Amygdala Times: A love poem

By P. C. Wright

 

It’s snowed more in the Willamette Valley

than any Ohio transplant can remember.

Bodom E. Switch’s wheelchair idles

beside the bed. Rain won’t clear the sidewalks

for three more days. The furnace has gone out.

My bed is his home.

I’ve told him there’s a whole city like this –

lost to everyone except those they’ve huddled close to

under covers.

There’s been lots of huddling going on, he’s said.

I’m going out tomorrow.

And I smile with full dimples.

 

Our crip muscles tighten in the cold,

so our game in the morning has been to imagine

all we will need for the day and squirrel up the bedroom

before transferring back to bed.

Two days in, I get up and rediscover the miniature Etch-A-Sketch

under my pillow and replace books we’ve strewn on the floor.

Christ, I’m done with this, Bodom says.

Your uncle parked his chair in front of city buses

so that we could get around.

 

It’s snow. We’re not being committed.

Not yet anyway. Do we have any of those corn chip things?

The wavy ones.

 

We have wavy corn chips, but our game this morning

had several pauses as we realized we didn’t have everything we wanted.

So I gather, cramped with the cold, bone-frozen in the sunrise.

A memory sits by the front window – the teetering kerosene heater years back,

the flare, the slow settling.

Yesterday, I lasted an hour with it on

before I made Bodom shift the wick from the fuel.

That thing is familiar and dangerous.

 

Bodom reads Nothing About Us Without Us two or three times a year,

can recite parts of it, even the moth-eaten Lenin quote or two.

He’s remaining patient by reviewing international crip solidarity.

Corn chips.

I checked. The grocery delivery service isn’t doing its thing.

I’ll go out tomorrow.

I shift to the bed and say something he doesn’t hear about ice.

 

He’ll go out tomorrow.

Our back and forth about it will go:

The ramp is icy. It’s dangerous. Remember when.

No, it warmed up yesterday. I got this.

 

And at the top of the ramp: See that icy patch? Remember calling the fire department?

Look.

He’ll roll away without a hitch.

 

They say for a crip, he does pretty well for himself.

For a crip, he’s pretty hard to exclude.

Inclusion for us is too costly to create and maintain under capitalism.

He told me that on election night. We have to force it.

It’s easier if we stay in, away from the normies. Easier for them, impossible for us.

We can’t hide and run our own lives. We remember who we are in these amygdala times.

 

I enjoyed it. Forgetting for a moment

who we are to the people who are frightened of us

or have an angle on us.

I remember. We’re crips. Conspicuously crip.

And, briefly, I’m sick with the smell of cigarettes and sweat.

It passes. These are different times. But it’s close enough.

The recording repeats, I’m sick again, and we’re under attack.

 

Cripples don’t belong in Crippled America.

All scheming. Frauds all of them. Government waste.

Instinct is to make associations

between the dog whistles and the threats.

The safe streets, the firm hand, the market. Extraction, exclusion, prisons, build that wall, institutions. Your caregiver quit the company, poverty wages, market solutions. We’ll try to get someone out for you today, no clean undies, personal responsibility, I don’t know David Duke. Bleeding, grabbing, program cuts.

 

Cigarettes and sweat.

Let me in, he says, flashing a knife.

I look up at the building’s security camera.

He follows my gaze and steps away.

It’s the first time I’ve revered a higher power,

a power created to make us feel safe.

 

I start getting out of bed when Bodom rattles the doorknob,

and he’s put away half the bag of groceries when I get to the kitchen.

I grabbed your cell phone on the way out.

Your caseworker called, needs to come out to renew services.

He’s a smoker.

 

Bodom’s legs are turned severely inward and he’s off balance

as he reaches to preheat the oven from his chair. Bone frozen.

I tell him to go turn on that kerosene thing and sit by it.

As Bodom limbers up like the Tin Man, I begin to stiffen.

I tell him I set a timer on the pizza. Take it out. I need to shower.

 

My body is a physicians’ tour map.

They’ve stopped here and here, here and here twice, here, here, and here.

Each time I was going to be more normal, less conspicuously crip.

But I can’t hide, even in these amygdala times.

Forgot one. Here, too, on top of my head. Craniectomy, they called it.

Maybe I had looked to higher powers before.

I’d hoped to be transformed and access privileges, entitlements,

powers created that would keep me safe.

This body is a cognitive map. It’s how I locate myself and orient toward my power.

 

Bodom has shut off the kerosene heater by the time I’m out of the shower.

Shit, babe. I don’t know, I say. I’m so tense.

It’s like that shaky-ground feeling when you’ve demanded that one more thing

that will make life a little better. And then you’re greedy for not having enough.

We’ve claimed space. They want to take it back.

We are non-dominant. We’ve got numbers. They’re striking at our strength.

 

P.C. Wright is a disabled poet who lives in Portland, Ore. His work has appeared in Poets for Living Waters and Luna Negra.

 

Editor’s note: This poem refers to two vastly different books: Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment by James I. Charlton and Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America by Donald J. Trump.

 

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