Sheila Black


I am so excited to introduce this Reading Loop, because it contains the voices of Zoeglossia, the non-profit I helped the indominable Jennifer Bartlett and Connie Voisine get off the ground from 2018-19. The mission of Zoeglossia is to create community for poets with disabilities by hosting an annual retreat in which fellows can participate in workshops, roundtable discussions, readings and other community-building activities. Those chosen to be fellows in Zoeglossia are able to attend retreats over a period of three years and form a supportive network of disability poets and activists.

In May 2019 in San Antonio, Texas we all met at Our lady of the Lake University for our first ever Zoeglossia retreat. There were challenges (even when institutions promise accessible venues, these don't always prove accessible!), there were discoveries large (how ableism has shaped all our experiences in similar ways despite the fact that as a community we comprise a vast range of different disabilities) and small (breakfast tacos are the best breakfast food ever), yet most of all there was the tender, surprising, vulnerable, and creatively energizing birth of a new community devoted to a consideration of the poetics and poetry of disability.

I love that the poems here are so diverse—in their styles, their intentions, that they cover such a wise swatch of humanity and emotion. From the beautiful "White" by Stephen Lightbrown, which makes a marriage moment a surprising and affirmative reckoning with the accident that gave him a new "non-normative" body to Gaia Thomas's generous, ultra-imaginative—and yes,—tender response to reading Stephen's book Only Air, these poems are all speaking with each other.

I am thrilled by the revolutionary things Raymond Luczak is doing with language with his ASL "glosses" which seek to render more acutely for the hearing what ASL language feels like to its speakers. In the poem he contributed to the Reading Loop, he offers stirring testimony to the fact that our languages and our bodies are still dismissed, erased, under attack by the ableist structure of our world, and yet we manage to make ourselves present and defiant:

unarmed with only
imperfect consonants
no rifle in hand
still dangerous

I love how his and so many of these poems celebrate our reality and our dangerous and vital presence.

The Reading Loop opens with Jessica Suzanne Stokes' manifesto "This Poem is Universal, I Promise," which with humor and her signature linguistic verve—what a poet!– sets the stage of the landscape these poems will take you through—the varied, marvelous, difficult, and radiant territory of the non-normative experience. This journey includes Ellen McGrath Smith's exquisitely nuanced rendering of the complexities of listening, hearing and understanding in a world that privileges only one kind of listening. Naomi Ortiz's poem "Dear Nikki Giovanni,"which is about the searching for belonging and identity and makes the promise of how the affirmation of a disability identity is one that will enrich all our languages – "poems like thimbles of truth, strung together like clothes on a line."

The journey continues with Viktoria Valenzuela's lyric celebration of motherhood as a strength and a vulnerability in which "Their lamp of life is your apotheosis/and no one will tell you about your own death," and Zoe Stoller's remarkable pair of poems "Sonnet," and "I Will Not be the Pills," which describe the traces of identity evolving and mutating; the struggle to be and become and assert a self:

My sister and I challenge my
closet. Change the way
dresses fall on hips. I must
wear professional tomorrow
at nine o'clock and not be
what I've become.

This is a theme we also see in Elizabeth Theriot's "After Aubrey and I text about our dying planet," in which the poet asserts "Maybe there is a future for me,/all the cement covered in soft layers of moss. "

In "Turtle," Stephanie Heit connects disability to nature and ancestry, with a celebration of "the slow movement. Middle ground. Ability to pull into a home a shell or my own skin," This is an image that connects the truth of vulnerability as part of disability and assets how it is not a deficit but a source of power, connecting us to the oldest, most basic truths of being alive in a world of time and space.

In fact, vulnerability and connection are the important themes here—the celebration of disability connection and discovery, even in the shadow of a world whose ableist structures continually wound and exclude. We see this wounding and exclusion in the plainsong beauty of Margaret Rickett's lovely poem "I am Learning," and in an excerpt I am so delighted to include here from Jennifer Bartlett's ongoing project "Jennifer's little book of Traumas," a work I keep reading and re-reading, feeling that it is somehow an autobiography for all of us:

"Why are you so anxious all the time? Why are you constantly terrified? What is wrong with you?

Your shoulder hurts. Your back hurts. Your knee hurts. Your legs hurt. Your head hurts. You have to come to realize that you are in pain every second of every day and you can't tell anyone because this will confirm your weakness."

This reading loop combines honesty and what Emily Dickinson called the "thing with feathers." It feels like these are the necessary poems for now. In her poem "For the County that Will Not Bring us Peace" Connie Voisine writes of "the singer who arrived home wet and shivering/to tell no one about the storm," expressing how much would silence the singer, the witness, and allthose who would deliver their true testimony. Only they are here and they are singing. As Stephen Lightbrown declares in the last line of his poem "White," "We happen next."

I hope you enjoy reading these remarkable poems as much as I have enjoyed collecting them.

I also want to add one final note. This is the last issue of Wordgathering that will be edited by Michael Northen. When I realized this, I remembered myself back in 2007 when Wordgathering launched; then I remembered before, around 2003 or so, when Mike, who had been hosting a poetry workshop for people with disabilities at Inglis House in Philadelphia, launched a poetry contest for writers with disabilities. I saw that contest in some call or other and it rocked my world.

I was just starting to claim myself as a poet, but I was a long way from claiming my identity as a person with a disability, even though disability had been one of the primary shaping features of my life.

I wore braces throughout my childhood, had major surgery at thirteen, and I still found it hard to walk. I also don't look like most people — I am short and my legs are crooked. Even so I had no idea how to parse or place my experience as a person with a disability. This was because everything I'd been taught about being a person with a disability, from the mostly abled people around me, affirmed—and over and over again, that the best way to be a disabled person in the world was to behave as much as possible as though you didn't have a disability. Yet when I saw a notice about the InglisHouse contest, I wrote a poem. I didn't submit that year, but two years later I did, and in that two years I began to think—on my own—about who I actually was.

Mike responded immediately when I submitted to the contest. He asked me for poems; he asked me about being a writer with a disability, and I began to wake up and see how fruitless and sad it was, the way I used to say things like "I don't really have a disability, exactly…" Or "my disability didn't really affect me all that much," or "I have a disability, but it is not really that important." These were lies, and they were lies I'd been telling just because it made it easier for the able-bodied people around me.

In 2009, I decided to propose a panel on disability poetry for AWP, which was held in Denver that year. I reached out online, and one of the people who responded was Jennifer Bartlett. The final panel we put forward consisted of Jennifer Bartlett, Ann Bogle, Barbara Crooker, Ellen McGrath Smith, Mike Northen and me. This panel was not high on anyone's to-do list that year. We spoke to a room, which contained a mere handful of people—but among them was the extraordinary Laura Hershey. At that AWP Conference, Jennifer, Mike and I decided to put together the anthology that would become Beauty is a Verb.

I tell this story just to explain how if it had not been for Mike's steadfast advocacy and generosity as an editor, a thinker, and a connector, I don't know how or when I would have come into myself as a person with a disability.

When Wordgathering was launched in 2007, it formed a vital community that led eventually to Zoeglossia and much more.

I don't know what the wider disability community would look like without Mike Northen, but I do know that for me discovering Inglis House and then Wordgathering was how I found my way to a self I had been trained to bandage, bury, conceal, and silence. I also know I am not alone–and so, to Mike–this Reading Loop is definitely for you.


Jessica Stokes

This Poem Is Universal, I promise.

Call me the every man,
the kind of guy you want to have a beer
and watch the game with.
Please ignore that when I had to break the seal
I went into the bathroom with the rustic "W" and wished there was one with no letter at all.

This poem is for you.
And now I'm feeling numb from the beer.
You know the feeling.
I'm certainly not feeling numb for some reason you wouldn't understand.
My numbness has nothing to do with the wheelchair I rolled through the wide bathroom door.

You and I agree on what numb feels like.
It's comfortable, unfeeling, indifferent.
Just like all the metaphors promise.

Numb couldn't mean
a thousand feelings simultaneously
a realization of the overlaps between responses to extremes
a synesthesia that feels burns as frostbite, tickles as scrapes.

This is a universal poem, I promise.
Numb means having too many beers.
You don't drink beer?

* * *

Ellen McGrath Smith


Once, I discovered my brother in the basement
with a plunger to his ear; he so desperately
wanted to unclog it he might have sent a hurricane
into that tiny treehouse of toothpicks
where Kiss and Metallica blasted him
with a righteous sublime. He was prevented.

I understandthe feeling.

Even when my ears aren't clogged they're clogged.
I picture my treehouse made of canvas tattered at its center,
a hole the birds drill with semi-permanent trills.

Before I knew it was a nerve thing, irreparable,
my complaints would land meat the ENT,
where they would lecture me on swimming and Q-tips,
get a stainless steel proboscis and an ear-shaped pan,
send a sharp and steady water skewer through my head
that would swish like a warm tide in an inlet,
my treehouse bending but not breaking,
stirrup swinginglike a traffic light in a storm.
When the water was sucked out again,
chunks of wax bobbed in the pan, and I knew
that my body was a kitchenyou could clean,
an ecosystem, an old garage with tools.

When you can't hear, you're old when you're young.
My brothers made a cackling "eh" to make fun of me,
and sometimes used their hands to shape an ear trumpet.
And later, when I learned that it wasn't a matter
of wax at all, but of damaged nerves, like cords
the cat has chewedthat still work but intermittently,
blinking nerves not sureif they are up to the job
of sense-secretary, I also learned the word "lavage,"
as in "The fact that there was no improvement
after lavage suggests—" not silence, no, just patchy hearing.

Last night, I saw Y. and wanted to write her
and tell her I get nervous about talking to her
because I can never hear that honeyed, gentle voice of hers
and that I like her so much and wish I knew her better,
but how can you do that if not in conversation?

Lavage is such a soothing-sounding word. It makes me
want to close my eyes and fill the treehouse
with every sound the nerves can carry in tall glasses
on a tray to the blue sky beach I'm staring at.


On Repeat

As she got older, she gathered more bass
in her voice, as though life's harder hits

had instructed it to sound less hopeful,
less joyful, less girl. By early adolescence,

her Yes sounded just like her No to me,
and I had to ask again just to confirm

what she'd meant. Another gift, I guess,
from the god of hearing loss, wrapped

in a gauze of unknowing, erasing the shape
of her intentions—giving her, on repeat,

the chance to change her mind, whatever
it was. Giving me the chance to wait

a little longer for her verdict. My child,
my judge, her mountain-range sentences.

* * *

Naomi Ortiz

Dear Nikki Giovanni,

I'm Disabled and Latina. Although you probably wouldn't notice it with just a look.
Not until I moved like  PoeTRy  or spoke in   RhytHm 

There's so much I'd like to ask you
Like how did you know you were part of a movement when so much of your poetry is about being alone?
How did you have patience and still hope for change when people were saying things like, "There is no such thing as Racism."
How did you know your poetry was about power on everyday nights when no one seemed to be listening?

Now 45 years later I hear the echoes of your voice.
I love how your poems are like thimbles of truth, strung together like clothes on a line,
a tapestry of different shapes, sizes, colors, fabrics,
making life seem so simple, so tangible, so real.

I am a Disabled, Latina activist and I am searching…
Our movement, the Disability movement/liberation/struggle, is trying so hard to grow roots,
and if we win, have Our way, society will be radically altered -
                        what it means to be alive, and live well, will have 500 new

See, "us" and "them" is so much larger than one identity, one country or even one hemisphere.
Disabled people are like veins in the body of life.
Pulsing into every country, people, gender, color.
Our roles have been cast for us for centuries – since before Jesus,
we are the beggars, the untouchables, the sick, the different,
and we want equality, to be taken for all the beautiful difference that we are.

That's why I desire to talk to you.
You, the observer of a monumental struggle for love of self, love of community,
inspiring people, mirroring the truth back into the heart of the struggle.
And when they, out of fear, over simplified and corrupted truth into lies,
you captured it on the rebound, shook it out, and threw it back in.

* * *

Margaret Ricketts

I am learning

to walk without a knee

to lean forward without raking

I am learning to move around ten minutes every hour

I am learning to inhale

I am learning to judge pain, to push until it pushes me into hours of sleep

I am learning to wait for the surgeon's

my knee is a strand of white bones, joints erased

I am waiting for the end of a terrible season

* * *

Gaia Thomas

After reading Stephen Lightbown's Only Air

I have cookies to eat, and a tall glass
of milk that has been waiting for me · Tying
the blue ribbon tighter would not make the
bones of the dancer less porous · The
hotel technicians have gels and powders to
make things disappear · In the
integument of light, pigment would be a
scar · After the 4th of July, the
mycelium of family went dormant under
ground · Shoebox of lube, of red green
yellow condoms, of ninja stars, of a squiggle
wiggle writer pen, of white tic tacs · Church
full of switches we will leave left on · Not
everyone came to the wedding: one girl in
pigtails hitchhiked her way to Nebraska
instead · With my grasses for a pillow
and what you can ignore · His yowling
the soundsketch short and long bars
which could be made of anything : toothpaste
slivers of beet · the complaint frequently
pulsing into unbearable clip · A milky
swirl of green and brown the width
of mountains gleaming flat translucence
in the sun · Belly to the brick I slide past
the lime green washers · She was/is a good bee

* * *

Viktoria Valenzuela

I Reach for my Head the Moon

Despite birth order, we are one age;
I reach for my head the moon.

No one tells you that being fortyish means
everything you are aware of will hang on you.

It will hurt you more than ever
The babies you gave birth to (pushed or cut out of you) burn like daylight,

They rise and set everyday, hearts and hands around your neck;
Growing stronger in bone and back

The morning's news brings images of bodies you didn't want to know you had to keep up with.
Your head, the moon, becomes pockmarked;

cratered into by doleful meteorites.
You also seek the warmth of children against your face.

Their lamp of life is your apotheosis
and no one will tell you about your own death

Or how the children need you to leave a legacy.
Timelessness is awareness.

No one can tell you how the Earthrise blocks your view of the sun
or how you'll float away reaching for your head the moon.

Someday on earth, you'll be reading a news item, simply squinting for sunlight;
Sweating and scowling. Unforgotten children plant you in time.

You mother. You moon.
You omniscient forever.


i watched the news today

Sucked at my teeth, scribbled a worthy response that might make it all the way to
Washington D.C., to the Smithsonian, or even              ….my own living room….
Where's the use of (blood) headlines across the page if parents carrying babies under
their shirts are still going to be found dead in the Rio
   or mothers with breast milk spilling, forced to surrender their infants
      at bath time in an American Concentration Camp, might never be seen

* * *

Zoe Stoller


Now look you are in my poem
It didn't happen yesterday but
It's happening now
My dog is doing the action again
But not that one
I always say
I know there's more that happened
But I can't remember
And I had not yet written
The residue


I Will Not Be The Pills

The aunt in the room and
bottoms fit evenly into
wash. I will not and spread
cream on my arms. I was
carrying a purse and in it was
television living with
the sheets and train buttoned
down thighs. The question
is whether to keep the holes.
I tried using the first and felt
vaguely not alone. The
animals lined up on window-
sill. I will not and jewels and
shoe on calf and I must be
appropriate if nothing else.
No outfitted flowers. Real
estate requires show requires
kick in air and blonde. Bracket
purse and if the days come
then the father bruised on
nose. Tomatoes and the but
I can't remember words.
My sister and I challenge my
closet. Change the way
dresses fall on hips. I must
wear professional tomorrow
at nine o'clock and not be
what I've become. I know
there hasn't been a space and
my ring will never outright
show. With age the body sags
and I will rip like stockings.
It is time to go and I will
no longer come back. There is
no brand to what I am trying to
say. I've seen the pen and
stamps and on my arms tiny
ankles dirt lining toes. Life
might be long. I will not have
leopard on skin on forehead nor
the platforms nor the dog
clinging to side. Cracks in eagles.
I will not retreat to bed. I will not
say the names for liability but
they all know what happens when
at home. No more drained socks or
white. The same dress as the two
people before. Most likely plain
legs and bright torso. Most likely
one necklace above breasts. It all
depends on what eyes the people
keep. Never jeans because splotch
on stomach and face is all there
ever was. Mind invisible. Scared
to wear body with the sister.
Scared of back like chest. I will
not leave the service hide the
purse. It is the same I have now
but the other with the teeth will
be away. It all depends on who
I am. Whether speech is enough
to see sky. No lights hanging
from twisters. If I could imprint
memory in language then voice in
italics on my body. Arranging
colors of the week. I will or will
not be plain. I will or will not
be the same. Dark and dark on white
board and four days of butter-
fly in cocoon. Post-its stuck to skin.
Although I take the hangers don't
belong. Half a book and air. I will
not be the mother of the chain. I
will not elevate broken foot. I
will not wear tar see estranged.
I will not be the pills.

* * *

Elizabeth Theriot

After Aubrey and I text about our dying planet

I lay out old shirts to make cleaning rags
from the flattened shape of my torso,
move the scissors V to hem.

From autopsy descriptions, I recall
this is the most efficient way of opening,
much cleaner than what my fingers tore.


I wore some icy blue velvet boots
with a tall chunky heel, thinking
maybe this time, but walking
was like my bones at the edge of collapse,
I tried to picture all the parts holding
me together and couldn't, my feet hurt,
it hurt to walk, it felt like another prophecy.


Maybe there is future for me,
all the cement covered in soft layers of moss.

* * *

Stephanie Heit

Turtle (from Psych Murders)

Turtle is the depression animal. Or rather this was the animal I aligned with when I was finding my way forward or who knows in what direction, some compass dislocated from a ship long splattered in the ocean. A wreck of suicidal ideation and concrete planning I never thought I'd find my way away from alive. This is turtle. The slow movement. Middle ground. Ability to pull into a home a shell or my own skin. A limbic striated reach toward the beach that gave me shore and light. Steady. No acrobatic feats. Simply alive. Pull and extend a bit of push but not too much because I'm tired.

* * *

Connie Voisine

For the country will bring us no peace

Can we say that this street, strewn with glint
of hail this morning and various puddles of light
and water, if we praise the night before,
when lightning zipped through the clouds
above the park and the man waiting it out
in the gazebo, will this be the song of our own
loveliness? The dog ignores all glory and fury
as he finishes turning a ball into a plastic shell,
the children do not look up from the movie
about a girl who wishes she were a mermaid
or someone else. What is this song? Is it the drum
sounding over the park as the marching band
prepares for the football game on Friday,
beautifully. We can't see the careful bodies
of the young blowing and banging, the shapes
they cut in the parking lot of the high school,
appreciable only from above. Belt of straw
and ivy buds, sousaphone and glockenspiel,
all the tiny dents on the hoods of cars
that might and might not be repaired,
the singer who arrived home wet and shivering
to tell no one about the storm.

* * *

Raymond Luczak

Battle Preparations

mercury dropping
our thermometer
outside porch window
framing st michaels
rising above birches
those mornings
my universe was
a stretched atlas
of silver & white
patches worn thin
over edge of ironing board
there my shirt lay
mangled corpse
stripes & angles
misted with elixir water
hot button steam
warm as bloodstains
straightening collar
like a priest ready
to officiate
death rites
before burial
iron pressing a prayer
flattening chest pockets
weaving around buttons
medaled down the front
shirt tails now wings
tucked inside my pants
hiding my body hearing aids
still a perfect soldier
no wrinkles or lintballs
still at boot camp
with those odd things in my ears
after so many sessions
speech therapy
three times a week
a weird flat accent that never
pinpointed the country
of my nasalities
taught me pay close attention
supposed to lipread better
but kept decoding body language
seemingly encrypted in cipher
easy code to break
my superiors whispering
among themselves
as they tossed footballs
to each other
glancing my way
just me in shirt & pants
standing guard
by brick wall
uniformed or not
unarmed with only
imperfect consonants
no rifle in hand
still dangerous

* * *

Jennifer Bartlett

Excerpts from Jennifer's Little Book of Trauma


You are born.

You are born, but you are born dead. There was distress and your mother's doctor did not have access to a room for surgery, you are born vaginally. The umbilical cord cuts off your oxygen. Your subsequent death and reviving cause you to have brain damage (although you would never use that word in regular conversation). All this causes you to have cerebral palsy.


You are in the grocery card with your young mother. A woman walks up to your young mother and say "what is wrong with your baby?"


You are in middle school. You have to wait for the bus in the snow and dark because you live in Montana. One of the boys who waits for the bus calls you retard every day. Here comes retard. Here comes retard. Your stepfather has to come out and have a chat with the boy and the boy stops. You are still so proud of your step-dad for standing up for you on that day. Later you become friends with the stupid boy. It turns out he was in love with you.


You are on the subway reading the New Yorker. The people next to you make fun of you and call you retard. As you can best recall, these were adults. You wonder, do they know what the New Yorker is?


You are on the subway. Your five-year-old son is having a fit over something or the other that probably has to do with candy. He is really going at it. One man says to another man, who he is with, why can't she control her kid. The other man replies She can't help it, she's disabled.


You have a friend from college. This friend is brutally attacked by her boyfriend and nearly dies. There is a call out for the man's arrest. You are on your way to work, and you see this man on the city bus, you are rattled. You call the police to report this. The officer says there is some drunk woman on the phone and hangs up.


You are at the public high school where you teach. It is nearly October when they schools remove students from their rosters and bring new students in. Our principal says in a faculty meeting thank God we are not wheelchair accessible, who know what they would send us. The whole faculty laughs. Hardily.


You are in an activist group. You experienced an action in D.C. where you experienced some ableism and non-accessibility. They parked the bus too far from the capitol. You and the other slow walkers were left behind. They didn't tell you where they were going. You were lost and demoralized. Once there, you got a wheelchair so that you could sit down. You are reading in the wheelchair in line to go protest in the Senate. The man waiting behind you moves you in the chair. You were in his way, so he has the right you move you without asking, you are in a wheelchair after all which makes you an object. When you have to leave you give it to a woman who has chronic fatigue. She will return it. A person who has taken the lead in the group asked you what happened to the wheelchair. You say you gave it to so and so because she needed it. The woman says angrily Why did you give it to her? She's not disabled.


You have a big mouth so you want your activist group to speak about this experience. When you do, one woman pushes you off the stage. She later emails you to tell you people cannot cater to your needs and if you can't keep up you should stay home.

People cannot be expected to cater to your needs, and if you can't keep up you should stay home.


After you get pregnant, you go to the doctor. She tells you "You sure know what's going on for someone in your condition."


You left your Paul Auster book at the bar. It's the one that is meta-fiction and you don't know if you like that one, but you want to finish it. You call up the bar. The person screams, " It's that girl with MS or whatever on the phone."

You are envious of people who have cerebral palsy but don't have a speech impediment because they can be on the radio. You will never be on the radio. You could win the Noble Prize and you are not going to get to be on the radio. You started the activist group and the media has never interviewed you, once.


You are told you can't have the teaching job because you will not be able to control a group of students.


You tell the principal that you want to develop a course to teach teachers about disability. She says, No one wants to learn about that.


Someone on a message board tells you they would rather be dead than be like you.


After you have your son, people come up to you often and say Is that your baby? or You had a baby! It's such a big deal that you had a baby, people in the neighborhood remember you and him after he is in high school.


Your co-worker tells you that ableism is a matter of your perception.


Your friend's daughter asked you why do you talk like that.


The same friend told you your son must be really angry because you are disabled.


You got a call for the teaching job. When you call back, and the administrator hears your voice she says, I don't know who called you. There is no job.


You decide Gerry Jewel is your role model. Not because you like her, although you do, but she's the only choice.


Looking for a middle school for your son, you notice a child called it on the bookshelf.


The waitress who cannot understand you asks your husband, friend, comrade, son, president, boss, complete stranger what does she want? What did she say?


You are spoken about in the third person every day in front of you as if you are not there. Every day.


You write an article about struggling with how men desexualize you. You are accused of promoting sexual violence.


The woman in charge of maintenance for the condo board emails you and says, it is not my problem that you are disabled and cannot keep your house clean. No one on the condo message board defends you.


You meet a guy online who insists on meeting. You plan to meet near your house and get a drink. The minute he sees your body, he makes an excuse and leaves.


Your co-worker says her computer is spazzing out.


Your co-worker accidently says that having a speech impediment is not speaking properly.


Your friend of 25 years gets AIDS. He is self-destructive. He goes on and off of his

medication which is worse than just not taking it. You go to the hospital to visit him for months. For months, you walk up 12 flights of stairs because you are afraid of elevators. You walk up 12 flights of stairs and down 12 flights of stairs, three times a week. He goes home and it's all going to be okay. Then, he dies.


You are accused of speaking for all disabled people. You are accused of not honoring invisible disabilities. You are accused of putting down people with cognitive disabilities because you want people to know you are intellectual. You change and change and examine and ruthlessly second-guess yourself.


You write a blog post about disability. In the comments, people make fun of you and say Is having a small dick a disability. You have an argument with the moderator who tells you she will not censor the comments. Now, she is a famous writer who writes about disability. You are still not a famous writer.

* * *

Stephen Lightbown


Duplicitous white snow turns crimson beneath me.
A bloody outline seeping its way around my stricken frame.
Marking the dying body of the person I used to be.
An avalanche of activity in the time it takes a winter's
breath to form and disappear.
Through cries that climb
between barren brown branches
a single question thaws in my sixteen-year-old mind.

What happens next?

I rouse to the sound of sirens.
It is the last day of the Tour de France
and the gendarmerie are clearing the Champs-Élysées.
We are in Paris on our honeymoon.
You're facing me, and, for the second time in two days,
dressed in white again, only now wrapped in hotel sheets.
Confetti still in your hair, champagne still on your lips.
The corners of my mouth stretch for the grey at my temples.
Drunk on euphoria, I answer a twenty-year-old question.

We happen next.


Zoeglossia Poet Biographical Notes

Stephanie HeitJennifer Bartlett is the author, most recently of Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography, a book of poems and co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Her essays have been featured in the New York Times. She is currently at work on an autobiogaphy of Larry Eigner.

Stephanie Heit is a poet, dancer, and teacher of somatic writing, Contemplative Dance Practice, and Kundalini Yoga. She is bipolar and a member of the Olimpas, an international disability performance collective. Her poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity (The Operating System, 2017) explores the seams of language, movement, and mental health difference. Poetry from her current project Psych Murders, a hybrid memoir poem, appears in We Are Not Your Metaphor (Squares and Rebels, 2019), Bombay Gin, Anomaly, In Corpore Sano, and Disability Studies Quarterly.

Stephen Lightbrown was born in Blackburn, Lancashire. He is a spoken word artist who's performed at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and the Poetry Café and Rich Mix in London. In March 2019, Stephen's first poetry collection, Only Air, was published by Burning Eye Books.

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 22 books, including Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels Press).

Naomi Ortiz is a writer, poet, facilitator and visual artist whose work focuses on self-care for activists, disability justice and living in multiple worlds (intersectionality). Her book, Sustaining Spirit: Self-Care for Social Justice invites readers to balance activism with self-scare by guiding readers to sink into metaphor and examine their relationship to self, community, and place.

Margaret Ricketts has received grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She has studied poetry with Marie Howe, Nikky Finney, Jacqueline Woodson, Marya Hornbacher and Cornelius Eady among others. She is a fourteen-year volunteer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, working on issues of economic, social, and environmental justice.

Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. She is the author of two chapbooks and a full length collection Nobody's Jackknife (West End Press, 2016) Her writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Los Angeles Review, Quiddity, Cimarron, and other journals, and in several anthologies, including Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Smith has been the recipient of an Orlando Prize, an Academy of American Poets award, a Rainmaker Award from Zone 3 magazine, and a 2007 Individual Artist grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Jessica Suzanne Stokes is a disabled poet/performer/scholar currently pursuing her PhD in English at Michigan State University. Jessica is refining the work of her Erasure Cycle. She crafts poems by cutting or covering up medical and literary texts, reshaping them and being reshaped by them. Her academic research focuses on scars, the temporality of performance, and coalitional access.

Zoe Stoller is a poet and recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied English and Creative Writing. She currently works at a digital marketing agency in Philadelphia.

Elizabeth Theriot is a poet and essayist with Ehlers-Danos Syndrome. She advocates for reproductive justice with The Yellowhammer Fund, and is writing a memoir. Reach her at

Gaia Thomas holds an MFA from Mills College. Her chapbook, Aloft Alight, is available via Antiquated Future. Her poetry can be found on the site Dispatches From the Poetry Wars, and in the connection Godiva Speaks.

Viktoria Valenzuela is a creative nonfiction writer and poet, a human rights activist, and a graduate student at Our Lady of the Lake's MFA and social justice program. Valenzeula's work appears in The Poetry at Round Top Anthology, St. Sucia Zine, Mutha Magazine, AMP, The MACLS Journal, and A Prince Tribute Anthology: I only Wanted One Time to See You Laughing. Valenzuela is a community educator, a Macondista, and the organizer of the San Antonio, Texas 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Connie Voisine is the author of the new book of poems, The Bower, a book-length poem about her family's time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her previous books, Calle Florista, and Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream are also published by University of Chicago Press. Rare High Meadow was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her first book, Cathedral of the North, won the Associated Writing Program's Award in Poetry. She has poems published in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere.


Sheila Black feels very lucky that Jennifer Bartlett and Connie Voisine invited her to be part of the founding of Zoeglossia. She also feels very fortunate that among her very first publications were in Wordgathering. She is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017).