Several months ago I went to Denver to crip poet and activist Laura Hershey’s memorial. In disability community, memorials are such sweet and sorrowful events, times of gathering and hanging out and times of deep missing and mourning. I of course kept expecting/wanting/seeing out of the corner of my eye Laura roll into the room. How very predictable. Here’s what I read at the memorial service:
“Laura, you wrote the following in a poem called ‘Telling’:
‘Those with power can afford
to tell their story
Those without power
risk everything to tell their story
will hear your story and decide to fight,
to live and refuse compromise.
Someone else will tell
her own story,
“Laura, I still don’t believe that you’re dead, that you won’t write another poem; take another grand adventure; post another lovely and important essay to your blog; rabble rouse, advocate, and publish that first necessary book of poems; go on loving as a disabled dyke mother poet activist. Laura, I just don’t believe it.
“When the news of your sudden passing came down through the community, I heard a lot of stories about how and when folks first met you, read your work. But me, I don’t know. I try to trace it back, when first you entered my world. Were you there in 1985 when I caught my first glimmer of disability politics in the anthology The Power of Each Breath? Or when I lived with a disabled dyke, sat on the front stoop with her, never even whispering the word disability? Or in 1993 when I wrote my first torrent of disability poems after hearing the gay disabled Jewish poet Kenny Fries read? All I know is somewhere in that decade as I came into my queer crip self, you entered my world, long before we ever met. But I don’t know when. Tracing the years back, I struggle to find that moment. But every time I end with the sense, feeling, truth that, even though you were only months older than me, you came before me, made my life as a white queer crip poet rabble-rouser more possible. Your telling has always cradled, nurtured, fed mine.
“And so I want to send to you, wherever you are now, a fragment of writing queer poet to queer poet. One day as Laura and I and many others were organizing the Queer Disability Conference in 2002 we were emailing back and forth about designing the conference t-shirt. Laura wrote, ‘Let’s use a quote.’ And then wrote, ‘I vote for a quote of Eli’s from ‘Gawking, Gaping, Staring’.’ I wrote back with a resounding, ‘No friggin way. We’re not putting the words of one of the core organizers on the conference t-shirt.’ And we moved on. But now I want to send these words out to you, Laura:
‘I am looking for friends and allies, communities where gawking, gaping, staring finally turns to something else, something true to the bone. Places where strength is softened and tempered, love honed and stretched. Where gender is more than a simple binary. Places where we encourage each other to swish and swagger, limp and roll, and learn the language of pride. Places where our bodies become home.’
‘Laura, thank you.”