Liz Whiteacre


For this project, Lyn Jones of Ball State University offered me interview transcripts from the study "Pre-Enrollment Considerations of Undergraduate Wheelchair Users and their Post-Enrollment Transitions," published in The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability which she authored with Roger D. Wessel, Christina L. Blanch, and Larry Markle. I used the interviews, notes from a focus group discussion, the article, and research I conducted about the injuries and diseases discussed by the participants as prompts for persona poems. I was also able to draw upon the experiences I've had with spinal injury and teaching students transitioning from high school to college, since I've taught Freshman composition at various schools since 2002. The poems below were prompted by the transcript of a student who has cerebral palsy.

Toxic Friends & Tacos

Listen to the audio version.

In the corner, we eat tacos, my wheelchair pushed close against the booth.
Crystal crunches noisily. Jordan holds her tostada like the old cat's cradle game,
perching it high on her fingers. Lettuce drifts to the wrapper as she looks at me,
eyes wide, saying we totally have to all go community college. We're like sisters.
That's the plan. Right, Crys?
Crystal swipes guacamole from her chin with my napkin.

Yeah, Crystal says, you'd probably come home in December anyway. That school
is super hard. My cousin dropped out freshman year.
I'm not hungry. My burrito
plays dead on my tray. Jordan slowly twirls her tostada again, taking tiny bites
from its edge. Dumb bunnies don't do well there, she sighs, checking to see
if her bites are even, perfectly whittling the circle smaller and smaller, closing in

until nothing will be left. Less messy than the string game we used to play.
How was D-hall? Jordan asks me before sipping her Dew. Crystal reaches
for her chips, and she swats her hand. Manners, Crys, seriously. I shrug.
Will you be able to go out tonight? My mom rarely lets me go out with Jordan
and Crystal, even to the movies—especially after another detention for eating

in the library. But even Melville is better than lunch alone. You know Mom, I say.
Crystal snorts, as bad as mine. Jordan eyes my food. You going to eat that?
I shake my head, and Crystal laughs, you're such a pig, J. Then Crystal turns to me,
her knees bumping mine below the table, licking the salsa off each fingertip.
Seriously, though. You'll never find friends there as good as us two.

* * *

College on TV

Listen to the audio version.

College on TV looks really intense, and I know,
because I've binge watched like every Netflix show.
I don't know how I'm gonna do. I'm probably gonna flunk
out. And don't get me started on how awkward having
a stranger with me in the shower will be. They won't know
me like Mom does. And, she'll be pissed if I flunk out.
When we visited campus, I pointed out a girl who was
in a wheelchair, and Mom said, honey, you are too.
Sometimes, I forget. I forget because there weren't

any girls in wheelchairs on college TV. Mom tells it like it is,
like when I told her I didn't want to go, and she fake-called
Admissions to cancel college for me. Straight-faced,
she told me to go get a job. I searched the web for five hours.
Just five. And then, I told her to call back. I don't want
to make calls from a cubicle—that's just not me.
That's the last call she made for me. I had to show up
to college myself after that, make the phone calls
and attend meetings and hunt down help. Last week,
when I called home, Mom, just like the moms on college
TV, said, I miss you, Honey. Come home soon.

* * *

Headed to Campus

Listen to the audio version.

It's a quote-unquote normal thing,
isn't it? To have your parents tell you
to be anything you want to be.
Try everything. Be independent?

In high school, Mom researched while
I passed pre-calculus, chemistry,
American literature, PE. When I got
home, we'd drink coffee and look
at college web sites. I'd fill out forms.

It's a quote-unquote normal thing,
isn't it? To have your parents tell you
not to ride home alone late at night.
Leave your dorm room. Go, make friends?

When we unpacked the two trucks, I asked
Mom to stay the night. I didn't want to train
the attendant by myself the next morning. Even
though, I would be in charge of everything now.

It's a quote-unquote normal thing, isn't it?
To have your parents tell you they want you
to visit home? They miss you.But maybe next
monthwould be better? Sorry, but work stuff?

They want you to grow up and take care of
yourself, but they also want you to need them,
like cookies need sugar, plants need water, lungs
need air. That's how things go, right?

* * *

Mom, I've Got a Boyfriend

Listen to the audio version.

I say it twice more, testing out how it sounds.
I know this will be one of those happy-sad times,

like finding out I got into the university,
then finding out my friends didn't.

I'm not ready for those "talks," like Sabrina gives
me after I meet him during her shift, and she's all

"Sweet-thing, you've got to be careful. That boy's gonna
break your heart in two." Arms crossed, eyebrow arched,

Sabrina asks me what protection I'm using and won't let
me wheel away —damn break locks—until I answer.

"It's not like that." I blush, remembering when he kissed
me after coffee, before he gently pushed me to class.

"I've seen the way he looks at you," Sabrina stacks books
on my desk, "it's gonna be that way soon, you not careful."

But I can't not call Mom, have a conversation she's probably
been hoping for: Mom, I've got a boyfriend. I brace myself

for the freak out—the calls from my sisters later tonight.
I picture his face, lit up talking philosophy, as we study,

knees touching, hearts pounding, eager to take the risk.


*To read more about The Campus Wheel Chair Project see Liz Whiteacre's essay "Persona and the Campus Wheelchair Project" in the September 2016 issue of this journal.


Liz Whiteacre teaches creative writing at teaches writing at the University of Indianapolis. She is the author of Hit the Ground (Finishing Line Press) and co-editor of the anthology Monday Coffee & Other Stories of Mothering Children with Special Needs (INwords Press). Her poems have appeared in Wordgathering, Disability Studies Quarterly, The Healing Muse, Breath and Shadow, and other magazines.