Laurie Clements Lambeth: The poetry of MS
Prize-winning poet Laurie Clements Lambeth found out she had MS right before her senior year of high school. “I was diagnosed at the age of 17, so MS has defined much of my adult life,” she said. “I consider what goes on in my body an important factor of who I am; we are intricately linked, MS and me.”
She explores this connection through her poetry, which she believes she wouldn’t have pursued without the disease. “I had a different experience of my body in the world than most people my age,” she said. “My very first symptom was the left side of my body going numb. To not be able to feel a difference between fabric or someone’s hand on your leg, or between a hairband and a strand of hair in your fingers: it opens your capacity for feeling in the world, almost like your skin opens up. Living with numbness opened my perception of what is me and what is outside of me.”
Currently, Laurie is working on essays that explore MS from many angles, such as how oral and IV drugs “compete for my affections.” She also teaches such classes as Literature and Medicine at the University of Houston and for three years was the reviews editor for the academic journal Disability Studies Quarterly.
“One of my interests is invisible disabilities,” she said. “I feel invisible and hypervisible at the same time, with concern and gawking both. There’s a leap of faith people have to take to understand others’ disabilities. I had a job interview at a liberal arts college to teach creative writing. From outside the room, I could hear them talking: ‘Can we ask her about wheelchairs?’ ‘No, we can only bring it up if she does.’ When I walked into the room in high heels, I felt like they looked at me with suspicion: ‘you write about it but you’re fine.’
“I learned from the poet Gregory Orr that the French word blesser means to wound rather than to bless,” she added, “and in Old English, it meant to sprinkle with blood. I like the idea that the wound is the blessing that leads you to create. It’s hurtful and beautiful at the same time.”
Her book of poems Veil and Burn was selected by Maxine Kumin as a National Poetry Series award winner in 2006.
When I tell Ian my hands are on fire,
when I first pull them from the warm bed
and release them to the air’s sting,
begin the morning routine, measure
dog food, twist open ridged lids of jars
upon which I scratch my palms,
when I lift and unscrew the milk bottle,
fingers sparking without cause,
when I pour coffee, rubbing the hands
on any rough surface because they smolder,
when I tell him I watched myself drop
the spoon as though in a movie, not me
that wincing, palms turned up and why,
their inner tremble radiating holding nothing,
I remember James Dean
in the police department, so angry
he pummels a desk, and I said last week
when we watched it again, wait for it:
he broke his hand there in the take—that’s real pain,
and I read my hand like his, roiling under skin
while he clutches his wrist in close-up,
when I hear myself gasp and can’t help it,
just the shock, I can say spark or burn
or electric, and Ian asks me if I mean
the hands are hot as in temperature.
Not hot, just on fire. Flameless, sourceless—
how else to say it but fire, this mistake
creeping between spine and skin? How to discern
this pain, these hands, who operates them?
Forthcoming 2011 in Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press).