My Disabled Poem Wants to Work

by Maria R. Palacios

[Still Image/Video Description: Maria R. Palacios, a woman of color with dark brown hair, light skin, and a black dress, reading her poem from pieces of paper. Under her wheelchair is Nacho, a small, blonde-haired dog. For closed captions, press the "CC" button.]

My disabled poem wants to work.
It wants to get up in the morning,
tie its shoes, 
brush its hair,
put lipstick on
because it has somewhere to go
—somewhere to be.

My disabled poem wants to be
It wants a chance to breathe
in somebody’s page,
expose its words, its truths
knowing it belongs somewhere…
it deserves to be there, 
to be itself
without judgment...
without fear. 

My disabled poem wants to eat lunch
in a break-room somewhere. 
It wants the chance to share
the randomness of life, 
the details that make days turn
like pages
while knowing it has become
part of something.

There are many other
disabled poems like mine, 
like the poem that went blind
at twenty-one.
Or the poem with the long stanzas that dance, 
and never has a chance
to dance again
because although its words are still alive, 
people assumed they were dead
and sadly, it believed them,
but even then
that disabled poem wants to work.
It would give anything to dance again
on the pages of total strangers.
But instead it has been labeled  
too disabled
to work…
too disabled to dance.

One disabled poem went blind.
Another one has a broken spine.  
The story goes on and on
like the poem with the extra chromosome
forced to live at home, forced to stay
a child. 

Or the disabled poem that looks “normal,”
but the voices are reminders
of its fears, and its failures, 
and its faults because the world
expects it to be like  
regular poems—you know, 
the kind that flow smoothly
and can easily blend in an anthology, 
or lift themselves from the page
into the spoken form—the able-bodiedness of poetry…
the ability to fit
in somebody else’s shoes,
somebody else’s

But, no.  The world thinks disabled poems can’t work
because they can’t stretch themselves
or climb stairs. 
They have these weird ways
of turning the page, 
and slurring some words…
the crippledness of some metaphors
that should be allowed to be themselves,
but aren’t.

Some disabled poems
are so desperate to work  
that they are willing to write themselves
into anything…
even a grocery list or random thoughts  
on any piece of paper—any writable surface. They’ll take anything
just to feel written….to feel
like they belong. 

And… just like all the others,
my disabled poem wants to work, 
but can’t.
Its stanzas and its verbs
have overworked themselves
and are now unable to move
outside these words…outside  
this body.
My disabled poem
is a lousy breadwinner, a dreamer,
a starving artist
who has learned to survive
sitting on a page with all its naked imperfections
just waiting
to be


All Contributor Biographies

return to issue 6: march, 2018