Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Kay Ulanday Barrett







                            how one can be / prickly tender / how to work / how to scrape / how to
                            green / & green / yet on inside / how to purple / how to majestic /
                            someone thought to open up / the sharp thing / rename it meal / flesh
                            center barricaded / by miscellaneous knives / whole life likely / a dare /
                            i too know / to breathe shield / what it is / to be jagged / to be your own
                            bouquet / confused for ornament / wrap limbs / into knotted lonely /
                            disowned coniferous / maybe to be steamed / to unhinge joints / to want
                            to be believed / to be beloved / to be known for your buttery / to be
                            raked of it / yes / to live honestly / and be considered thistle / beget a
                            body noble / something more than circumstance / than exterior / fed up
                            with being / mistaken for weed / ache to splay like firework / seen as
                            extra / seen as too much work / blithely considered / at dinner parties to
                            be / an acquired taste / and / too fancy / or / how do you even eat that /
                            shimmer silk from / center / want nothing more / than to be pried / than
                            for someone to just / dig in / to be brave or curious / to quest  / & use all
                            hands / to spread limbs / not mind the bold foliage / thin blade skin /
                            draws blood when held too tightly / wish for somebody to just say / this
                            looks impossible / but / what if / what if / this could be my most /
                                       favorite thing / bet / somewhere inside / there’s blossom


I use the word Disabled


because every doctor thinks –  they know more about the cavity echo –  of my feet
[than I do] because it’s dirty word  –  where every stranger –  self-discloses their arms –
skin  – fevers like [family secret] – because bodies aren’t meant  –  to live  –  in whisper
–  because whole events still [rampless] – how clipboards are  –  biggest fear  [monger]

because everyone can name one [token] Disabled or Deaf –  poet who is usually white –
[and always] straight  – because after speaking  –  as an expert  [for a whole hour] in a
packed auditorium  – during any Q&A  –  someone [eventually]  doesn’t ask a question
but says  You’re not that.  – You’ll get better soon –  as though I haven’t measured –

my sternum into  – a city of MRIs  – gazed at comet splatters  –  of xrays  – hospital
gown high hat ultrasounds  –  my season’s [best] –  as though my soundtrack isn’t  –
bass of prescription  – bottles gone empty  –  every lost friend  – every abled grimace
like death –  [somewhere] joy in crook of toes – equals some cold – nobody

wants to catch –  about colds –  every january some people – conflate their – dalliance
with cough syrup –  with [my] blacking out – in laundromats – subway – a new partner’s
bedroom –  how concave of chest –  is altar where [friends] stopped checking in – forgot
to invite – candlelit rib for –  every time someone in new pain – says I get it now

an [incantation] for every time –  you discuss pang – forever in skull – a friend says  –
[yeah] I get headaches when I’m hung over too – for if you don’t make a – potluck –
meeting – twitter hour – you might be the dog [taken] out back –  your work silenced –
for its own misery – together [we] pass lidocaine & – salonpas the way – our

aunties shared adobo recipe – we inherit collective – [care] because we – swap how-tos –
on advocacy with nurse – specialist –  to oncologolost & [again] –  to access-a-ride – our
texts from scratch –  to survive spasm song – because another date – asked you about
your leg – & you know that you’ll never [see] – them again & nobody understands

rejection like a sick  – crip who brings you weed –  & a casserole – tells you not
to move a muscle – they’ll get the tea –  hope still twined on their –  [throats] we have
been a movement –  all of us –  an inhale –  at the closest – sunset [window sill] – as
somebody tries to text –  fried  – but autocorrect anticipates –  grief  [same thing]


Photograph of Kay Ulanday Barrett by Jess X Chen.

Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, and cultural strategist. K. has featured at The Lincoln Center, The UN, Symphony Space, The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Project, Princeton University, Tucson Poetry Festival, NY Poetry Festival, The Dodge Poetry Foundation, The Hemispheric Institute, and Brooklyn Museum. They've received fellowships from MacDowell, Lambda Literary Review, Drunken Boat, VONA, The Home School, and Macondo. Their contributions are found in the New York Times, Asian American Literary Review, Vogue, PBS News Hour, Poets House, Foglifter, Apogee, F(r)iction, NYLON, VIDA Review, and more. Their second poetry book, More Than Organs (Sibling Rivalry Press) was published in spring 2020. Find more at their website, More from this author →