The Handicapped Stall
When most 13-year olds don’t want to be seen with their parents my
mother is pushing my brother into the women’s bathroom. For a moment
I don’t recognize her. It’s only the familiarity of her motions that brings
it all back. She bathes my brother, changes his diapers and this is why
we are here, running into each other in the second floor bathroom at
Cleveland Clinic, as we await yet another surgery for Tyler. I ask if she
wants help. This is not a desire, not a thought, just what you do as a daughter.
I follow her to the biggest stall— the handicapped stall and here she lifts my
114-pound brother out of his wheelchair and lays him on the bathroom floor.
I had never considered the world from this angle. The indignity of the moment
has yet to ripen until she lifts his hips up and yanks down his size 14 husky
boy cords to reveal the outcome of the earlier suppository. It’s at this moment
my brother yells No! Inside this stall is an anguish, newly made into sound
reverberating off tiles, wet and spotted sinks and into my chest. My hands
shake then stop. Fourteen years ago while doing my hair my mother told me
she was pregnant. She wondered if she should keep this child, not my father’s,
if she, a single divorcee was ready for the whole thing again. I turned to her,
told her, whatever you do I will support you. Now I look at my mother’s back
wondering who is this woman that I failed to recognize? Who, unguarded
unashamed, moves with a sureness and acceptance of what must be done.
With his limited vocabulary, is it my presence my brother is rejecting?
What 13-year-old wants his big sister to change his shitty diaper, if not this,
what can he hold private? I take what she hands me, open the stall door careful
to do it quickly—try not to afford any unsuspecting eyes a glimpse of this
circumstance. It does not matter the bathroom is empty, except for my brother’s
eyes, his head turned to the side, seeing but unseeing of the other stalls, the back
ends of toilets, the uniform cold and gray linoleum, the porcelain pipes running.
The Week’s End
the weekend dies
at six p.m. on Sunday
my mind’s clutter recognizes
the coming order of the week
I must: iron my clothes,
twist my hair and
Monday always comes
Saturday is sun and ripe
the absence of the alarm
beautiful minutes meandering
a day’s escape my mind
full on pregnant with
actions I’ll never commit
Saturday night is playfulness
marinated to intention
meaningless thoughts invited
pleasure for the sake of
twelve turning to one a.m.
ten forty-five on Sunday morning
is the church of a naked body
the sermon of
his penis inside
me not wet – opening
praying on his hipbones
because there is still time
A few good words with Teri Cross Davis
PDS: In “The Week’s End” you write that your “mind’s clutter recognizes / the coming order of the week,” and in thinking about creative process, I wonder how your poems recognize themselves, how they build their own schedule, and how you work to make space for your writing?
TCD: My poems recognize that sometimes I have just a few precious seconds for the inspiration and barely enough time to capture that originating emotion or thought or broken phrase before I have to dash off to bath time with my two young children. They often remain somewhere near the surface enough for me to come back at a quieter moment and begin to flesh out the poem.
PDS: How do you conceptualize writing the self? In what ways does Teri, the poet, speak to the “I” of your work? Does one help elucidate something hidden in the other? What do you know about the way you see yourself that perhaps wouldn’t have been visible if you didn’t write identity?
TCD: By the time the words hit the page, it feels less like the “I” of Teri and almost a persona. Sometimes the emotions are exaggerated, sometimes minimized for the sake of the poem. Sometimes the poems lead me to clarifications about the “I” that is Teri, even though that may not have been the path that I had intended on the poem taking. Others times the “I” crystallizes as I am writing. There’s fluidity to writing the self that I consciously court to reap whatever there is to yield.
PDS: Every writer holds on to books that seem to change with every reading, that keeps prodding, exciting and involving their reader. What book(s) to you come back to again and again?
TCD: Mother Love by Rita Dove, so many poems of Lucille Clifton (Quilting is a huge favorite) and Terrance Hayes (I am always finding inspiration and challenges in his 3rd book Wind in a Box), also Killing Floor by Ai. Because of the nature of my job however, I am constantly reading new work, so I often find echoes of reasons I have ran to other poems in new poems. So my grab bag of poetic sustenance is always expanding to include new names like Reginald Dwayne Betts, Laura Kasischke, Elaine Equi and more.
Teri Cross Davis is a Cave Canem Fellow and has attended the Soul Mountain Writer’s Retreat, Virginia Center for Creative Arts and recently received a scholarship to attend the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has been published in many anthologies including, Bum Rush The Page: A DefPoetry Jam, Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade, Growing Up Girl, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees, and in the following publications: Beltway Quarterly, Gargoyle, Natural Bridge, Sligo Journal, ArLiJo, Torch, Poet Lore. Her work is also forthcoming in the North American Review. She currently lives in Silver Spring, MD and works at a non-profit arts institution in Washington, D.C.