Image Description: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha wearing purple lipstick, a black shirt, and gold earrings.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (she/they) is of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma ascent. They are a queer disabled nonbinary femme writer, educator and disability/transformative justice worker. A line from their poem “Femme Features” serves as the Poetry Coalition's 2022 Theme, "The future lives in our bodies: Poetry & Disability Justice."
They are the author of Tongue Breaker, Care Work, Dirty River, Bodymap, and more. Their most recent collection of poems, Tongue Breaker, is about "surviving the unsurvivable" as a disabled and queer person, particularly surviving hate crimes, suicides, and the rise of fascism. Tongue Breaker builds on their incredible poems in Bodymap, documenting the "disabled femme-of-colour moments on the pulloff of the 80 in West Oakland, the street, and the bed." Yet, Tongue Breaker is also a sign of hope—dreaming of femme futures without fear or prejudice.
Leah is also the recipient of the groundbreaking 2020 US Artists Disability Futures Fellowship, as well as the co-founder of Toronto’s Performance/Disability/Art collective and Asian Arts Freedom School among many others.
Her poem, "Femme Futures" is reprinted below. Her poem has been first published in Hematopoiesis Press, Issue 2, and reprinted in Poem-a-day in March 12, 2022, in the Academy of American Poets (poets.org) site.
Where does the future live in your body? Touch it
1. Sri Lankan radical women never come alone. We have a tradition of coming in groups of three or four, minimum. The Thiranagama sisters are the most famous and beloved, but in the ’20s my appamma and great-aunties were the Wild Alvis Girls. Then there’s your sister, your cousin, your great-aunties everyone infamous and unknown. We come in packs we argue we sneak each other out of the house we have passionate agreements and disagreements we love each other very much but can’t stand to be in the same room or continent for years. We do things like, oh, start the first rape crisis center in Jaffna in a war zone in someone’s living room with no funding. When war forces our hands, we all move to Australia or London or Thunder Bay together or, if the border does not love us, we are what keeps Skype in business. When one or more of us is murdered by the state or a husband we survive whether we want to or not.
I am an only child I may not have been born into siblinghood but I went out and found mine Made mine.
We come in packs even when we are alone
Because sometimes the only ancestral sisterlove waiting for you is people in books, dreams aunties you made up people waiting for you in the clouds ten years in the future and when you get there you make your pack and you send that love back.
2. When the newly disabled come they come bearing terror and desperate. Everyone else has left them to drown on the titanic. They don’t know that there is anyone but the abled. They come asking for knowledge that is common to me as breath, and exotic to them as, well, being disabled and not hating yourself. They ask about steroids and sleep. About asking for help. About how they will ever possibly convince their friends and family they are not lazy and useless. I am generous—we crips always are. They were me. They don’t know if they can call themselves that, they would never use that word, but they see me calling myself that, i.e., disabled, and the lens is blurring, maybe there is another world they have never seen where crips limp slowly, laugh, have shitty and good days recalibrate the world to our bodies instead of sprinting trying to keep up. Make everyone slow down to keep pace with us.
Sometimes, when I’m about to email the resource list, the interpreter phone numbers, the hot chronic pain tips, the best place to rent a ramp, my top five favorite medical cannabis strains, my extra dermal lidocaine patch —it’s about to expire, but don’t worry, it’s still good—I want to slip in a P.S. that says, remember back when I was a crip and you weren’t, how I had a flare and had to cancel our day trip and when I told you, you looked confused and all you knew how to say was, Boooooooooo! as I was lying on the ground trying to breathe? Do you even remember that? Do your friends say that to you now? Do you want to come join us, on the other side? Is there a free future in this femme of color disabled body?
3. When I hear my femme say, When I’m old and am riding a motorcycle with white hair down my back. When I hear my femme say, When I’m old and sex work paid off my house and my retirement. When I hear my femme/myself say, When I get dementia and I am held with respect when I am between all worlds. When I see my femme packing it all in, because crip years are like dog years and you never know when they’re going to shoot Old Yeller. When I hear my femme say, when I quit my teaching gig and never have to deal with white male academic nonsense again.
When I hear us plan the wheelchair accessible femme of color trailer park, the land we already have a plan to pay the taxes on See the money in the bank and the ways we grip our thighs back to ourselves
When I hear us dream our futures, believe we will make it to one, We will make one.
The future lives in our bodies Touch it.