New Essay, New Position!

The March issue of Wordgathering is live! This is our thirteenth anniversary issue, and it contains so much lovely work. We’re getting comfortable on our new platform, thanks to our brilliant editorial team and our colleagues at Syracuse University.

This latest issue is especially exciting for me, because I am officially the sole poetry editor! I’ve worked as an associate poetry editor now for three years, but the March 2020 issue is my maiden voyage in this new position. To commemorate this step up, I was invited to write the Gatherer’s Blog, an essay series featuring advice and perspectives on disability and the arts. The feature is edited by Ona Gritz, whose wonderful poetry I have reviewed before.

My essay, called “The Blood and Candor of Craft,” discusses what disability poetry can achieve for poets and readers alike. It begins like this:

I stand at the register, ready to swipe my credit card. My groceries are being collected into crinkling paper bags. Because my guide dog can sense my preoccupation, he sniffs for derelict crumbs under the counter. I ask him to sit, so I can use both hands to finish paying.

“Your total is $57.50,” the cashier says. She leans over the low counter. “Your dog is so handsome!”

I feel for the chip on my credit card and insert it into the machine. “Thank you, he’s a good boy.”

The machine chirps, and she retrieves my receipt. “So, how exactly does he help you?”

“He’s a guide dog.” I stretch out my hand for the receipt. “I’m blind, and he helps me travel safely.”

“But, you can’t be completely blind,” she protests. “You’re looking right at me. So you must have some vision.”

I slide my wallet into my purse. “You know I can hear you, right?”

Behind me, another customer chuckles. The cashier, still uncomprehending, sputters, “Well, yes, but—”

I deliver my parting shot with a big smile: “It’s not hard to figure out where you are, unless you can throw your voice.”

She has to laugh. Everyone else is laughing. Even the bagger is cracking up. But I walk out of the store, wondering if my response actually taught her anything.

Maybe I should not expect her to understand and accept my blindness in this five-minute encounter, but I can’t help resenting her disbelief. Strangers often say, “You can’t really be blind,” as the preamble to something they think blind people can’t do:

“You can’t really be blind. You dress so well!”

“You can’t really be blind. You walk so confidently!”

“You must have some vision. Your résumé is so organized!”

The cashier touched a nerve, a tender spot she may know nothing about. And my irritation grows when I think of all the enjoyable conversations we might have had. Instead of focusing on the part of my blindness that didn’t make sense, she could have taken me at my word and asked more about how my dog guides me safely. She could have guessed what I was planning to cook with fresh kale and ground turkey. We could have compared notes on almond milk and Icelandic yogurt. But we got stalled in a conversation about the nuts and bolts of my vision.

This exchange with the cashier is an exhibit at the Disability Museum, my label for interactions with intrusive or persistent strangers. At the Disability Museum, I am called upon to explain how a blind person shops, cooks, puts on makeup, or loads the dishwasher. Rather than occasions of gentle wondering, these meetings are shaped by an insatiable fascination that disregards my need to safely cross a street, carry a hot coffee, or get my restless dog outside

Read the full essay here.

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