Who Is He (And What Is He To You?) (Jesse Rice-Evans)

after Grey’s Anatomy S13E16

If you’re having second thoughts, remember
that it happens to all of us: knowing that sitting
in windowless rooms becomes normal;
the smeared latinate language that demarcates you from me from clouds.

For years, every time I go to the doctor, I leave crying.
I was good at being Catholic, keeping my feelings to myself,
inside my skin. I peel it off in the elevator before the 3rd floor,
where they slapped me paranoid and scooted me off with a trial vial of antipsychotics.

If I am psychotic, it is because of this.

I didn’t know trauma caused illness until I got one: widespread musculoskeletal pain, diffuse pain, tender points, fatigue, current cause unknown but preliminary data indicate a correlation between trauma and fibromyalgia diagnosis.

I didn’t know that feeling unsafe all the time was trauma, that panic over injustice was trauma, that injustice was trauma, that rape was trauma, that pain was trauma. They were just normal, like how they say you can get used to anything, within reason. Women’s versions of reason are broader because it is already a desperate condition to be a woman now or anytime, really, our bodies always the site of some drama, some gaze.

To be ill is to become a metaphor, a landing strip for everyone’s inane advice, a symbol of pity or ‘simply a curiosity’. On Twitter, I write a message to a press I like to tell them their latest release has an ableist title; they reply that the disability named in the title is ‘simply a curiosity’. I tell everyone I know, but people still buy their books. Disability has not accrued the cultural heft of queerness; desexualized by ableds, cripples cannot possibly be sexual or objectified as sexual. A cane is ‘simply a curiosity,’ a strange totem out of place between my knees on the train, by my side as I shake hands and crack jokes at a graduate school open house.

If someone doesn’t ask what happened, it is not because they don’t want to.


Jesse Rice-Evans is a Southern poet and rhetorician. She is a doctoral student in the English program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she studies digital rhetoric, femme embodiment, and queer textualities. She is the author of The Uninhabitable (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019), NOON (dancing girl press, 2018), Soft Switch (Damaged Goods Press, 2016), and The Rotting Kind (Ghost City Press, 2017). You can read her nonfiction and poetry in Heavy Feather Review, MonsteringEntropy, FIVE2ONE, and The Wanderer, among others. She teaches queer texts and composition at the City College of New York.