-Story/dp/0141002026
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srul5Xd2kT4 ("Designing the Other: Aliens on Film Chez Lindsay")
http://www.englishwithtuttle.com/uploads/3/0/2/6/30266519/cohen_monster_culture__seven_theses__3-20.pdf
https://roachpatrol.tumblr.com/post/161863637967/heres-a-story-about-changelings-mary-was-a

An Open Letter to Neurotypicals

CW: Suicide

 

Don't be scared of the 's' word.

When I first thought to write about ableism, I thought this should be easy. Ableism is common, unchallenged, so I did not feel pressured to dissect it, to discuss its true form—but that's exactly why I struggled. There's so much of it, too much—and it ranges from 'obvious' to 'perhaps that was not the intention, but it can be considered as ableist'. I didn't know where to begin.

My reluctance to begin changed all but a few weeks ago, when our heavily ableist worldview led to the worst outcome possible—suicide. News regarding Chester Bennington's death hit both the music world and the general public like a fully-loaded freight train, and more painful than his death is the realisation that suicide will feel like the only option to so many right now, and in all the days to come.

Neurotypical ableism is probably the biggest killer of our generation. With the event of Chester's suicide, the usual posts did the rounds on social media—suicide prevention hotlines & such—but is that really enough? Suicidal people know that help is out there; they just feel unworthy of it. A phone number, offset by a string of emojis, feels quite distant from the whirlwind of thoughts in one's head. Mentally ill people have a special magical power that can help them heal—talking. No, really—it's so rare & powerful that it's made out to be this incredibly inconvenient, cringe-worthy thing. And, believe it or not, that is ableism. It may not be intentional, but it affects so many people. It's already so hard to open up, to vocalise your weaknesses—and society makes it even harder by purposely avoiding it.

Yeah, it's awkward. So what? Funerals are a tad more tricky to deal with. What you end up with is a vicious cycle of people silently struggling, and suddenly they aren't there anymore, and the pain is passed on, to all sorts of different people. But grief isn't diluted when passed around. It gets stronger and more destructive and flooded by tears.

There is nothing worse than losing someone to silence, especially if you are the source. People often have a hard time of initiating personal conversation, so if you know someone who struggles, start the conversation. Invite them for coffee (wait, don't do that—coffee is yucky). Just invite them. Make an effort to talk about and through the hard things. Your efforts may be rejected, especially initially—and if the person is not a threat to themselves or others, then you should respect that. It takes time to build up trust, especially when people may have never experienced it before.

Suicide is not failure. Not talking about it is.

Opening up is not a weakness. Ignorance is.

Offering support is not ableism. Criticising is.

There needs to be more understanding. If some neurotypical individuals claim 'fidget spinners' to be a toy, a trend, it's not surprising that they think opening up should be left for drunks or attention-seekers. This is the main reason why cries for help are much quieter than cries of laughter. Pain is a competition, is compared to the pain of others ('Well, it can't be that bad/could always be worse/you have all this; yet you're still ungrateful...').

What people need to understand is this: We are not here to make anyone comfortable. You are not here to make anyone comfortable. If we want to scream our traumas, we will.

In short, don't judge pain you haven't felt. Consider yourself lucky. We only know how to tell stories with stutters and sleepless nights. Hearts worn on sleeves are easier to lose, so instead of just having faith that there will be a happy ending, help it happen. Just imagine how beautiful that will feel.

 
 

About the Author

L.MUNIR is a law student from the united kingdom. when not studying, reading, writing or being entirely monstrous, they can be found napping, advocating & petting cute cats—though as of yet—due to technological limitations—not all at the same time.

IN/VISIBILITY

CW: Ableism

 


Today I am window shopping online for collapsible canes and considering the abled gaze. I am thinking about what colour cane would go best with my wardrobe and how much money I can justify spending on floral print; and I am thinking about the ways in which we, as disabled people, often package ourselves in order to slide as neatly as possible through the bars of abled discomfort.

I am considering how, up until now, I have mostly been able—despite my ambivalence—to "fit" in the box of 'invisible disability'. I am considering what that box looks like—does it posit a separate experience of disability? If so, separate from what? 'Visible disability'? ‘Disability’ in its entirety?

I am thinking about how my disabilities are contingent, their in/visibility suspended (for the present) in the eye of the beholder. Do you recognise my panic attacks as symptoms? When you see me limping, am I injured or crippled?


One fairly typical surface assumption regarding the differentiation of 'invisible' and 'visible' aligns with the separation of 'mental' and 'physical' disability. As part of my work in disability activism, I am constantly running up against hesitation to label mental illness as 'disability', or ignorance of the fact that mental illness even qualifies as disability. The phrasing of 'invisible disability', in this context, suggests a wish to challenge this hesitation, to pick apart the assumption that something existing (supposedly) on a purely mental plane—and therefore (supposedly) unseen—fails to "count".

I applaud the motive, but question its conclusions. The category of 'disability' is opened up, even as the lines between 'mental' and 'physical' are redrawn in ways that prove frequently unhelpful for many disabled people. Disabilities that fall most obviously between the categories of 'mental illness' and 'physical disability' by various criteria—developmental disabilities, eating disorders, some forms of chronic pain—trouble the twin distinctions from the start, while the invisible aspects of physical disability and the visible aspects of mental illness fall between the cracks.


If my mental illness/es and neurodivergence/s are unseen, who is (not) doing the seeing? Panic attacks, meltdowns, tics, stims, flashbacks, atypical verbalisations, involuntary movements, scars. I see the signs of people like me everywhere, and I watch others ignore or explain them away until they can't anymore—at which point their response becomes pitying, or disgusted, fascinated, fearful, a combination of the above.

Meanwhile, what is 'visible' of other disabilities—most obviously those that require mobility aids—is never more than surface. People who use mobility aids are reduced to their mobility aids. If I use a cane to walk, you see (some of) my mobility impairment, which for me is one of the least troublesome elements of my fibromyalgia—you don't see my pain or my fatigue, you don't see my brain fog, you don't see my memory impairment. The invisible boxes society draws reveal their delineations in the vitriol aimed at wheelchair users seen standing up in public—as though you may only be able to walk or not walk, stand or not stand, with no 'fluid' or 'in-between' status in existence. I will consent to seeing you one way or the other, but not both.

By whose judgement are 'visible' disabilities 'seen', and 'invisible' disabilities 'unseen'?


Last month I moved countries, which involved the kind of high-level executive and physical function that wipes me out for a long, long time afterwards. I struggled to pull my suitcase up the steps onto the train platform and an Italian lady, standing at the top, told me there was a lift. I told her it needed a radar key, which she didn't seem to understand, and I mentioned in passing that, while I'm disabled, I don't have a key, and she interrupted me with "come?"—"how?", or "what?", looking me up and down. I told her I had an autoimmune disease that affects my muscles. She told me my muscles looked fine when I was dragging that suitcase up the steps.


Today I am thinking about the pain and weakness in my legs and feet when I have to stand still for more than a minute, and about how last night I managed to jog for three straight minutes, and about what someone who sees me jogging one day and using a cane the next will think. About whether they will accept that what I am capable of is not static—whether they will consent to see me both ways, or will simply assume I'm faking somehow.

I am considering the discomfort of non-disabled people when faced with visual reminders of disability, and wondering whether my awareness of that discomfort will outweigh the pain in my feet, or whether the pain in my feet will feel more valid if it is made visible through mobility aids—even if visibility means exchanging disbelief for disgust.

I am considering how wheelchair users are viewed as a universal default for "disabled", and how some 'invisibly disabled' people take that to mean that wheelchair users have it somehow easier, or that their needs are being adequately catered to.

That visibility is unequivocally good.

That any of us are really, genuinely, being 'seen'.

 
audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more
 

About the Author

EMRYS TRAVIS is a disabled, non-binary writer and activist trying to queer a degree in Modern & Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge as much as possible. They also write with the Italian feminist collective F Come and work with the UK organisation Action for Trans Health.

Monstering 101

CW: Ableism, body horror

 

A Recipe, and an Explanation

Monsters aren't born. They're formed—
gestating inside their self-made wombs
until they spring forth the damaged product
of genes and germs. But they're never
their own creators. Some are born helpless, 
whimpering others enraged adults,
ripped from their own cracked skulls: Athena-
raw, extracted from a She-Zeus trying
to suppress herself.

I am womb-born, Athena-raw—
and so is my Monster.

My Monster hatched early. I was sick
before doctors would admit, standing naked
burning in my own infected juices.
I proved them wrong: pneumonic, contagious,
coughing infection, pissing bloody bacteria—

My Monster teethed on their dismissals.

Adolescents are Monstering contradictions,
seeking acceptance they'll never find—teased,
bullied, told by bigger Monsters to play
nice. Be a good girl. Be womanly. Good girls
like boys, not curves or cleavage. Sour tongues
seek to define us before we can ourselves.
Adolescent Monsters rarely find comfort inside
their own bodies.

A Monster denied—we sharpen our claws
on society's norms.

My grown-up Monster clenches her fists
until her talons draw blood. She reaches for those
who misprescribed, misdescribed—
they're always right, Monsters are always wrong.

Fork-tongued doctors digest and regurgitate
their own lies until they believe them. You're
sick, but I can no longer treat you.
Acid double-
talk will get you bitten. Say it twice and you'll
need stitches.

Please give me a reason to be monstrous.

My Monster howls grief and pain, but few try
to hear her. Those few, family: child Monsters
licking their own pain away—a forever love,
whose presence says I no longer care what others think.
My Monster loves hers. I love her. We howl
together, hold each other upright, bandage
each other's wounds.

Monstering broth at its most delicious:
Medical and societal ignorance didn't tip
the balance. It shattered our Monsterly scales,
ruining prospects of equilibrium. I quiver with
fear, my Monster shakes with rage, our im-
balance now as physical as it is mental.
But that doesn't make the doctors right.
I wobble on my cane while my Monster turns
dystonic pirouettes, trembling limbs, curled
feet and hands, numb fingers and toes—
we shake from our soul outward, but love,
rage, and my Monster keep me fighting.

We're done dulling our claws on you.
Find someone else's recipe to ruin.

 
 

About the Author

JEANNE G'FELLERS is a multi-published, award-winning author of LGBT+ Science Fiction, a mother, and a part-time poet who has known her Monster since their simultaneous birth in the very late 1960s. Jeanne and her Monster waded through the gene pool/ cesspool together and never quite shook off the effects. They live with immune system issues and autoimmune conundrums which are slowly taking their physical toll. Their feet curl, their hands shake, and they occasionally lose their balance. Their words also sometimes slur, but they keep going, because the alternative isn't acceptable.

Writing, for both Jeanne and her Monster, has become a crucial means of self-expression.

They call the Appalachian foothills of Tennessee home and live happily with Jeanne's much-loved Anna, her quiet, Monster-soothing, partner-turned-spouse of fifteen years. Jeanne and Anna's children are grown, their cats number five, and that, as someone wisely said, is that.

In Which I Try To Fire My Body, But Before I Can, My Body Puts In Its Two Weeks

CW: Abuse

 

The disease resists diagnosis and instead begs
a description. A list of areas I don't feel pain:

Most fingers. My mouth, sometimes. The back
of my left ankle. Usually my forearms. Okay,

now a list of things that alleviate pain:
Being underwater. Biking away. Drinking.

Driving exactly 45 minutes, but only south.
Drinking. Drinking. Drinking. Okay,

how about your doctors? Not to be
dramatic, but Fuck You. Sometimes I take

lovers based on how they touch my back.
Sometimes I keep lovers based on how

they react when I beg them to be dangerous
to me. Listen, I never get to be in pain for fun.

It's always this supermarket-spasm, this
work-limp, the subtle contortion I hide

under another seat taken. Okay, I have
a theory: Once, I had a lover who only

looked at me. So my spine twisted t'ward
their hands. So my hips dilapidated in such

a way that they must have noticed how I
slowed under different weather. I mean,

I drank until I moved soft enough to glide
into them. I mean I biked so fast

their only option was to follow. I mean,
it is not my fault. Sometimes I decide

to spend the night based on the shape
of someone's bed. What is it called

if a body twists against me in the dark
and I am jealous of its ability to do that?

What if I drive 45 minutes three times over
just to be held? What if, alone

in the elevator or break-room
or single-stall-restroom, I hold

my breath until I am underwater?
Maybe that is the diagnosis working

backwards. Maybe if I stop spending
the night I will stop waking up with

so much new hurt. Listen, I threw up
the medication. The bath-water got

cold. The stairs leered when the
elevator broke. My lover's hands were

so gentle and I still bruised. Okay, a list
of things I've told to Fuck Off recently:

Every doctor ever. A memory in which
a now-ex lover tells me to stand up.

My skin and its stubborn welt. My bed,
for how I sink into it. The space between

my shoulders where once I asked
someone to punch me and they did

and it didn't help. How my desperation
rears and snakes. How a multitude

of hands reach to cradle all this
nightmare-ugly and just

the air moving between us
makes me flinch.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LINETTE REEMAN (they/them pronouns) is an Aries from the Jersey Shore, so they're not sure what you mean by 'speed limit.' They have work published or forthcoming in Blueshift Journal, Maps for Teeth, FreezeRay, Public Pool, and others. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Bettering American Poetry nominee, Linette is on the executive board of the Philadelphia Fuze Poetry Slam and is sort of trying to complete a bachelor's degree, but is mostly just trying to survive in small-town America.

A Crip Is

CW: Ableism, gendered slurs

 

after Tara Hardy
after Roma Raye


A crip is a bitch.
A bitch is a war.
A crip is a cry.
A cry is a tool.
           War cry.

A cry is a weapon.
Necessary. A crip
is necessary. A crip
cry is necessary song.
           Song cry.

A crip bitch cries.
Nobody wants to hear.
Bitch and moan. 
Moan means fear.
           Crip

means fear. Fear is a stone
on the spine. The weight of
life. Stone-spine bitch.
A spine is a tool.
           Witch

weighing a life. Scales.
A monster with scales. Crip
is a monster. Burn the witch. War
cry. Burn. A burn can crown.
           Crown

is a weight. A crip
is not a weight but
is crowned. A crip
bitch earns a crown.
           Bone

against bone
makes a song.
Witch bone crown.
Try to burn a crip bitch
              down.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.  

A Caucasian femme with shaved brown hair, purple bangs and lipstick, and brown eyes smiling with her head tilted against a backdrop of trees.
 

LIV MAMMONE is an editor and poet from Long Island, New York; where she lives with her parents, brother, and family of feral cats. She has previously taught creative writing at Hofstra University and Queens College. Her poetry has appeared in wordgathering, Wicked Banshee, The Medical Journal of Australia, Rogue Agent, QDA: a Queer, Disabled Anthology, Grabbing the Apple and Typo Magazine. As a spoken word poet, she has featured at Sarah  Lawrence, Artists Without Walls, Stonybrook University, and Union Square Slam. She is the first visibly disabled person to be on a New York City slam team. She's a two time nominee for 2016's Best of the Net poetry anthology.

I Don't Mean to Be Rude

CW: Ableism

 
I Dont Mean to Be Rude (1)-1.png
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin's first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

Molting

 

I wake up unable to remember what my hands felt like when they could fold into soft shells; they are crispy as autumn branches, dried into curls brown as molasses. My back gnarls into spirals of muscle, clenched against the server station fridge, opulent seasonal cakes and back stock of soy and almond milk suddenly looming, headstones for the weekend doubles and clopens I pulled without hesitation.

I spend the next morning in bed until I can't justify it to myself anymore, air conditioner humming, filling July humidity seeping in behind cheap cotton curtains.

I am really afraid of dying, which is why I spend so much time thinking about my body, how to carry it around, lined with regret and brittle muscle, edging bottom, wanting to just bruise and be done with it.

I keep trying to dissipate, but it is harder than it looks—dissolving. I don't remember what I used to do: driving the speed limit on an eastern NC highway, my front tire dipping into a ditch just enough to render my metal skeleton immobile, my brain unfogging anew.

Most of this body marked by edges, strong edges, something inside the strongest substance, firm but forgiving. I am filled by this, leaving room for almost nothing else, but I love the tiny, empty part, the echo hiding somewhere inside, pearl in the gnarled shell of my body, its camouflage distinct and almost invisible.

When I tell my therapist I am afraid of being weak, she asks what I am really afraid of and I cannot answer, except to say dependence, reliance, everyone thinking I'm a burden. I unfold my cane in the waiting room, knowing I don't want her to know—not yet, anyway.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.

This Cold Day

CW: Ableism

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat.  Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

Black and white photo of a woman laughing, wearing a winter coat.  Her face is partially shadowed by the coat's hood, and she is looking off to the right edge of the frame.  She occupies the bottom left-hand corner of the picture.  She is standing inside an elevator, and the elevator's reflective walls match her silver winter coat.

Photo by Kathleen Maris Paltrineri.

MEGAN LEONARD's poetry is forthcoming or has most recently appeared in Transom, The Maine Review, White Stag, HOUSEGUEST, Reservoir, Nightjar, and Tupelo Quarterly. Her digital pamphlet, "where the body ends," is available through Platypus Press.

my body to my brain

CW: Ableism, abuse

 

when god forced the pit of you behind my teeth,
i thought i could handle your stone-fruit weight
crushing my jaw into sand. i thought the seeds
you dropped in my stomach could grow
anything but gnarled snakes, eager to breed
venom-brained children. i thought i could be
the tree that cradles their sweet heads until
green gives way to grapefruit orange. instead,
they fester, overripe, poison-scaled. i didn't want
to use the hammer daddy couldn't use on me,
but god knows a head is better split than sick.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

my brain to my body

CW: Ableism, abuse, body horror

 

banish me. drain my blood-water
like sulfur-thick yolk from a cracked
egg. take the hammer daddy gave us,
his initials burned in the handle
like the thumbprint birthmark
on your thigh—our only birthrights—
and splinter this skull like he
taught us. he said, one day
the killing thing will get you,
too
. he said, don't cry. he said,
you can't sweat it out. you must
pull fever-thread through your ears
until the riddle unravels.
so do it.
violence me aseptic, dig
your fingernails in my flesh
so hard they snap off. please try
to purge every dead thing, even
if there'll be nothing of me left.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

Close shot from bust up of a young white feminine nonbinary person standing in a white room. Their auburn hair is in a ponytail, and they are smiling with their mouth closed. They are facing the camera. They are wearing a gray shirt and a black chord around their neck.

DEAN SYMMONDS is a queer poet from the South seeking zir BA in Creative Writing at Hollins University. Ze works as a Poetry Editor at Persephone's Daughters, and is an alumna of the Hollows Shout the Mountains Down Winter Tangerine workshop. Zir poems have been published in magazines like [empath], Gravel, The Album, and Crab Fat Magazine. You can find zem on Twitter @poetpersephone.

Fruit of the Earth

CW: Assault (sexual), abuse

 

Years after I choked on the rubbery sex flesh
of my mother, my father, so many strange
and familial others, after the robed hands
pushed char between my horrified

teeth clenched like a portcullis, after my throat
repeatedly opened for dirty money and gagged
and tore, years since my small soul sighed
and withered like a frost-hit tree, implacably

retreating its life sap down my branches
into my cringing centre, a little further
with each heaving year, years since
my body retreated too, the flesh sliding off

the bones, my form willowing with grief,
scooping into a cave at the abdomen where
the loss was dying-star hot, a brief daughter
having blazed through, gasp, and then

silence and murder and ash, my mouth
clenched against nutrients, strangling the
cells slowly, mindlessly, aiming for death
without will, direction having been

tortured out of me thousands of days and
heavy bodies ago; years since then,
after an unexpected friend helped change everything
one bruised wall-flung Monday night, yes

everything, as if she threw a switch on the
horror train track of my life and it opened
to bearings I'd thought closed to me, after
I travelled hours away to my first 

own four walls (sometimes I lay in bed there,
door locked, my fingers caressing the
yellow-painted brick of those walls; they felt
like love, my head quietly safe, forgiven

whatever demons my father had tried to beat
out of it), after my soul started creeping out
slowly, at first only when no one saw,
cautiously allowing me a body, a secret

package of crackers or a banana, stretching into
my fingertips and my lips pressed against
another girl's, slowly budding in my
mouth like hidden curled leaves that had

slept through winter, now new-green and sticky,
growing once again the house the tree of
taste, because it was finally safe, my stomach
filling its cave, gently unflattening from

a grief-pitted rock shard; years later, today, I eat
a quart of berries.  Don't be surprised
when I tell you that, as the taste bursts
sharp and sweet and new-green

on my tongue, I am astonished, soul-struck,
that each time I taste goodness, my face lifts,
eyes closed, that when I say the blessing
(...boreyt p'ri ha'adamah) each time I cry.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.  

Drawing of a smiling pale-skinned person, with curly brown hair past their shoulders and round glasses.  They are wearing a lavender t-shirt with a multi-gender symbol on it, blue pants, and pink shoes.  They are standing against a white background; their hands are tucked into their pants pockets.
 

KAMILA RINA is a disabled neurodivergent immigrant bisexual genderfluid poet, sexuality & disability educator, and a survivor of torture and long-term sexual violence.  Ze likes trees, books, chocolate, and people and things that smell good, and enjoys talking about being present in one's body and fomenting the revolution.  They have previously been published in Room magazine, Breath & Shadow, Sinister Wisdom, and We Have Come Far.  For more information visit kamilarina.com.

Their Hell

Lucifer peeled her                                        
                                            an orange, fed her girl-mouth                      
                    kept strangers away.                                                
                                                                    Some things he could give.

There were blue jays.
                                                        He birthed them for her,                                                                                                                                                                barely made the subway
home.

                          An old woman slept
                                                                                            on his shoulder, gathering ruin.
                    He loved these children—               
                                                                    his shadow wives.                                                                           

                                                                                 Only during mercury retrograde
                    under a shut-off moon would he bring
                                                                                            newcomers as tribute,
                                kept dark

                                              distant from her bedroom.
                                                                    Grew azaleas & wisteria inside
        her bookcase, fastened Christmas
                                                                                                        lights around the canopy.

                                Mary loved his pocket watch
                                                                                its bone fingers would skip
                    like a record, remind her
                                                                    of hurricanes taking whole

                                 cities as tribute, shredding pulses
                                                        like packages. Lucifer came back
        with the clipped wings
                                                                                            of a dove, her lover

                                                    climbed on top of her                      
                                                                             a candle in each hand.
        Left in a room of her own                                                               
                                                        she mourned her mother's

                                                        belly, brewed a fear
                    that she loved a void.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A femme person is wearing a floral dress in a park.

A femme person is wearing a floral dress in a park.

JOANNA C. VALENTE is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.

To Be a Monster

CW: Assault (sexual)

 

I.
Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome:

Before I was born, my spine was a needle & thread.
God
or
Mother Nature
or
Genetics
sat at her window,
tied up her fly-away curls,
& stitched spine to backbone.

II.
How I Became a Defective Marionette:

My insides were a puppet show,
all taught strings & tension.
Tendons, nerves, and tissue
twisted into crevices they should not have twisted into.
The seamstress tied a string to each of my cells,
pulled on them from the inside
until I was a wooden pile of ache.

III.
When My Doctor Used the Word "Deformed":

I was beginning to believe my body was a discarded tapestry
sewn raw & wrong.
They gave me a thousand new names,
all of them tattered,
none of them akin to beauty.
I was led to a table where a man would touch the deepest parts of me,
splay me open like a book
& rewrite my insides.

IV.
Surgeons are like Lovers:

We all expect the first one to fix us,
expect the touch of another to release us from all this hurt.
But our first is rarely our last,
isn't that right?
It will take another man several years & three tries to hold my body,
listen to the vibrations from those thin fibers within me,
figure out which strings to cut, which to leave intact.

V.
Recollections:

I am as fixed as I will ever be,
but I still remember being torn to the thread
crimson embroidery
in a straight line down my back.
Remember the dissolution of hope
as the surgery was repeated,
repeated,
repeated.

VI.
Rainbow Monster:

As a child, I always thought my last surgery
would be the end of grief.
But with red stitches on my back,
purple bruises on my foot,
yellowed skin on a thin leg,
I believe myself a beast.
I am too ready to believe him when
he says he loves my body.
I put myself in his arms
& do exactly as he says.

VII.
A Haunted City:

He's raped me in every part of town.

(ice cream shop bathroom)
(Dee's apartment)
(Gary's apartment)
(dorm)
(motel)
(my car)

I convince myself that abuse
is a better fate for this wreck
than lack of touch.

VIII.
This Isn't About Him or His Hands:

Though it took dozens of attempts,
I've left them behind.
This is about my body
& my hands
& my hands touching my body.
& maybe that's all a monster is:
a body that's survived
& has the scars to prove it.
& maybe when a monster
touches her own savage skin
that is its own kind of ceremony.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A headshot of a woman with brown curled hair, brown eyes, and thick eyebrows. She is half-smiling and is wearing bright purple lipstick. Her face is round and she's wearing a necklace with a silver pendant.

A headshot of a woman with brown curled hair, brown eyes, and thick eyebrows. She is half-smiling and is wearing bright purple lipstick. Her face is round and she's wearing a necklace with a silver pendant.

BEI JIE SI is a poet and artist in Austin, Texas. She currently attends the University of Texas with plans to major in psychology and minor in Mandarin Chinese. She was a member of the UT Spitshine slam poetry team that went to CUPSI from 2015-2017, and will co-coach the 2018 team. In 2016 she also competed in Rustbelt 2016. She is Co-President of the only poetry organization on UT's campus (Spitshine Poetry) where she leads workshops and organizes open mics. She has her poetry published in Apricity Magazine. She spends her time writing, studying, drawing, singing, and eating.

Sideshow

CW: Ableism, death

 

when you run into an old friend / for the first time in years /
smile wide / call them by their name / ask them about these
lost days / all the things that have passed / like rivers
between you

when their eyes wander / across your body like tourists
rediscovering a city they once knew / pretend not to notice
pretend they do not notice / the tree that has grown / its way
out of your palm / twisted in the dirt / the way that you walk
crooked / slowly / on one more leg than you used to

when they open their mouth like a palm / snatch their
questions from the fingers of their teeth / your lips are
chapped with answers / jaw heavy with this story // 
fathers boot on chest / ribs cracked like wishbones / boy
grows crooked / like trees in the wind

when you speak this story / feel how light it becomes / how
you have learned / to amputate the unnecessary / cut
vestigial words like cloth / till sentences trickle / off the
tongue / as broken as this body

when they keep staring / [like the three legged man / is only
a side show / in this one-man circus] / be patient / maybe
they are just trying to understand // scarlet lips / eyelids
sprouting black wings / stubble jutting through soft skin / like
a bed of nails / you are the bearded lady / they never
expected you to be

when they open their mouths / to speak / fill them with the
word freak / let it echo around the room / like gunshots / like
a lion tamer's whip / let it keep filling up the room / until both
of you are drowning

when their words swim to you / across this ocean
you have poured into their throat / play them back
with the needle scratch of your eardrums // it's good to see
you again
// agree / as if you never expected them to say
any different

when you go to sleep tonight / play back the words again
remember how easily you imagined pitchforks on their lips
how a moment of silence can stretch / long enough to hang
yourself on

when you wake in the morning / remember their kindness /
again / remember the noose of silence / remember that so
often / you are the one who kicks the chair

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

A white genderqueer trans womxn standing in front of a white background. She has curly silver hair and is wearing a black dress. They are wearing red lipstick, red and gold eyeshadow, and winged eyeliner. There are three black dots under their left eye and a silver ring in their ear. She is balancing a light wooden cane over her shoulders.

TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin's first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.

Rain, Glitter, Rain

after Frank Ocean

You kept looking at me like you wanted to touch me
I thought it would be worse: the seams of my body
tearing in secret, an addendum unfiled, unfiltered

The way my body hurts doesn't require anything from you
           means nothing                       needs nothing
is like that long wailing whale sound, 
only from inside me, and sliced into fragments
thinner than a tooth, but just as wary and vibrating at a frequency
you can't touch, spiralling, but too slowly
to even notice, a broken orbit, an okay metaphor
for the stretching and thinning
is rain
is glitter
is rain

Not always pretty, but full of tongues and
girls and whichever slices of me you'd like to see, 
the same crimped guts you've come to expect, 
shaded swirl, something ruined about my face

I wanted to be cornered

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

A black-and-white selfie of author, a white femme, wearing a voluminous light-colored scarf. She has short blonde hair and a septum ring.

JESSE RICE-EVANS is a queer Southern poet and rhetorician based in NYC. Read her work in Heavy Feather Review, Yes Poetry, tenderness yea, and in the chapbooks The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press) and Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press), among others. She's a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches writing at the City College of New York and the Cooper Union.

Changeling

The human parents, afraid to say I am wrong,  
tuck me in at night. I watch
streetlights shape the ceiling. Sometimes I cry, 

and sometimes the human child, the stolen
child, remembers for me: painting butterflies,
pancakes at dawn, her mother's palm. 

She shares my memories too—patterns of lichen, 
chill caves, day-long drips of water, 
and myself as I was: a tree-root, 

an empty burrow, a bat's shadow. Stolen. 
I was stolen too. Unformed, I belonged only to myself
until shaped into arms and eyes and scream, 

given a hairband and a schoolbag. Ballet slippers. 
The human child, wild and laughing now, 
she's always laughing, those dances 

around peat-lakes never blister her feet.
I'm no longer made from rot and dark, but not
human, either. Under a pink duvet, wakeful. 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 The image is portrait style. It shows the upper two-thirds of a woman in her twenties. She has her head tilted slightly to the right and is smiling. She has long wavy brown hair, pale skin, and wears glasses. Her hands are by her sides. She is wearing a dark green long-sleeved t-shirt and black trousers. She is standing in front of an elder bush and is surrounded by green leaves. Tree branches can be seen behind her, and to her right small white flowers are visible among the leaves.

The image is portrait style. It shows the upper two-thirds of a woman in her twenties. She has her head tilted slightly to the right and is smiling. She has long wavy brown hair, pale skin, and wears glasses. Her hands are by her sides. She is wearing a dark green long-sleeved t-shirt and black trousers. She is standing in front of an elder bush and is surrounded by green leaves. Tree branches can be seen behind her, and to her right small white flowers are visible among the leaves.

In 2017, ROSAMUND TAYLOR won the inaugural Mairtín Crawford award and was nominated for a Forward Prize. Most recently, her work has appeared in Agenda, Orbis, BansheeCrannóg and Magma. She has been twice short-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, won joint second-place for the Patrick Kavanagh Award 2015, and is currently working on her first poetry collection. You can read more of her work on TheLearnedPig.Org (http://www.thelearnedpig.org/author/rosamund-taylor) and HeadStuff.org (https://www.headstuff.org/literature/typhoid/).