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Latif Askia Ba's
"Me in Marble"

"This poet takes on issues of representation and disability identity through use of a metaphor, creating an immediate, visceral, and heartfelt feeling. The voice in this poem is distinct. I am impressed by this poet’s craft."

-Sheila Black, co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability   and the Perceptions Writing Judge 

"Me in Marble"

I learned to be black

from my mother—

who held my jittering body                  

        in her cracked white hands

                                                                       and to be white

                                                                    from my father—

who balanced my liquid legs               

                on his long black feet.

They never taught me

to be crippled—

though they tried:                                  

                   this is how you walk,

                                                                           this is how you talk,

                                                         this is how you keep the drool

in your mouth.

   I never saw anything like me:

not in any book,

not on any screen.

I’d see, perhaps,                                   
                  some related thing

                                                                with one or two parts missing.

                                                                And maybe if I, like Daedalus,


switched one part for another-

                         my looking glass

would straighten like a Greek statue,

all marble and white-washed.

This is how you keep still;                       

                    this is how you flex.

                                                                                    Those Olympians 

                                                                     and their objective beauty,

they chip

                                    and pale.


      When I was a kid, I’d always try to imagine myself in a specific show or movie. I never paid this any attention until I wrote “Me in Marble.” I suspect I wanted people to know that I existed—and that I would be as or more interesting than the ubiquitous cast of Bob’s and Sue’s.
       The introductory lines of the poem explore the concept of family as it relates to self-image: “I learned to be black / from my mother / …and to be white / from my father /…They never taught me / to be crippled.” Since my mother is Italian-American and my father is Senegalese, I felt I learned about their cultures through contrast—by seeing what was clearly different about them. But unlike race and culture where I could find pieces of what inherited in my parents, I couldn’t find my disability in them. And though they did an excellent job helping establish a healthy outlook on my disability, they had no idea what it was actually like to live with my disability, and so I had to explore this huge aspect of myself without any example.
       Parents, though, aren’t the only people that teach us how to navigate the world. It would have been nice to see some acceptable version of myself on television or in a book. So instead of continuing to celebrate the increasingly remote idea of “objective beauty” the Greeks openly celebrated, I think we Disabled people should create and promote our own sense of beauty

       -Latif Askia Ba

Latif Askia Ba Head Shot

Image Description: "Latif, a light-skin man with a curly, black afro, is outside in the late afternoon. He wears a dark-gray turtleneck. He’s looking down, his face, tranquil. In the background, out of focus: a brick building, shaded windows, part of a green bush, and the thick, sinuous branch of a budding tree."

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