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Two Excerpts

From Autobiography




is it true that the crippled
are much closer to enlightenment

by the mere gesture of
getting through this world

              that longing
that want for silence

these bones as if birds
tiny things that at any moment

could take off in flight









I wore braces to be more like them
to be better

I went to normal schools
because I was normal

I was asked to deny this movement
because this movement wasn’t effective enough

I was taught to walk
because walking is always preferable
to not walking

I was taught to walk
so they wouldn’t have to reform
their beautiful architecture

and if I couldn’t walk fast enough
it was my problem and I was left behind

I was asked not to give birth to children
because they might be like me

those who made fun of me were told
their children would turn out like me

and this was meant to be some form
of kindness or protection

I asked myself to fit
the way they thought I should fit

so I could have their jobs
and their happy lives

and now I am exhausted
from their stupid asking

from my own stupid asking









I am merely curiosity; your own small freak show. Drag my bones out to Coney Island, and feel free to make an example out of me. Perhaps people will pay a nickel to get in; I’m tired of giving the show out for free. Drag me through the field of saints. Bless me, pray for me, rub my head for good luck. I am the product of bad karma. I am punishment for my mother’s aborted able-bodied children. I am the one nature meant to throw away.









so that, the mother might
say your child must be angry

because you are disabled

so I told her, your child
must be angry

because you are a bitch

and the children ask
why do you talk like that?

and I ask them
why do you talk like that?

and children grow up
knowing this is ordinary







From The Hindrances of a Householder


You do not believe you are sexy. You do not believe you are beautiful. You believe you are intelligent, but sometimes the effort to convince others isn’t worth it. You have cerebral palsy from an accident at birth. You walk with an awkward gait. You have slurred speech, and drool from time to time. Your body sometimes moves joltingly, and you cannot carry a full glass of water across the room without spilling it.  You do not believe you are sexy.

Then, something changes. You meet someone. This person thinks you’re hot. And your ever-patient husband decides you can have an open marriage. This “someone” torments you. The level of confusion and passion makes you want to kill yourself or kill him or kill random people and it ends. Badly. But, it’s not so bad after all. You will always love him, and this person made you believe you were sexy. He forced you to believe it and now you believe it.  This person, your lovers, your writing, your husband, your child, your four animals, your best friend Andrea, your nutty Dharma teacher: all of them have instilled a sense of agency in you. And this agency is strong.

One day you go to a movie. It has been a stressful time. Your in-laws just left and you itch all over. This movie is called The Wolf of Wall Street. You love Martin Scorsese, so you have a lot of hope for this film. It turns out to be a boring movie about hookers, drugs, and overall debauchery.

Then, the shit hits the fan. The main character’s 25 Quaaludes kick in. He goes into what he calls the cerebral palsy phase. He falls on the floor in writhing spastic movements. The rendition is dead on. It looks like he spent weeks studying cerebral palsy. He’s got the speech and drooling and everything down. This scene gets the hardest laugh of the film. Literally 400 people are laughing their heads off in a theatre in Williamsburg.

You turn to your husband. You ask, “Is this funny?” Your typically non-emotional husband looks very upset. You mean he looks horrified. You begin to panic. This is not funny. You husband pulls you out of the theatre. You get outside. You cry a little. You cannot speak. Your husband begs you to speak. You are on the B62 bus not speaking. This is the first time you have ridden the B62 bus not speaking.

You look at your silent hands. You are afraid to move your hands because the way you move your hands is ugly. You are afraid to move you legs because people might laugh. You never want to hear your own voice again. You want to remain motionless forever. You are right back there. Right back in that place so many people have worked so hard to convince you belong in: the place of silence.

You do not believe you are sexy.


Jennifer Bartlett

JENNIFER BARTLETT is author of (a) lullaby without any music and co-editor of Beauty is a Verb. She is currently writing a biography of Larry Eigner. Bartlett lives in Greenpoint with the writer Jim Stewart, their son Jeffrey, and many animals.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2014

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