July 26, 2020 marked 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities navigating all spaces of life including jobs, transportation, schools, and all other places opened to the general public. As a proud supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, CavanKerry Press decided to amplify those voices who live with a disability and/or speak on the subject of disability by highlighting those particular writers in our Words to Keep You Company posts this month.
Please enjoy these excerpts from our authors.
You can learn more about the ADA at https://adata.org/learn-about-
Cast and all, we dance our kitchen floor
though my broken wing holds us apart—
like some olden-time bundling board—
folded, as it is, over my heart.
This spring our woods turn young as we turn old,
though new birdsong still catches us off guard
as much as when feet lose their earthly hold.
Still, who’d believe I’d take a fall so hard?
But, love, let’s be voracious as the creatures
after dozing away winter in their lairs
who guzzle all the good from our birdfeeders—
those pesky chipmunks, squirrels and black bears.
Let’s dance with every hungry foe age sends us
until one finally dips us, drops us, ends us.
Last night I uncovered poems
hid so well it took me fifteen years to find them,
a ribbon tied around a packet of blue linen
as if whoever bound those sonnets
wanted whoever unwrapped them
to appreciate that some words ought to deserve more
than ordinary paper. It’s my father’s handwriting. His
rhymes grasp each other so earnestly
it’s hard for me to keep reading.
I long . . . I yearn . . . I crave . . . I burn . . .
You sizzle . . . you spark.
Everything you touch turns bright.
Every day I am away from you is night.
You are my only light. My only dark.
Every noun is a tear, every verb a goodbye,
With each adjective I am preparing to die.
At first I can’t tell if these are suicide notes
or love poems. To whom is my father speaking?
My mother? A mistress?
Someone so beautiful even the adverbs had to be beautiful
too, adjectives chosen
so every letter glides into the next,
every vowel nestles in a consonant’s arms.
Why can’t those we love be only
what we want them to be and perhaps only
what they wished to be?
There are secrets you whisper to your son
when you are dying, but there are other secrets
you wrap in dark purple ribbon
and hide—words too revealing to be published,
too important to throw away,
the kinds of poems old men write.
They know no one’s going to read them
while they are alive
but they write them anyway. And save them.
See, I am writing one now.
I have come back
to the mountains above Grenoble
where once I jogged along muddy trails,
Jean-Paul’s finger at my back,
prodding me. Where once I walked
from house to house, tasting
Madame Bernard’s vin de noix, Maria’s clafouti.
I have come back
to study yoga with Françoise
and transform my body into light.
To sit in a circle of neighbors, as the sun
sinks into the crevice between two peaks.
To let them carry me
in my chair wherever
stairs block my wheels. Not to walk,
but like Lazarus to rise.
I have come back
to explore Le chemin de guérison intérieure
at l’Arche, in the Abbé de St. Antoine.
To hear Jeannette ask God to heal me
in a chapel sunlight through stained glass, stone
by stone released from five hundred
years of earth. Five times each day, the medieval
clang reminds me to stop
and listen to magpies outshout
one another, to the donkey alone
in tall grass braying.
I am a fool wrapped in a blue blanket looking for something to say.
Shadows and their awful doubts whisper at the window. My feet—cold. My head—filled with cotton. Alan plays scales on the piano; David plucks Bach; the cat dozes on the couch.
I’m more of an invalid than a wife or mother.
It’s time to return to work, the doctor says. No, Doctor. I know this house: its turns
and conveniences, its willingness to wait. I am safe within its walls, joints and bones.
It offers itself undaunted, as safe map and glove. Like a flexible cast or loving par-
ent, it assumes all care: keeps danger out, asks little of the back, no steps to climb,
no unexpected turns, no cars or brutal collisions, no hideous laughter or pity. Ex-
tending its arms, it invites me to even give up my crutches and walk the hall from
my room to the kitchen or my son’s room alone. Alan brings a chair to the stove
and together we fix meat sauce for supper. Nothing can happen to me here. No,
Doctor. I won’t go outside again until this back can carry me: bearing her share of
my ordinary life: driving David to music or baseball or myself to the office or shop-
ping for groceries or Christmas. But you need not be concerned; I’m not closed in
here. I have windows: eight foot floor to ceiling windows invite other lives. News-
papers and TV tell me all I need to know.
At first it seemed a good idea not to
move a muscle, to resist without
resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon
I was the stillest object in that room.
I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.
But I was in there all the time,
I heard every word said,
saw what was done and not done.
Indifferent to making the first move,
I let them arrange my limbs, infuse
IVs, even toilet me like a doll.
Oh, their concern was so touching!
And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything
but the viscosity of air that held me up.
I was sorry when they cured
me, when I had to depart that warm box,
the thick closed-in place of not-caring,
and return to the world. I would
never go back, not now. But
the Butterfly Effect says sometimes
the smallest step leads nowhere,
sometimes to global disaster. I tell you
it is enough to scare a person stiff.
Park roof level, race back to ER
where John’s hooked up to machines that track
the jagged-but-stable peaks of his heart.
His arm cuff auto-inflates;
red numbers flicker like crazy slots
until 70 & 120 win.
He, ever the scientist, explains:
systolic contracted, diastolic relaxed.
Sublingual vasodilator kicks in
EKG fine, pressure fine, take a deep breath for me . . .
Oncall GP shows chart to specialist:
more questions, more blood, more tests,
more blood, more results, more consultations.
John shows me how, with biofeedback,
his heart rate can be changed from scared to calm
Emerson’s Essays open on my lap
but my eyes glued to the screens. He shakes
his arm, the peaks go nuts. A nurse
appears in seconds, looks him in the eye,
straightens the sheet, and leaves without a word.
Subforms of creatine kinase found.
Orderlies wheel him to CCU.
Blood saken hourly through the night,
vitals monitored 24/7, surgeons—trailed by
their followers—sweep in and out of the ward.
No one knows exactly what’s wrong until dye reveals
a blocked anterior descending artery.
The interventional cardiologist shrugs:
The minute I saw John’s face I knew
something had happened to his heart.
John watches pictures of his black-and-white heart
as they snake a stent to the blockage site.
Later we laugh at heart attack jokes
while nurses lift the small sand-weighted bag
off his groin. Blood pressure numbers drop.
How do you feel? OK.
The numbers steadily drop. You still OK?
The numbers seem impossibly low.
One nurse, inches away from his face, keeps asking.
The other prepares an adrenaline shot. I leave.
By the time we’re handed YOUR FOLLOW-UP CARE
with its list of Call physician right now signs,
he wants to go home so badly but
a part of me wants him to stay
where nurses and machines can keep an eye on him,
where doctors can diagnose, order tests, do procedures STAT,
where blood and screens and charts and the clues
that those in the know can find in a face
prove better ways than any I possess of finding out
what’s really going on inside John’s heart.
Walking home late after practice,
Scrub kicks the snow, imagines
each flake a phony word, a lie,
a promise he believed, floating
up off into the air, mixing
in the wind, melting. Scrub
keeps walking, passes
under the streetlight across
from his house, sees the light on
in the kitchen, pauses, looks
back, suddenly starts to dance,
dance under the long deflected pass
of the moon’s light. His feet
slide softly over the layers
of snow, piled and trampled hard
by schoolkids, teachers, people
heading to a friend’s house. Scrub,
the dancer, whirling himself
into the soft night, into the wild
applause of the falling snow.
So many people have moved in.
I don’t know them anymore.
I don’t know their names.
Not even my dreams make sense.
The birds have flown up from the privet.
They don’t know that the door
jams aren’t square, that something
is very wrong in this house.
All my friends have left for the country,
and I alone stand on the sidewalk,
staring into closed suburban windows,
fixating on muffled arguments.
Even my own dog won’t stay. The invisible
fence advisers leave cryptic messages
on my answering machine about restraining him.
They are baffled by his
arrogance, his willingness
to approach the electric wire,
as if nothing at all could shock him.
Someone I have never met
climbs secretly up a ladder
onto the porch of our new addition.
He is purple, a statue
in the most conceptual museum.
Cold water drips from the sink.
Drip rhythm: Two drips.
Two drips. Two drips.
Only the cold water drips.
Voices bubble up in the neighborhood,
human sounds mixed with the bark of dogs,
gas flames of cookouts.
Sometimes I think about nothing
except a few birds and the rain—how they
continue to sing even when it’s raining,
even when the cold raining rain
refuses to stop.
Dear Mona Van Duyn (Mrs. Jarvis Thurston),
You probably don’t remember me, but I
have never forgotten the time you confessed
The pain subsides, but the want never goes away
entirely. We were sitting across from each other,
rocking on a white porch under tall sweet gums.
Back then, I had just begun, but you had lived
the whole arc: desire, disappointment, despair.
Your words saved me, I know now, helped me
through grief to the beginnings of acceptance,
humor, cheer. Seated in another garden years
later, for the first time I have the guts to read
those Valentines to the Wide World in which
you chronicle the loss that laid you low and how
writing brought you back. Surrounded by lilacs
almost too old to flower, a single bird circles.
I don’t need binoculars to see it is the rare cross
between Blue- and Golden-winged Warblers:
my first Brewster’s. I don’t know yet what life
will bring, but I believe, because you wrote it
so, our life will be full, if not with children, then
with other riches. For “Late Loving,” especially,
for “A Reading of Rex Stout,” and for “Goya’s
‘Two Old People Eating Soup’,” for “Letters
from a Father,” “The Block,” and for “Caring
for Surfaces,” I thank you from the very bottom
of my mending heart. Yours most sincerely,
Andrea Carter Brown (Mrs. Thomas Drescher)
Nobody in New York ever has light.
In every apartment I looked at,
I always asked, “Is there enough sun
to grow anything?” I chose our last place
in Brooklyn because of all the windows,
three in the living room alone,
but we were surrounded by buildings.
The plants I bought at the hardware store
did not all survive.
The first time we went to the hospital,
I bought a basket of African violets.
My mother had had one when I was born.
The last, I found a Swedish ivy plant.
We started your last three months in a room
full of light. As the doctors tried the final
experimental treatments, I put toys
away at night, tucking them on the shelf
in front of the windows just as, at home,
I picked up toys after you went to bed.
I watered the ivy from a paper cup
I brought with your dinner from the Chinese
restaurant down the street.
Our old doctor went to Boston
and the new doctor sent us home
too soon. When we came back the next day,
we had to take a different room
with fewer windows, and they were blocked
by buildings, so the room was dark.
I had left the plant at home, of course.
The doctors tried more treatments while I looked
for a brighter room, and your stepfather
put together a small wooden helicopter
with a solar panel.
By the time I found a sunnier room,
you no longer ate the meals I brought you.
We moved across the hall anyway,
and the blades on the helicopter
spun all day long as you sat in the big, blue chair
or lay in your bed, eyes closed, resting.
While you slept, I read a book about children
who have almost died and have seen the light.
They said it was beautiful, and they said
they did not want to come back.
After you died, I moved to New Jersey
to the house we had planned to live in together.
It had eight windows in the living room
and was so full of the November light!
I hung our plants or set them on the bookshelf.
I put our couch by the windows too,
so I could lie there under your comforter
with its soft cover of clouds and stars,
and watch the blades of the helicopter
spin day after day in the sun.
Mexico City Market
Something about the day of the night-before-leaving
teases the yellow smog into a dream light;
I walk in a gaslit dusk, breathless,
through the Zona Viva, to find a souvenir.
Now, almost disappeared beneath the shops
that sell their artifacts, sit soft mounds
of Indian women, working in their office
of children and rags. Whirling children,
tied by invisible strings, are learning
the subtracted gravity of the Zona Viva:
the strings cannot rappel them over the fell
of poverty’s edge. They are hostage tops,
caught in the hands of their holders, blurring
in an exudation of women and myrrh.
Within the flags of paper lace, cut-out fish,
birds and braided dolls, a woman weaves in a strand
from her own shawl, not distinguishing
person from place. Watching me,
she opens her flower hand stirring
the sleeping baby in her skirt: begging,
her dropped petal fingers curl toward me,
arrowhead eyes fly toward me as I reach down
with a coin for her hand. In the gaping yellow night,
I feel my own child’s hand pull me down.
“Am I going to die?” she asks, nearly grown,
I count to twenty.
Paris. An ovarian cyst after midnight
twists her to the floor; she is yours,
and mortal, avoid the hospital.
We lock in two curves, her back against my front,
between my knees, rocking, counting,
our breaths timed with her pain . . .
twenty seconds, and we rest in between . . .
helplessly, I am chanting, “in – be – tween,
. . . there is a small space between the pains
where we rest . . .” wet as seals, our
counting, the small space comes.
we rest in long breaths.
“Ma, am I going to die?“
“Not while we breathe, no one dies . . .
count, it is time to count!“
We count again twenty . . . and the hours slip,
even, now subsiding, you fall to my side.
I pull the sheet down to cover you,
my long lovely daughter, sleep in this bough
of arms and legs, while we wait
for some act of reinstatement,
until the fever breaks,
or the ancients return to the Zona Viva.
The Indian woman’s eyes never leave my face
as I kneel down to her baby.
I buy a painted tin votive,
thanking God for a miracle. Permissibly,
we gaze at each other’s hammock bodies,
listening to the script of origins,
seeing volcanoes overturn or spare the pyramids,
begin the tops or stop their orbital spin.
Inhale, suppose there is spirea in the air,
where the women sit, twilit, watching the day close,
a book held fast in the hand of a sleeper,
where it is written: in this place of accidents,
we are innocent. Inhale.
Good day to my favorite nieces.
All joy and luck to two wonderful young women.
This is a note from your uncle.
Your silly and foolish uncle.
You probably have never had anyone write you a poem.
May you have many more.
From young men who love you
and write passionately of your charms.
That will come.
But for now you’ll have to take this as your gift.
I want to tell you about where you came from,
where you are, and where you can go.
You’ve spent your young lives in South Jersey
like your parents, and their parents and like me for a while.
You’re two white girls in a world that is changing.
I’m an old man from a very different world.
When my father was young, he had negro maids
and cooks and a man brought milk each morning
in bright, glass containers.
Milk and cream and chocolate milk,
all fresh and pure and right from the farm.
He had a gardener come and trim the bushes.
He had a cook make everything they ate.
Roasts and turkeys and casseroles,
rich in cheese and meat and milk
When I was young, we ate Thanksgiving Dinner
in the kitchen with the colored folk.
When I grew up, colored people could only
be janitors or porters on the railroad.
Now no one rides a railroad except as a treat.
I remember when I was ten, seeing young negro men
dancing to wild music and wishing I could dance like that.
They were up on a stage, legs all pumping, arms strong and wild
and I wanted to jump up and join them.
But I didn’t
It was South Jersey and you didn’t do that in 1964.
The world spins, girls,
and changes all the time.
You have to be ready to spin and change with it.
You have to jump on the stage with the colored men
and dance with them.
You have to watch how the world spins and grab it
when you can.
It’s easy to do just what the world expects.
When I was young, the world expected
you to hate negroes.
The world expected a black woman would clean your house.
That she would do it for next to nothing.
The world expected that you would grow up and get married
and have a couple of kids and love your children
and you would never have to work.
The world never expected women to work
or negros to have real jobs
or white folks to dance to negro music.
But that music has always been America’s music
and it makes us dance.
The world is a wild dance
and you have to jump in.
The world isn’t South Jersey.
The world isn’t the USA.
The world is a wild mix
of horror and joy.
One day you’ll fall in love.
Your heart will be an untamed beast
and you should never,
tame that beast.
The beast made you.
The beast held you to its heart and said, I love you.
The beast mows your lawn
and cooks your dinner.
The beast watches you ride your bike and is terrified you’ll die.
The beast is your parents and the beast is you.
Don’t be scared.
Get up and dance.
Don’t be afraid of what your friends say.
Don’t worry about your grades.
Don’t be stupid and listen to the voice that says,
what will my friends say?
The moon rises up tonight, wild and huge and it’s asking you to dance.
Reach out and take its hand, my beautiful girls.
Dance across the lawn and feel your feet wet with dew.
And while you’re dancing, think about me,
asleep and dreaming of girls dancing in the dew.