Poetry We Admire: Disability


“My eyes can’t see, baby (baby)

Unless you tell them to.”

Helene Smith


“(How long ’til) My body is safe?

(How long ’til) This heart isn’t mine?”

Michael Hadreas


I’m reading Dana Levin’s Now Do You Know Where You Are on the front porch. 

My friend comes out of the house, headed to the pharmacy to acquire prescription medication for a disability that’s gone undiagnosed for over a decade.

She worries it will mean giving up caffeine. I remember, at thirteen, being devastated to learn that mine could mean becoming an adult who never drank.

It’s nice, having people to speak about these experiences with. 

Moments that might otherwise have been lost, had I not seen them suddenly in your eyes. When we don’t talk about these things, sometimes it can get to be like they never happened at all.

In silence, lonely my body that brings me back to who I am.

In silence, able the bodies that become the arbiters of the business of my living.

After one of my first seizures I remember my friend being asked what it was like to go through “seeing that.”

I mean disabled people exist in the odd position of being perceived as unreliable narrators of our own experience.

This month’s theme took me far longer to find five poems I felt comfortable curating than it ever has before. 

Having read thousands of submissions for Palette these past three years, I suspect this has more to do with publishing than it does the poets and poems being submitted. 

We can do better. These wonderful poems and poets make me want to. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.



Sometimes, one only knows the meaning of a word when it 

happens— kidney stone  hemorrhoids  delirium tremens

from "Another Night"

by Sophie Klahr in Wildness

Klahr’s poem troubles the distance between language and lived experience, asking whether we can understand the reality of another through words alone. Lines like “What was the angel describing when told me   There was more twilight in the sound,” navigate us away from fixed ideas, towards a language that asks to be felt rather than picked apart.


If some             condition makes it impossible to               perfect             ,

submit the best that can be                           with a 

                           card explaining the circumstances

from "Sequencing"

by Kay E. Bancroft in Gasher

Kay E. Bancroft is one of our wonderful readers at sister mag Frontier Poetry. This poem, published in Gasher, called out to me in the envy-inducing way multimedia poetry often does, the piece containing scope, depth, and a kind of visual appeal that’s hard to come by in many forms. Bancroft’s poem speaks to the dangers of mass categorization enacted by nation-states, and how the standardizing of the idea of the body can further sideline marginalized communities and individuals whose bodies don’t fit neatly within a prescribed set of norms. This hardly starts or stops at disability: I’m including this piece for the radical inclusivity it gestures towards.


When I ask her to inject herself, I’m asking her to live

Without me, & she knows it.

from "Time,"

by Zeina Hashem Beck in Poets

I love how Zeina Hashem Beck troubles the line in this poem between what must be accepted in this life and what we must, despite ourselves, reject. The piece moves with an incredible authoritative plainspokenness that almost mirrors the moments that make up a life: “Time, I know / I can’t reason with you. You go on and on. / Instead, I’m wishing her / astonishing slowness, softness / inside the arduous & unfair.” I’m obsessed with this poem.


I catch my children playing cancer surgery

In their bedroom.

from "On June 13,"

by Ruth Daniell in The Puritan

I love this poem of Ruth Daniell’s for how it bears witness. To distances, to a lack of understanding, to hope, to the rift between the temporary and the permanent, illness and disability. “It will hurt / for just a little while.” It was a joy to be able to include both Zeina Hashem Beck’s “Time,” and this piece here, the poems speaking to each other in how they integrate their titles into the forms of the pieces, and for their content.

                             Some neuroscientists think of language

As a living thing. How many little deaths

                             Are you willing to suffer?

from "Aphasia"

by Natalie Jarrett in The Adroit Journal

Natalie Jarrett’s poem weaves together the bodily experience of loss with the ongoing erasure of language in a way that feels effortless and awe-inducing. Like Bancroft’s poem, the latent dangers of standardizing bodies and tongues are ever-present in the piece — “A few days ago, the last speaker / of an indigenous dialect died. How do you say? / Without you I am nothing.” The succinctness with which these structural realities are folded into a poem that is in equal parts about the lived experience of the disabled body is nothing short of masterful. 



Benjamin Bartu