I Am Not A Modern Woman
against aspects of the VIDA Count
I want the cry of the calf at night. I want the woman-wail of the mountain lion feeding from the field. I want what I can catch by camera flash, if lucky: black-tipped tail; retractile claw in calf’s belly; mouth of broken bones. Two kinds of keening and calf’s kick. An easing into black grasses. An arrangement of limbs gone limp. The calf suffocates; the mountain lion licks its neck; the night drags them back into ranchland darkness. But I leave both alone. I don’t walk out into the night. I carry no camera. No animal is an actor. They don’t emote according to script suggestions. They don’t do for others’ eyes. Neither do I. And so. My days decelerate. My hours grow like bones. I wait out the stairwell passers-by. I wait out the spasm beneath my eye. I wait out what might be seen, if unlucky: surgical scar; skin gone slack; broke-boned limp. Black bannisters and inept dorsiflexions. An inadequate opening in the crowd. An assemblage of avoidant or diagnostic eyes. I wait them out. I stand at the top stair. I make like a golden screw. I turn in my own time. It’s the only thing I get to do. Later it’s like this: light slips over stairs; light lifts itself in segments across a wall. People sidle away. I glare against it all and go down alone to enact my own abstractions. I write about the calf laid over a log. I write about the mountain lion opening up organs. I write about rumen rotting deep in dirt. Carcass stink. Scat. Wet ribs and what’s around them: a red protrusion; an acidic smudge; an exhibition of tooth-shaved skin. Skies pass. Corvids come close. The mountain lion wails them away. It wails and woman-wails. But it has no human speech acts. It never names itself. Its mouth is unmediated and material. And yet. I have written it split. My mouth makes slow sounds. My mouth makes its old complaint. I wail and woman-wail. I am animal and also. I make like a golden socket. I empty out. I write in unindicated time. I write in repetition. I learn the lesson of the animal mouth. And so. I say this plain: I don’t want the aggressive count. I don’t want answers in an author survey. I don’t want to be listed as drop foot and demyelinated nerve. I don’t want to make an absolute meaning of anatomy. I don’t want to differentiate between what I was born with and what came later. Listen: the calf would have lived had it hidden its limp; the mountain lion would not have fed from the field had it not been brought to hunger by drought. The body is subject to complex positioning. The body shifts social shape. There’s no need to demand explicit allegiances. There’s nothing in the black of night that can be completely known and named. No night-sound. No animal. Not me either. I watch for the electric lights. I watch for the flash of mountain lion eyes. I watch for what might pass, regardless of luck: depredation permit; ranchers’ rifle sights; rhythm in a black-tipped tail. Concolor openings in the night and claw’s curl. An event of cross-field tactics. An attempted execution. The mountain lion caches its kill; the mountain lion hides itself in higher grounds. Ranchers climb the canyon wall. They dislodge rocks; they examine paw prints; they attempt to make a meaning of the mountain lion. I will surprise them. I will fill with fluid and obliterate block forms. I will fold into the field. I will be straighter than the straight; I will be better able than the better abled. I will not pronounce myself sick. I will not speak of my body the same I speak of crop loss. I would rather bend above the stairs. I would rather weep in wet weeds. And so. Here it is. Have at me. If you can. Make me a limping calf. Make me a mountain lion in an expanded range. Make me one and the other. I am not a modern woman. I want to walk without intervention. I want whatever autonomy I can get. I want something good. I had better go get it.
I support VIDA’s mission: I want "accurate assessments of the publishing world;" I want "a range of voices." And yet I am bothered by the binaries of VIDA’s Disability Primer and 2016 Survey Questions, no matter how blunted by contingent language: I am neither a writer with “a newly acquired disability” who “might have had decades of able-bodied privilege” nor am I a writer with “a congenital disability” who “might feel more at ease with requesting access.” You see: I find no fairness in the suggestion of either extreme. And I do not want to be catalogued: disclosure is dangerous; disclosure has hurt me; this body has never been what blocks access. Instead, I want VIDA to survey occurrences of structural support, proffered resources, accommodation, access. I want to know whether or not it is safe to be honest with a publisher. I want to write without medical examination. I want VIDA to better serve and survey the needs of disabled writers.
KELLY DULANEY began in the cinders of Arizona; now she lives alongside the hogback hills of Colorado. Her writing appears in or is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Waxwing Fairy Tale Review, The Best American Experimental Writing Anthology (BAX) 2015, The Collagist, Caketrain, among other venues. Her novella Ash is available from Urban Farmhouse Press. She edits The Cupboard Pamphlet. Visit her website at kellydulaney.net.