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About this poet

Laura Hershey was born on August 11, 1962. She received an BA from Colorado College in 1983 and an MFA from Antioch University in 2008. She was the author of Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities (Mobility International USA, 2005), and her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Hershey, who received a 2010 fellowship from Lambda Literary, was a major voice in the disability rights movement. She died on November 26, 2010.

Translating the Crip

Can I translate myself to you?
Do I need to?
Do I want to?

When I say crip I mean flesh-proof power, flash mob sticks and wheels in busy intersections, model mock.

When I say disability I mean all the brilliant ways we get through the planned fractures of the world.

When I say living in America today I mean thriving and unwelcome, the irony of the only possible time and place.

When I say cure I mean erase. I mean eradicate the miracle of error.

When I say safe I mean no pill, no certified agency, no danger to myself court order, no supervisory setting, no nurse, can protect or defend or save me, if you deny me power.

When I say public transportation I mean we all pay, we all ride, we all wait. As long as necessary.

When I say basic rights I mean difficult curries, a fancy-knotted scarf, a vegetable garden. I mean picking up a friend at the airport. I mean two blocks or a continent with switches or sensors or lightweight titanium, well-maintained and fully-funded. I mean shut up about charity, the GNP, pulling my own weight, and measuring my carbon footprint. I mean only embrace guaranteed can deliver real equality.

When I say high-quality personal assistance services I mean her sure hands earning honorably, and me eating and shitting without anyone's permission.

When I say nondisabled I mean all your precious tricks.

When I say nondisabled privilege I mean members-only thought processes, and the violence of stairs.

By dancing I mean of course dancing. We dance without coordination or hearing, because music wells through walls. You're invited, but don't do us any favors.

When I say sexy I mean our beautiful crip bodies, broken or bent, and whole. I mean drooling from habit and lust. I mean slow, slow.

When I say family I mean all the ways we need each other, beyond your hardening itch and paternal property rights, our encumbering love and ripping losses. I mean everything ripples.

When I say normal I don't really mean anything.

When I say sunset, rich cheese, promise, breeze, or iambic pentameter, I mean exactly the same things you mean.

Or, when I say sunset I mean swirling orange nightmare. When I say rich cheese I mean the best food I can still eat, or else I mean poverty and cholesterol. When I say promise I mean my survival depends on crossed digits. When I say breeze I mean finally requited desire. When I say iambic pentameter, I mean my heart's own nameless rhythm.

When I say tell the truth I mean complicate. Cry when it's no longer funny.

When I say crip solidarity I mean the grad school exam and the invisible man. I mean signed executive meetings, fighting for every SSI cent.

When I say challenges to crip solidarity I mean the colors missing from grant applications, the songs absent from laws. I mean that for all my complaints and victories, I am still sometimes more white than crip.

When I say anything I know the risk: You will accuse me of courage. I know your language all too well, steeped in its syntax of overcoming adversity and limited resources. When I say courage I mean you sitting next to me, talking, both of us refusing to compare or hate ourselves.

When I say ally I mean I'll get back to you. And you better be there.

 

Laura Hershey
November 2010

Copyright © 2012. Used with the permission of Robin Stephens.

Copyright © 2012. Used with the permission of Robin Stephens.

Laura Hershey

Laura Hershey, whose poems appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, was a major voice in the disability rights movement.