Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 1



The “Why It Happened” Disability Poem
                                    — with thanks to Patricia Lockwood’s poem, “Rape Joke”

Johnson Cheu


The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’re kind of a celebrity because everyone always stares at you and asks how you are, if you’re ok, and “what happened to you?”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says it was some doctor’s fault. No, it was the incubator’s fault. Either way, you’re not on easy street because back then people just didn’t sue.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people will ask, “Didn’t you sue? Can you still sue? Maybe you can get off welfare then.” The Why It Happened Disability Poem knows a guy…

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people will give you spare change even though you’re wearing a shirt and tie.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people always ask if you have a job. Then, they’ll ask if you know Jon, or Jimmy, or Melissa or whoever happens to be the latest wheelchair-using greeter at the town Wal-Mart.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wants to know if you have, or have ever had a girlfriend. Oh, sorry, should the Why It Happened Disability Poem have said boyfriend? You just can never tell these days.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wonders, “Can you have sex? How?” No, the Why It Happened Disability Poem doesn’t want to have sex with you.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem quips, “Boy, the angels sure missed you when they were doling out luck.”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says your parents are saints. You’ve got angels watching over you.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you spent your whole childhood pretending not to be angry about it or at Him so you wouldn’t make your parents feel worse.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you needed to learn humility.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says someone will interrupt your dinner to tell you about God (as though His presence is a revelation to you), or ask if you know Him.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’re part of God’s plan. There has to be a plan because the Why It Happened Disability Poem knows there just has to be a reason. The Why It Happened Disability Poem says sometimes there isn’t a reason. He works in mysterious ways, and you just have to trust that He has a plan.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wonders why no-one says being Asian American or Male is part of God’s plan?

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wants you to know He chose you. You’re special.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you exist to show us His glory, to give people hope.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’d do well to remember that He never gives us more than we can handle.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wants you to know that you just handle it so well.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says if you’re given it to handle, then it’s your own fault because you were drunk, or careless, or stupid. The Why It Happened Disability Poem wants to know if you got this way because you were in a war because then it means you weren’t drunk, or careless, or stupid; you were heroic.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’re heroic for just getting out of bed. You, after all, make people want to count their blessings. You are a blessing. A miracle.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says many people don’t know how you do it. If it happened to them, they’d kill themselves.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wishes you’d just get over it already.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’ve become good at spotting liars ever since the woman at the car dealership tells your folks her nephew has cerebral palsy, but is a Navy SEAL just to get your parents to buy a car. She thinks your parents can’t understand much of what she’s saying anyway, so what’s a little lie? Dad calls her a liar the moment we’re out the door.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people always want to know if they should hold the door open for you or not. The Why It Happened Disability Poem says it’s too busy getting somewhere to be offended by your action or inaction.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people always compliment you for being well-dressed, because really, your body’s already mucked up, so why even bother?

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says no-one will blame you if you have a bad hair day.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says it’s always the reason you’re upset, and that you’d never be upset over something as banal as a bad hair day, though people stare at you daily.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you smiled and never appeared angry because you felt responsible for all the other kids still stuck in Special Education who, if you appeared angry, wouldn’t make it out of “remedial room.”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you didn’t utter the words “Fuck” or “Goddamn” until you were eighteen years old. People thought you were nice and well-mannered, but you just felt like you could never screw up. Yes, you liked being thought of as nice and well-mannered.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says when you were given the “Most Outstanding Boy” Award in junior high, the principal never mentioned your academic accomplishments, only that, “you never see him upset.”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you were upset because you could never sneak into a movie with your friends. You despised Charlie Chaplin because his cane was just a prop.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wonders if you study Disney because you desire some kind of wish fulfillment. Don’t you dream about it, being normal I mean?

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people will apologize to you all the time for being in your way, or for just about anything.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you grew up feeling like you never earned anything.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you grew up feeling like you were always putting on a show.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’re such a good role model.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you spent years reading Black Literature because you loved Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

The Why It Happened Disability poem says you spent years studying minority literature while wondering why there was no Disability Literature course in college. You felt invisible.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says editors will tell you that disability isn’t an appropriate subject for poetry because no one wants to read this stuff. You keep the rejection slip that calls your poems “vomit on a page” tacked to your cork-board for years. Sure, it made you write better, but it still hurt.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem wants to know if you’d still be a writer if you weren’t disabled, if you, you know, didn’t have that as a gimmick, a crutch.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you should write more poems about trees.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says if you write a poem entitled “The Why It Happened Disability Poem” about things people say to you, you’ll be called angry, bitter. You’re “that guy.”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says poems about disability can be tragic, or inspirational, but never funny.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says you’re not disabled enough.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says when folks learn that you have a Ph.D., they assert, “Well, it certainly hasn’t affected your mind.”

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says people always tell you to look at Stephen Hawking who both irks and motivates you. You bid online on his Simpsons action figure. You haven’t won yet. You bet that sometimes Stephen Hawking gets pissed off.

The Why It Happened Disability Poem says it’s tired of trying to answer this question, if there is an answer to be had, though you’re writing a poem about it.

That’s tragic, or inspirational. Maybe even a little funny. Admit it.


Johnson Cheu: "Recently my work has appeared in Foliate Oak, Chautauqua, 3Elements Literary Review, and Crab Orchard Review. I recently received my third Pushcart nomination. I am an assistant professor in the Dept. of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University."




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