Many years ago, when I was a student at The College of New Rochelle’s School of New Resources, I had the opportunity to read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The book deals with issues such as race, society and identity. I was deeply moved while reading the book, and it made me think about how the issues described in the book could be applied to persons with disabilities or any other group struggling for their right to dignity. That, along with an experience described in the next paragraph inspired me to write the poem Invisible Woman.
One day while paying for groceries, there was a woman ahead of me in line with her husband. She appeared to be afflicted by some type of palsy, and after checking out, she had a seizure. Her husband did his best to comfort her and escort her out of the store, but the clerk snapped, “People like that should be kept at home.” I was mortified to think anyone would think they have the right to determine if another individual is a valid member of society, and if their presence should be allowed.
That sparked me to write this poem based on my own observations as a late-deafened woman and the sometimes insensitive treatment of persons with disabilities:
Your eyes shift downward, or you look away,
I understand your predicament, you don’t know what to say.
You say it’s scary,…to think it could happen to you.
And if it did, you wouldn’t know what to do.
It’s okay, –glance at the evidence of my deficiency, when I look away.
It’s part of the experience, a natural part of my day.
On no! It’s not catchy! You can shake my hand.
I’m just like anyone you’ve met, across our great land.
We’re really more alike,than you can perceive.
I pray there’s a God. I for one still believe.
If I ask you a question, you reply to my spouse,
What’s someone like me,doing out of the house?
I don’t mean to frighten, but yes, it could happen to you.
And if it did, do you know what you would do?
You would still marvel at sunsets,and bathe in dewy rain.
You would develop compassion,and learn to sustain
the unexpected changes that would come your way,
–to appreciate life, day after day.
And you know what else might be of interest to all?
We laugh and we love. We learn to stand tall.
We realize life is full, even after the fall.
Because you don’t see me,doesn’t mean I don’t exist.
The more that you think this, the more that I will persist,
to marvel at sunsets, and bathe in dewy rain,
and develop compassion and learn to sustain
To visit the orcas at Stellwagon Bay,
to blow out birthday candles, –what a thrill, I’m just that way.
To visit covered bridges and lighthouses too,
and yes, there’s still a curious child in me who loves the zoo!
But one more thing, before you walk away.
Did you know Milton was blinded with pen in hand?
His work was pure genius, beyond what many can understand.
And Beethoven’s world was silent when he wrote his best songs.
FDR led the country in a wheelchair for three terms,
no one’s ever been president that long.
And Edison deaf, yes you heard right.
Over 1,000 inventions! God that man was bright.
The irony of this verse is simple as can be.
The next time you see me, please, please just see ME.
Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 1999. All Rights Reserved.