All poems © Donnie TC Denome (they/them) 2019-2021. You can find Donnie at donnie.lgbt (their blog) and on Twitter @gosuperdonnie.
Recommended citation: Denome, D. (2021). AAC Poetry. https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQ22a4g4h3De9Ac_HTxGDSYX7ye_k0F4f2DPV89FzMdi1tnwFaHMX_VNDs3eLVIDFeuQBkExnSDXV2v/pub
cruising somewhere in my mind•staring down my sins when I look in the mirror•kissing someone I have never met but who I know intimately•a journey in and among myself as I question where I come from•who, I ask, are my people?•why am I the way I am?•I stare myself down and I say I think I love you to this stranger in the mirror – will they say I love you back?
uprooted and unleashing my anger on to the world•screaming inside myself as numbers rise and fall and rise again•this pain and panic boil over•palm meets forehead as headache takes me•collapse in to terror as I wonder if this will ever stop•interesting times are a plague unto themselves•to live now is to fear death and to die is to escape fear•I watch well and wait for the day I am no longer afraid
can't speak won't speak I don't know what to tell you because I don't know what to say to you•my voice echoes in my head but never makes it out•I count words, wondering how few I can get by with•how much can I leave unsaid•mumbles and grunts and other verbal not-words•to gesture is to reveal a whole world•slowly ever so slowly I feel my voice slip away and yet I do not fear losing it•what I fear is losing the respect of those who based my worth in how complacent I could be in reassuring them that they need not question their sense of normal
poetry of the void between is•the shout and cry of one who constantly lives in the divide just outside of legitimate existing, one who•is always excluded from experience because of•too something:•too educated•too disabled•too independent•too reliant•lived experience not valued because university degree•university degree not valued because disability•you do so well so you must not need help•you must be faking•you need help sometimes so you must not be able to do this•you must be faking•so here in the void I stay and gather my defenses•I write poetry and books and essays and story after story to prove I am (in)capable of it all•all the things I was told I would never be able to do and•all the things that after years of impossible expectations I realized I could not do
tonight I listened to a podcast on attempts to•mark thousands of pounds of radioactive waste as•dangerous for millennia to come and•I thought about how in the end•it will not matter for one single second•if I spoke or didn't•if I made eye contact or didn't•if I acted in the right or wrong•ways of knowing and finding little comforts•in the inevitable decay and rot of a society already so fragile•the inevitable and total death of our anthropocene world•my soul stirred, relaxing in knowing that in the end, we are all ash and dust storms in the drought•and words will be just as useless and•or useful for us all
I'll be a mirror•reflecting the bizarre beautiful shift of the world•I see the changing of the guard•I mold myself to fit in to this newest landscape of dreams and crying•show me who I am•and I will become that person•away and divorced from you, from everybody and anybody who could know me•alone while surrounded by people who only want the best for me•this mirror is a fan, distorting myself•it is a faucet, washing away my sins or maybe my virtues•I appear•I am not•I cannot accept-access who I may not be
stop and go and start and change•change mind try something new•thoughts swarm I have to pin one down but I can't I can't•write and erase cross out and over and over and over•this plague has drained me to where I can't think•talk forever but say nothing•only when I finally shut up do they listen•noise means little•silence is a universe•if I could fold myself up in to a perfect origami crane•to be tossed in the trash once abandoned•I would do it in a second•beyond tomorrow•beyond forever•I wait and pray for a sign and a word
social cues•whispers and whistles and winks•what do I say what can I say?•innuendo upon innuendo and I can only assume what you might mean•mocking myself and mocking you•I don't trust my own mind•my own understanding•I know who I am and•who you are but•who we are could be might become•still hides away from me•sit down across from you within a virtual space•say hello say I love you say I don't know how to do this•feeling and asking and trying to connect•I do actually feel for you but...•but...•but...•I am so scared of my own feelings•I am so scared of hurting you
this damage•this dam•this piece of my own mind•and mind the divide, the fault lines separating me and you•with half-truths and discoveries where I don't know what's a lie•crazy brains filled with whispers•I take stock of the problem•assess a situation in which I don't know who is correct• trapped between two sides with nothing but accusing messages•I return to the (goddamned) un-dammed damage and dance inside my skull•I am complete but not completed•I do not wish for the false concept of normal but I do wonder if a typical brain would be so burdened as mine
kiss me before I go•I will tread lightly upon the hallowed memorial gardens of our shared history•the paths through forget me not flowers that grow from blood-soaked ground•shadows pass near the groves and graves of those who came before•too many who died with nobody to mourn•bodies given to shallow earth•friends and lovers left with nothing•names as trophies, no longer belonging to now-gone bodies•records of paper so easily washed away and•minds so easily turned•cry for all those who we will never know•fight fear•fight hate•cast yourself out of the system which demands you forget those whose lives made ours possible•repeat: all lives are worth living•every struggle is connected•I'm not afraid anymore•we (you me whoever) know that this is never easy but•freedom is always won, never given•treasure what you have and•fight like hell for what we all do not
wait for the screaming in my head to subside as•I try to formulate a response to• whatever you have just said•I am constantly turning little words over and over•my mind shifts and cracks•I am forever awestruck by your•beauty and calm warmth, your gentle caress to tell me I am•not alone even when I am in the depths of loneliness•you and I, we save each other•when I do not know who to•go to, I long for you(r advice, your guiding words in my moment of crisis)•when my relationship to myself to the world to other people is so massively messy and messed up•I can't help but wonder if what I•feel for you is love or safety or simple friendliness•I call it a•crush•but it is shallower and deeper than that•the pain of breaking bones•the relieved sigh of a welcomed soul•my dear•make us one•unify and unite us•I wonder you feel as I do•because I long for you and your beautiful brave touch
you ask me to do this and•I come back to the same old question of•am I should I will I can I•my willingness to please finds me•out and lodges in my•brain whispering that I must because•if not•everything will go all to hell•this double delusion of•I am the only one and•I am utterly useless•knowing of course that the answer is somewhere in the middle•and•but I am too scared to find it•because either option is bad news•bad news for the newspaper•bad news for me
mind gear turns no sleep yet•for E•I think I shall rest when I'm dead•this perpetual cycle of•stop start lives•we are entombed in•some imperfect hell where we wait for•the next crisis which will•of course•only bring more emptiness•that eats away at our souls•of wanderers cast out of heaven•we are or could be•what could we be•who could we become•as my body begs for sleep•my brain moves 100 miles an hour•elapses and when I look up again I•realize that all of this is just out of my reach
so so little control makes me•think of a story I once•heard of a homeless shelter•how the people living there would•destroy bathrooms and showers•not because they wanted those things gone but•because•when you can control nothing•when you feel like a tiny piece in an infinite game•when you are a passive powerless thing to be acted upon•you seize on•any and every chance to exert•what little direction you might have•on to an object less powerful than you and•in the same way•when they world has gone to hell and•it feels as if everything is broken•sometimes you lash out at somebody or something you know•doesn't deserve it•(and you do feel bad but)•there is so so so little you can do to change anything•so you lash out• since•"it's all too much"•is never an option
they say it only takes one spark•one glance one impure horrifying thought•suddenly the entire forest is alight•neurons catch like trees full of dead branches•containment climbs slowly•first the front lines of rocking and shaking the bounce bounce flap to try and quell these growing flames•then the low hum of helicopter•the foreign machine of my mouth•makes alien noises not yet words•and the final foolish battalion•desperate and overwhelmed•(but to do or die)•fists fly•hiss of dancing sparks as•knuckles meet forehead neck and ear•this will end but not without deaths•when the flickering destroys itself it will destroy everything around it•but maybe then a reprieve•until always the next burning
my community dies and you don't care• my community screams out and you call us imposters• my community holds vigil for yet another one of ours killed by one of yours and you make endless excuses• my community stands up for itself and you write us off as outside agitators• my community was never powerless until you decided our power a threat
silent chasm•the nature of unsaid things is that they rot away like spoiled compost decomposing•in the heat of a moment•disinfected through sunlight•unsaid words sour in my stomach after I swallow them•unheard unwaited for•words change to lead•an alchemy I dare not attempt•all around me words fall•rain that never quenches the wildfire•a lightning strike or two to remind me my brain is perpetually on strike•all these songs in the darkness•songs of words like raindrops but•never one to convey what I feel•the nature of unsaid things is always too much and always there
this object of my own creation•this wobbling triumph• this beautiful thing:•plastic and paper and printer ink• bleeding lines•fuzzy curves•1000 little dots•the simplicity of it all is in its complexity•1000000 tiny perfect calculations•electric rocks and voices in the wires made this sheet for when I am voiceless•pulsing heat melted carbon chains together•and carbon touches carbon as I point to letters and words•yes happy spell out:•creation becomes and beckons creation•and for a letterboard words become the world
she lives down in the artists y'know•over where the claustrophobic sky raises a little bit higher•the last time I drove past there•a heavy orange gold blanket (not a comforter) lay everywhere•crushing me•a snake wrapped about my chest•so thinking about her•this woman my neighbor told my mother about•lent neighbor Theresa a trap to catch a kitten from the engine of a car•neighbor Theresa said she lives over in the artists•where the sky rears up like a quilt fort•where the lead apron falls from my body•and maybe once I can breathe again
words for ugly things•when it happened I had no words•I froze•crystallized by too many emotions•slumped against bright orange and soft plaid•ugly messy sleepy trapped•and all unsaid•from what I couldn't say•and this (the statistics tell me) is not unusual•now I wonder if•I had had the words I needed•if I hadn't needed to depend on an unruly unwieldy mouth•if if if if if•if no had been one button•if I had had ways to voice it without voice•if the words•those ugly uglier ugliest words had just been there•maybe I could have said something
author's note: symbol-ism is a poem composed using the app Proloquo2Go. P2G is a symbol-based text-to-speech/speech generating app utilized by people who, for whatever reason, are non-speaking and unable to reliably type or write messages. the goal of symbol-ism is to show that while symbol-based alternative forms of communication are invaluably helpful, they are often extremely limiting, especially for adults who need a more specialized range of communication options and vocabulary.
to do this, i have decided that in writing symbol-ism, i am only allowed to use symbols already in use on my copy of Proloquo2Go prior to beginning this poem. i am not allowed to specifically add symbols for this poem, or type words that don't have a symbol already. the only exceptions to this are a) people's names that i don't have a symbol for but who are integral to the poem and b) any facets of identity (pronouns, gender or sexuality descriptors, words around race or ethnicity) to describe specific people for which i do not have a symbol, and c) punctuation. also, this author's note was written using a keyboard (albeit one specifically designed for people with reading, writing, or visual processing disabilities).
you don't know who I am if all you do is listen to my mouth voice,
you will never know and I can't explain it if you only will listen to my mouth but not all of me,
I speak with my hands and face and my beautiful moving body more than I could at any time with only throat and mouth and breathe breathe breathe talk tell say,
what would or could you know when you don't see my AAC voice as real,
if I tell you I am going to school to learn about disabled history and how people like me have fought and keep fighting for a better life for all of us,
you don't believe me when I use my second voice, my AAC voice, the voice which would give me a turn to say all the things I can't say with my mouth,
and I have it easy, when my friends who don't mouth speak at all say the things I mouth say with their AAC voices, people say my friends are being used and don't think at all.
you see, you hear, you understand: I can't say many of the things I want to say here because the symbols aren't on my AAC device.
I can't find the symbol because it isn't here so I will describe it: purple spotted sick skin body people die, then no medicine, now there are medicines and fewer people die.
understand? no? It's not on my communication device so I can't say it. sorry I wish I could tell you.
but I can talk with my mouth, so if you don't get it, I can say it like you want me to, I can move my teeth and lips and tongue and make you hear, make you understand;
not all people who use AAC can do that. and those who can't we keep quiet with no turn to try at all.
but what to do when you are sick and nervous and the doctor can't help because you can't say?
when you are hurt, depressed, anxious and nobody can help because the symbol isn't on your communication device?
you want to die, you want to stop being a person, and your head is out of itself in a lot of pain:
crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy
my friend e* made a symbol communication board for the kind of hospital that my friend roommate EW calls crazy camp;
lots of symbols for talking about crazy anxious depressed panic overstimulated nervous afraid sick sick sick sick sick want to die,
because crazy camp hospital doesn't think about people like e*,
I am a man (well sort of, it is very hard to decide and describe what I am)
and if I date, I date men and if I get married, I will marry a husband,
but do you know how many years it took to get symbols for who I am on programs like this?
so many years.
because the people who decide said people like me weren't right for their programs' symbols.
because we didn't mean as much (or really anything) to them.
because good little disabled boys and girls who use these AAC devices can't be like me where I am queer.
and people forget that disabled men and women and the rest of us have feelings like love at all.
so someday someday someday someday when I have a boyfriend, a husband, I can say I love you to him – but can I really tell him what that means?
there are deep dark dirty whispers here, histories of many many many many many people ashamed and afraid, and we know we can fix it:
someday I will write books and papers and speeches on this problem, I promise you.
someday we will all get the symbols we need for our whole beautiful bright messy lives.