I’m pleased to share that my poem “I Unstop Myself”is now live at Monstering Magazine. Thank you to editor Kristen Tollan for selecting my little tribute to Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself for publication alongside so many other inspiring women/women identifying voices.
I’m veering from the beaten path of poetry today to share Ira’s phenomenally informative and vital post about autism advocacy.
TW – ableism, eugenics, “treatments”, torture, Judge Rotenberg Center, Spectrum 10K
You may have recently heard about the Spectrum 10K study and have seen autistic people’s, and non-autistic people’s, concerns about the study.Though I have plenty to say regarding this study, that’s not what I want to talk about right now.
What I want to talk about is the lasting effects that occur when autistic people are used as a commodity, a political football, a theoretical argument, as exploitation, when autistic people have to witness the dehumanization and legal torture of autistic people.
A study like Spectrum 10K brings out non-autistic people – parents of autistic people, teachers of autistic students, and many disability-adjacent “professionals” – who genuinely think it would be better if they aborted autistic fetuses in the future so that they didn’t “suffer.”
Although these interactions are upsetting, the worst part is when being autistic is used…
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Many thanks to editor Renée Sigel of Literati Magazine for featuring my poems, “Rewording,” “Titanoboa cerrejonensis,” and “Ghazal of the Lost,” in the publication’s Portfolio Series of previously rejected poems. Yes, a majority of my poems that make it out into the world tend to experience a healthy dose of rejection before seeing the light of day, and I greatly appreciate that Renée saw fit to bring these three stragglers in out of the cold.
While “Ghazal of the Lost” was a cooperative child, Literati Magazine found the formatting of “Rewording” and “Titanoboa cerrejonensis” to be somewhat combative, so I’ll provide the texts as they should appear below:
_____Your laugh is the child I never knew,
a promise kept nascent like a crocus
__________beneath a winter of detritus—
_____I never knew a crocus
could reword the daylight
__________with spring’s first mist.
_____How I’d wished the earth’s iron bellows
would recast the sky’s crimson artefacts
__________my lost will had smelted into slag,
_____until living through my bitterest nights
of seismic heartbeats weathered into stalagmites
__________finally tempered my breaths alive!
_____Now, their embers light my way
to the tenderness you well in your eyes:
_____Amassed like snowdrifts
the rising moon velvets in her white hush,
__________it is the naked quiet of us
rewording the daylight
_____into ash branches
__________lustered with dusk’s winter cloak;
_____a crocus sheltered in warm mulch
__________beneath the moonlit ice;
__________the child I never knew;
_____a promise kept
__________nascent in winter’s womb.
_____When this restrictive skin
of self-pity refuses to slough off
_____& relinquish its groaning contents my pain
sends me to my prehistoric depths—
_____sliding through my black encapsulated veins
with questions of utility & necessity forking my tongue
_____into a device primed for maximal receptivity
scouring the fossil record
_____for evidence of fortitude where I find you
fifty-eight million years ago
_____at the height of your dominion
in the Cerrejón Rain Forest in what is now
an arid sweep of Northern Colombia
_____There your legacy swims its secrets
into my stagnant heart transforms my
_____mudstone back into supple blood
& re-designs me in your magnificent image
_____that I may waggle my muscled girth
_into a forty-eight-foot-long series of esses
_____effortlessly conveyed upon the swamp’s
vast network of currents slip out
_____of my twisted anthropic pelvis
& encumbering limbs & vanquish
_____gravity’s inflammatory breath
_in the clutches of my cold unshakable coils
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
My sonnet, “Because I Said So,” is live at The Literary Nest.
Thank you Pratibha Kelapure for selecting this piece. “Because I Said So” was first drafted during the May 2017 Tupelo Press 30/30 project. I’m grateful to Clyde Long for sponsoring and providing the title for this poem, as it was a joy to compose!
How to Be a Malacologist
your child’s heart led your head
like a garden snail’s head leads its footed belly.
Think back to when you were seven
& your adopted pet/school project, Kiddo,
gnawed away at a slice of banana on a glass slide
as you watched, thunderstruck, from beneath him
(find out on Wikipedia that he was using his radula
a structure akin to a tongue used by mollusks to feed).
Recall how proud you were of Kiddo when he not only lost
the school snail race, but redefined it, by turning around
at the half-way point, staying in his own lane, & crossing
the start-line before any of the other snails reached the finish.
Wonder why your teacher didn’t mention anything about Kiddo
& his compatriots being hermaphrodites, or how (if they chose)
they could all be both father & mother to their tiny-shelled progeny,
& realize how simple it would have been for her to call a snail’s powerful,
innate mechanism of retracting its tentacles into its head for protection
by its technical name: invagination.
Then, understand, finally, that if you’d been born with the ability
to operate yourself like a puppet, & pull yourself outside-in
by drawing your head down into your belly & out
through your foot, to invert your once-vibrant
body into an empty sock, how many times
you would have done exactly that.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“How to Be a Malacologist” first appeared in Panoply in January 2018—thank you to editors Jeff, Andrea, and Ryn for selecting this piece!—and is the opening poem of my first chapbook, This Being Done.
What is the terminal velocity of a squirrel?
my son once asked
(only the gods know what
precipitated his inquiry),
no doubt hoping
for a literal response;
but I couldn’t help
whether the fall that fails
to attenuate its consequent
landing, misses the mark,
or strikes true?
While certain Rodentia have
inherited the uncanny
fortune of built-in
such membranous solutions
to our own, inborn
predilection for doom.
What profit is to be
won of our climbing—
of so much inching along
the highest branches until
they can no longer bear
much less of our retreats,
our blunderings, our plummets?
Does the sole stepping
forth create the target,
or obliterate its imprinted
eons from the forest loam?
Terminal is an attitude,
I wish I’d known enough to tell him,
having little to do with velocity,
& much to do with trajectory.
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“Terminal” was published by editor extraordinaire Barton Smock in Isacoustic* in October 2019.
Matthew in the Fountain
August 1999, age 14 months
In the spray’s scattering
of afternoon rays
_____you pass before the sun
a toddling pointed-toe satellite
but its faint red ghost
Summer haloes you in sun-white down
mottling the concrete’s cool glisten
like a memory from the womb
Watching the world swim into focus
in your smart brown eyes
_____your round cheeks
flushing with the kisses of angels
showering from the sky I realize
in a shutter’s split-second
__________I’ve traversed eternity
My child you burst open my heart like the sun
bursts infinitely open each fountain drop
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
Happy Mother’s Day! Today, I share this poem encapsulating a life-defining moment for me as a mother, in celebration of motherhood in all its beautiful wisdom, generosity, and complexity in our world.
“Matthew in the Fountain” appears in my debut chapbook collection, This Being Done, and was published in the 2019 Transcendent Zero Press anthology, EPIPHANIES AND LATE REALIZATIONS OF LOVE. Thank you, Dustin Pickering, for selecting this piece.
Within these riparian depths, you press
through the ditch weed & grasses that shadow
the river in greens, trying to listen
for rustles of life where dead branches lie
gathered in bands along the banks like smoke
from summer’s fire that stripped the hills to stone.
This windless spring day voices strange like stone
breathes; its bufflehead-queer, top-heavy press
across the stream’s glassy gape damps the smoke
trees’ plea for breezy reprieve in shadow—
red buds purpling with their own blooms’ weight lie
flattened to their boughs, assuaged to listen
for a far-off storm’s faint peals. You listen
for a reason to turn from your cold, stone
descent—do the unearthed cedar roots lie
about the travails of erosion? Press
them for answers, you’ll get back the shadow
of your own doubts cleaved in moss thick as smoke.
Is silence its own story, or a smoke
screen for more forbidding fables? Listen
to the garter snake slip into shadow—
when its shift through the weeds turns up a stone
that no one sees, does it make a sound? Press
your palm against a garbled trunk & lie
about the story your closed eyes see; lie
supine like tinder on a pyre until smoke
wafts from the ashes you become; or press
past the bank’s last thorny thicket & listen
for bitterns to make their water-gulped-stone
intentions known, as if your looming shadow
could spur their ardor. What is that shadow,
if not the sun’s scorn for your darkest lie?
No river embodies hope for the stone
waiting on Sisyphus to outrun smoke.
Hope is a myth the robins tell their hatchlings: Listen
at your own peril—for when the flames press
in, bearing tidings of shadow & smoke,
the first lie you listen to will make you
their stone shrine to the robins’ skyward press…
STEPHANIE L. HARPER
“Understory” was published in Issue 13 (Fall 2019) of Panoply. Thank you to editors Jeff Santosuosso, Ryn Holmes, and Andrea Walker for selecting this piece.
What you’ve got is only a touch of neurosis,
so don’t get your knickers all bunched in a twist—
such worries will give you a deep vein thrombosis!
Do you think there’s a prize for a self-diagnosis?
Stop looking for lesions; don’t palpate that cyst!
What you’re dealing with here’s just a bit of neurosis…
That smart phone is gonna cause spinal stenosis!
The search engine’s warning that if you persist,
you’ll likely wind up with a deep vein thrombosis!
You’d have known it by now if you had halitosis—
like a boil, it’s something not easily missed.
Better face it, you’ve got a small case of neurosis…
Now, what would possess you to google psychosis?
Let me guess… The voices submitted a list?
Are they helping you summon a deep vein thrombosis?
It’s not a news flash you’ve got some type of -osis—
but the poking of badgers is what gets them pissed…
So give it a rest! Embrace your neurosis!
Who needs all the fuss of a deep vein thrombosis?
(Just to be on the safe side, look up
STEPHANIE L. HARPER