KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Commentary: 904 words [R]

Benign Bone Tumor City

by Kara Dorris

For years I avoided writing about my disability. How did one avoid sounding melodramatic and self-pitying? My own poetics lean towards erasing, running, and eventually disassembling illusions. But I couldn’t help being a critical reader of my body. Have I always considered myself disabled? Short answer: yes and, of course, no.

My mother, brother, and I suffer, perhaps I should say we have, we own osteocondromas (bone tumor growths). Excess calcium pools or dams at the joints. As we grew, so did the bone spurs, interfering with normal growth patterns. So yes, my right leg is shorter, my right arm is several inches longer, and I have strange knobs of bone sticking out. All that said, I walk, jog if I must, dance, and hopscotch (although not well or gracefully), but mostly I read, sink into fairytales through Angela Carter’s eyes.

What does all this mean? It means that I never knew my body was supposed to act differently, that the body often compensates without conscious effort (that I should be ashamed of my body, that I shouldn’t?). Can you miss something you’ve never had?

So I write. I write to merge the gap between who I think I should be (want to be) and who I am. I strap on poems, masquerade, murderess-dress because I am not dangerous or wild or carefree and sometimes I want to be. I want to be Cindy Sherman or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Anna Karenina, to write past fact and role-play, become a catalyst, a poem, a temporary, pseudo-escape from the body and personality (and as T. S. Eliot said, only people with  emotions  and  personalities  want  to escape  from them[1]). A silent mode of transportation. And yes, I know, I never really become her; I never escape myself.

So I write more. I believe part of what I struggle to do is to write the female body, to write the female body as choice and art, to write the female body as deformed/choice/art. I could say, I do this, to paraphrase Adrienne Rich, to “place me nakedly face to face with both terror and anger...the breakdown of the world as I have always known it, the end of safety...the end of hiding, but not entirely of wanting to.”[2] I’m still rebelling.

Sometimes the notion of calling myself disabled makes me want to disappear, but the baseball-sized tumor on my ankle is indestructible. I cover myself in leg warmers and sweaters. In sixth grade the school nurse diagnosed me with scoliosis; all day I thought I was deformed; I was ill. She was wrong, but until then, I’d never considered how my body might be different. I want my body to have purpose. Not me, you see, it’s a common mistake; I mean, my body, this vessel. How to show you? The most damaging tumors are deep within tissue and ligament, and you can only see the beauty and mass destruction, the clusters shaped like Marilyn Monroe in X-rays.

In order to make sense of it, I need to chart my way to the reasons within my body, which, in turn, shape the reasons of me. Why I, rare genetic bone disorder, benign tumor cavity, am a city. Why cities like mine aren’t beauty. In pictures I can’t help but see the stunted growth, and when I stretch I feel the tendons scraping, tearing over tumors. How can that be beauty?

I can’t live in my city for long with ankles that tremble under my weight as if I’m always one second from buckling. I need to create new towns and cattle-guard the city limits. I’ve had tumors removed, but the inflammation and ripping still occurs. For every one tumor removed, a hundred remain because the tumors aren’t invaders, they are my body, entwined with muscles, tendons, and veins. So I wear strategic clothes and walk slow, let others step me into their version of existence.

In “A Season in Hell,” Rimbaud says, “To me it seemed that to every being several other lives were owed.” I believe this because I’ve spent a lifetime reading about those who live, living those other lives as doctors told me be careful, don’t play sports or roughhouse because an already broken body shouldn’t be broken again.

So I carry other writers inside me—Barthes’ and Jenny Boully’s discourses of the body and identity, Keats’ ideas of beauty and negative capability, Tim O’Brien’s search for the human heart and mind—and I write and I walk a line between wanting (What? Another body, a better body, a sense of self-rightness, plastic surgery?) and wanting to the point of deformity.

I believe, as James Branch Cabell wrote, “poetry is man’s rebellion against being what he is.”[3] Through poetry, the poet tries to define herself and her perceptions of the world. Through my writing, I seek to trace and retrace myself, my strange and estranged body, and learn how to live best within it. I can’t name each tumor yet, although I realize each unseen cluster is its own city limits. You see, I have a lifetime to map them out, but I still can’t fully accept this reality, imagine this tumor-ridden body when I imagine myself. Does my body make me disabled or do my perceptions of my body? Rich says, “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we can never know ourselves.”[4]


—From Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011); republished here by author’s permission

Notes from the Webmaster:

1 T. S. Eliot: “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” an essay in The Sacred Wood (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1921)

2 Adrienne Rich: Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985 (London: Virago, 1987); Rich, in turn, was paraphrasing James Baldwin, from his collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (Dial Press, 1961).

3 James Branch Cabell: Chapter 44, “In the Manager’s Office,” in Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice (New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1919)

4 Adrienne Rich: “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” an essay published in College English, Volume 34, Number 1 (October, 1972)

Kara Dorris
Issue 2, Winter 2015

is a doctoral candidate in literature and poetry at the University of North Texas, and author of two chapbooks of poetry, Elective Affinities (Dancing Girl Press, 2011) and Night Ride Home (Finishing Line Press, 2012). She is Founding Editor of the online poetry journal Lingerpost. Her work appears in numerous literary publications, including Crazyhorse, The Tusculum Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Tulane Review, Cutbank, and The Medulla Review.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Review of Beauty Is a Verb by Marie Kane, editor of Pentimento Magazine, at her blog, Marie Kane: Poetry & Writing

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