“Crossing” By Tony Gloeggler

 

CROSSING

Larry turned eighteen
in May. He knows
what red and green mean,
walks to the corner
and looks both ways.
Today, he’s on his own
for the first time.
He walks out the door.
I count to thirty, follow.
Hidden behind the stoop,
I watch him. Head down,
hands deep in pockets,
he drags his feet,
twirls on one foot
every twenty steps,
then bends and pulls up
his socks. He turns
the corner. I run down
the block, duck behind
a black Cadillac.
When he reaches the curb,
I sneak closer, crouch
in the hardware store’s
doorway. Larry lifts
his head, sees a red
light. His lips quiver,
right hand karate chops
his open left palm.
I recognize the sign
for stop, whisper
“Good.” Larry looks up
and the light’s green.
His right fist winds
around his clenched left
hand, tells him to walk.
He checks for cars, half
runs across Bergen Street.
Safe, Larry pirouettes
and faces me. He bows
at the waist, straightens
up, yells “Okay Tony”
and laughs out loud.

 

This poem first appeared in Mudfish

 

About Tony Gloeggler: I am a life-long resident of New York City and have managed group homes for the mentally challenged for over 35 years. My work has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Rattle, The Examined Life Journal, Raleigh Review, New Ohio Review, Stirring and The NY Times. My full length books include One Wish Left (Pavement Saw Press 2002) and Until The Last Light Leaves (NYQ Books 2015) which focused on my job and the autistic son of a former girlfriend. My next book, What Kind Of Man, will be published by NYQ Books in 2019.

 

Image Credit: photo by Renee Bieretz, from The Library of Congress

A Review of Simi Linton’s My Body Politic

A Review of Simi Linton’s My Body Politic

by Kate Grisim

 

Simi Linton’s My Body Politic takes readers through the aftermath of a road trip as a young adult to join a protest demonstration against the then-current war in Vietnam. The setting is a spring day in 1971; three youngsters (the protagonist, her husband, and her best friend) innocently stick their thumbs out to hitch a ride. They were en route to support a cause all three of them believed in, but by the end of the day, Linton’s life was derailed in a way she hadn’t conceived possible. Her story, however, only starts here.

The deaths of John (Linton’s first husband) and Carol (her best friend), seemingly the most traumatic situation that a person could imagine, take a back seat in Linton’s story to the trauma she endured in becoming a woman disabled by society and circumstance. This transition from loss to gain is the essential arc of Linton’s story. She does not soften her situation with flowery epithets of hope but instead mourns the life she once had as she “reconstructs […] the life I grew into.” Linton does not do this arrogantly, portraying herself as a rather naive, passive shell of a person in the first half of her memoir. For example, Linton is forced to take on the role of the “good patient” in the hospital, where ironically “[i]t wasn’t until the third or fourth week that a doctor came to tell me that my legs were paralyzed [….] I must have known it on some level, but kept the thought at bay.” Her further encounters with both medical professionals and friends and family members only add to this affect, even to the extent of having her sister travel to Linton’s late husband’s funeral to absorb the shock for her.

This is not merely circumstantial; it is clear that Linton sets up her dependency on people within the pages of her memoir in order to achieve a harsh portrayal of herself and the state of her body both before and after the accident. Perhaps the most harrowing image, one that has stayed with me well after finishing Linton’s story, is the description of a flashback to a photo shoot for a New York underground newspaper, in which Linton is posed under the headline “SLUM GODDESS:”

…had it been just a couple of years before [the accident] that I had stood tall on the roof of my apartment building in the East Village, with the New York City skyline rising up behind me? [I was] dressed in John’s black v-neck sweater and tattered jeans, [….] costumed as an ethereal symbol of the counterculture. I stood in profile, my face tilted upward, my long wavy hair blowing out behind me.

Although Linton describes instances in which she attempts to distance herself from the passivity her condition seems to require by demanding her newly disabled body be taken seriously (especially by an “unassuming” salesman trying to take advantage of fitting her for a prosthesis), it is not until one hundred pages in that readers might begin to get the feeling Linton is finally approaching the real crux of her story. This is not to say that the text before this point is trite or inconsequential; on the contrary, as after her hospital stay she writes about exposing herself to a new world where she is a curious entity, moving to California to attend college only to find they have already discovered “the disability movement” and she does not quite fit into their image of it just yet, and situating the disabled body against “normative” notions such as travel, dance, sex, intimacy, and celebrity. It is precisely in this section’s substantiality that Linton is at last able to reach a crucial narrative point, revealing a poignant and pivotal moment in her life’s bumpy journey.

At the beginning of chapter nine, Linton writes, “I have become a disabled woman over time.” In that one sentence, she recognizes the importance of not being “made invisible by the label [of disability]” but instead by embracing it not only as an individual but also through forcing herself to recognize her position within a community. This is where the title of her memoir, My Body Politic, really hits the mark, as readers are let into the realization that her story is not just a personal one but is also a political one as well. Linton describes this argument in a circumstance where she relates her experiences to someone who “doesn’t seem so much rude as misinformed [….] the man will nod and commiserate and act as if now he knows what is important about disability – its genesis.” She continues, describing how she found the act of writing a political “release” as well:

I did not have the precise language to describe the other parts of the disability experience – the kinds of obstacles or the intrusive people I encountered every day – nor had I found a way to talk about my new situation as a natural state, my wheelchair as a convenience, or my experiences in ways that would be interesting to anyone besides myself and a few like-minded people.

Linton uses her memoir’s final pages to further describe situations in which she and others take a political stance by using their personal lives as impetus for change or response. For example, there is little room to argue with a political statement describing how friends of Linton’s were denied the ability to get married because it would drastically decrease their allowances for life-saving medical equipment, only to then have a mere two years together once their request was finally approved. Writes Linton of this tragedy: “That this nation made it so hard for them to marry and live comfortably in the time they had is the shame of this nation.” At this point, readers should truly appreciate how Linton’s narrative and personal stance have changed and evolved in order to use such circumstances to point out damning political paradigms that prevent disabled persons from living the lives they clearly deserve.

However, such a reading within a disability framework is not necessary for Linton’s story to effectively reach her audience, and perhaps this is where the true beauty of her story lies. Linton’s talent on the page enables her to have written a compelling narrative evoking important questions about humanity, including whether and why one deserves to undergo such emotional turmoil at the same time they must experience intense physical turmoil as well.

 

Simi Linton, My Body Politic. The University of Michigan Press, 2006: $30.95 (hardcover), $21.95 (paperback)

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Kate Grisim is currently a second-year Master’s student in the interdisciplinary field of disability studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. She is a recent convert to the blogosphere at mylittlecrippledheart.wordpress.com and is currently halfway through a writer-in-residency position at a not-for-profit arts organization. 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JOANNA FUHRMAN AND TONI SIMON

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By Joanna Fuhrman and Toni Simon:

from FRIEND OF THE DEAD


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from HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?


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from THE RULER OF RUSTED KNEES


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Selections from “Friend of the Dead” originally appeared in Paperbag, selections from “How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You” originally appeared in Talisman, and selections from “The Ruler of Rusted Knees” originally appeared in Posit. These selections appear here today with permission from the poet.


Artists’ Statement: In our mixed-media literary project, Egyptian gods, stripped of their context and role, wander various New York City neighborhoods trying to figure out where they belong, how to make sense of what they have lost, and how to get along with one another.

In the first step of our project, Toni Simon constructs three-dimensional, small-scale figurines out of paper, modeled on Egyptian gods. She then paints them with abstract, graphic details. We then take the little gods out into different neighborhoods and take hundreds of photographs of them. We select eight to ten images, which become the basis for a series of poems written by Joanna Fuhrman.

So far, we have created picture/poem serial combinations in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Chinatown, the Reversible Destiny Studio, Red Hook and Gowanus. Parts of the project have appeared online in Paperbag, Talisman, and Posit, and in print in the 100th issue of Hanging Loose.


Joanna Fuhrman is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Pageant (Alice James Books 2009). Her fifth book, The Year of Yellow Butterflies, is forthcoming from Hanging Loose Press in 2015. Recent poems appear in The Believer, Court Green, The Brooklyn Rail, and Puerto del Sol. In 2011, Least Weasel published a beautifully printed chapbook, The Emotive Function. She teaches poetry writing at Rutgers, SLC Writer’s Village and in private workshops. Her essays on teaching appear regularly in Teachers & Writers Magazine.


Toni Simon is a multimedia artist living in Brooklyn. Her illustrated book of prose poetry, Earth After Earth, was published by Lunar Chandelier Press in 2012. Over 80 of her illustrations appear in Contradicta: Aphorisms (Green Integer, 2010) by Nick Piombino. She has exhibited her drawings at the Drawing Center and at the AIR Gallery in NYC.


Editor’s Note: What’s not to love? Two stellar artists in collaboration, pairing visual art and poetry. Egyptian gods wandering the streets of New York, searching for life’s meaning. Unique, hand-crafted images. And the words. Yes. The words. After all, this is the Saturday Poetry Series, and as unique as this concept is, it would not be here if it weren’t for the words. “Be honest / like language // is dishonest.” “I am not afraid of you / if you’re not afraid of me.” “One can see through / more than glass.” “You can stand by the window all day, / but you won’t become a window.” “In the beginning, we didn’t need to be friends with all / the parts of ourselves.” These reflections, offered in the guise of meditations of fallen gods, are truly a reflection of ourselves.


Want to read more by Joanna Fuhrman and Toni Simon?
Joanna Fuhrman Official Website
Toni Simon Official Blog
Paperbag
Posit
Talisman

A Review of Bushra Rehman’s Corona

bushra rehman corona

A Review of Bushra Rehman’s Corona

By J. Andrew Goodman

Bushra Rehman’s Corona is a witty and moving story of liminal spaces and the narrator Razia’s abuttal with the thresholds of sex, ethnicity, and place. The novel follows Razia from her childhood in New York City and through her dangerous initiation to adult independence. She was expelled from her home after refusing an arranged marriage by her orthodox Muslim parents, and her long search for a new home frequently begs the question: What am I willing to compromise for freedom? After reading Rehman’s quick and elegant prose, the wide world seems intimate, awaiting the will of one displaced woman.

The title, Corona, refers to a poor neighborhood in Queens, New York, whose hegemony shifts generationally between different ethnicities—Italian, Puerto Rican, Korean, and Pakistani. Razia, her family, and nearest neighbors are Pakistani. They are unified by their faith and the generosity of Razia’s father. He is the owner and butcher at Corona Halal Meats. Their Muslim community holds two books in high esteem: the Quran and the tab her father keeps of goods he’s given away.

In one scene, Razia brings tea to her father and his friends, as she does every day at lunch. She notices her father always eats the least, takes his tea last, and cleans up after everyone, including the thoughtless imam. Razia is endeared by the small sacrifices her father makes for the sake of courtesy and the authority of faith. When he weeps during prayer, Razia feels closer to her father than before:

The azan came through over the loudspeakers. Men and women everywhere came out on the street. Everyone in the neighborhood tilted their heads and listened. Out of basement apartments and six-floor walkups, Muslim men started walking toward the sound, pulling their topis out of the backseats of their pockets.

The sun went down, and the clouds bent low over the buildings. I stood in front of the masjid and held my father’s hand. The light was turning pink and darkening, and I saw my father was weeping as a sleepy, blue light settled on everything.

Rehman softens the image of Razia’s father and displays the neighborhood’s solidarity, writing such moments with a deep reverence and tenderness that intensify our ambivalence toward Razia’s home.

Outside of Queens, as a young adult, Razia is defined by her romantic relationships. She substitutes the comforts of home with men, women, or drugs. She isn’t fortunate in the affections of men. Through a series of boyfriends, she travels the breadth of the United States—New York City to San Francisco and back to the Atlantic coast. Her first relationship after refusing the arranged marriage begins well enough; Razia and Eric escape the tumults of their respective homes, but their relationship deteriorates as they fail to hold jobs and as Eric becomes volatile and belligerent. Razia realizes the world she inherited is not fatalistic; she decides hunger and escape are more agreeable than abuse.

Razia is thirty or near thirty before she meets Ravi, a man she believes she can love despite his inability to always please her sexually. He is “on loan” from India, a decade-long student with a visa. He is heavy, hairy, and can answer questions with encyclopedic diction; he and Razia also share the same political views and maintain a moderate respect for their parents’ religion. During a sleepover at a mutual friend’s, Razia says Ravi looks good, even in traditional Muslim sleepwear. Ravi reminds Razia of her father and uncles, she confesses. Her childhood home is always on her mind, and Rehman’s writing makes the ugly, tan brick under the railroad tracks tangible upon utterance.

Finally, their relationship plateaus. Ravi explains he wants to see other women before he leaves the United States, but Razia wants them to be exclusive. She has, at last, found something she has been looking for. The moment has potential for derivative melodrama, but Rehman delivers the two lovers from each other with cool, comedic, and empathic dialogue. At every turn, there is an appraisal and a concession. Razia has to run shorter and shorter distances.

Razia eventually returns to New York, but not to the mythologized neighborhood she loves. She learns there are degrees of separation, and decides for herself how close she must be to her family and where she grew up. She will not agree to an arranged marriage, but to a truce, to the small comforts of conditional love. Razia’s home is as constant as the North Star. On clouded nights, when the oldest navigational tool is rendered useless, will we circle around it, lost, or stoop to build our fire.

Bushra Rehman, Corona. Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013: $14.95

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J. Andrew Goodman is a recent MFA graduate from Murray State University and an intern for the independent literary publisher, White Pine Press. He currently lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky.