In the poem, “What You Mourn,” Sheila Black twists the notion of disability as loss: the assumption that all disabled people were once nondisabled and watched their ability slip away. This assumption is found within questions often asked of disabled people such as: “What happened to you?” What happened to Black, what her speaker mourns, is not becoming disabled but losing the body she knew well at the hands of a doctor who straightened her legs.
Crippled they called us when I was young later the word was disabled and then differently abled, but those were all names given by outsiders, none of whom could imagine that the crooked body they spoke of, the body, which made walking difficult and running practically impossible, except as a kind of dance, a sideways looping like someone about to fall headlong down and hug the earth, that body they tried so hard to fix, straighten was simply mine
In Kathi Wolfe’s introduction to We Are Not Your Metaphor: a disability poetry anthology, she writes about the long literary tradition of using disability as a metaphor for all things bad: “How often have you read poems that use blindness as a metaphor for spiritual ignorance, unthinking faith, or moral failings? Or deafness used as a metaphor for isolation, aloneness — a failure to emotionally communicate? Think: world of darkness. Deaf ears.
Disability is often perceived as deviance from some encoded norm; I know this as a disabled person who is regularly referred to as “weird.” Perhaps some people mean my large hair or loud clothing, but many are employing a euphemism to refer to my purple wheelchair or stumbling gait. Dear reader, I have used a disabled “I” so soon so you might know that this series is committed to the disability rights mantra “Nothing about us without us!” even as the “I” and “us” and “you” in this series are unstable (literally … you should see the scabs on my legs).
Bodies, like poems, always mean what they ceaselessly say: that even if they could speak — and they can — we would not understand them. — Craig Dworkin, “The Stutter of Form”