Poetry by Marlena Chertock

Center for AccessibilityMartin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Poetry by Marlena Chertock

Featured on the DCPL Podcast series "Access This"

On the latest episode of the DCPL Podcast series Access This, local poet and co-chair of the OutWrite Festival, DC's annual LGBTQ+ Literary Festival, Marlena Chertock talked with Jenny about disability in the literary community and shared a few poems, which are printed in their original forms below.

*You can listen to the episode, which includes a full transcript, at https://dcplpodcast.simplecast.com/episodes/access-this-poet-marlena-chertock

*Check out the OutWrite Festival August 6th-8th, 2021 by going to thedccenter.org/outwrite and learn more about Marlena at MarlenaChertock.com


Short curve
I Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia

It’s strange how it comes down to C, A, G, and T,
the confusing string of letters that make us up.

CAGT, like a cage. She can’t escape the letters in nuclei,
zipped deep in her, a genetic straitjacket.

Her dad’s hip is stubborn,
frozen like a window stuck shut in winter.

Soon she’ll become that,
their collagen written wrong.

She wants to understand,
their genes broken on the same line.

II Growth chart

Poppop picked up a pencil and carefully drew a faint mark
over her head on the basement door.
The tradition started before she was born.
He traced his son’s and daughter’s height for years,
their initials on the doorframe
in a race to see who would reach dad first.

She understood inch by inch engraved in the wood,
not by being plotted on the doctor’s growth chart,
a chart tracking trees, and she was a seed.
Other girls her age were far above
on the thick line of the normal curve.
Her lonely dot was making its slow progression on a curve of its own.

Short curve II

Hidden in this body
are a 50-year-old’s bones.
Joints sound like tree branches
in an ice storm.
A pill a day keeps the inflammation away —
but these bones are special,
these bones are hungry.
They want hundreds of pills
a day to stop aching,
heating pads, foot insoles,
massages, epsom salt baths.
These bones keep finding
more ways to show pain.
They want bone disorder
to be my middle name.

Teeth are the only visible bones —
but these bones are shouting
to be seen past their x-rays,
they’re keeping me up at night,
whispering, “notice me.”

On that one-way trip to Mars

If I didn’t have a bone disorder
I would go to Mars
and never come back.

I would go to Mars,
send an application to NASA,
tell them my coding is so-so,
I’ve never peered into a robot’s circuitry
but I’d like to learn how.

I would go to Mars,
someone who has to
look and write and revise
to understand. Someone who believes
there’s other life out there,
not because of scientific proof
or a god told me, but because I want
humanity to feel less lonely.

I would go to Mars and send back news
of the Sols. I’d create the first
Martian newspaper, publish
the first book of Martian poetry,
paint the Martian soil with my words.

I would go to Mars if I wasn’t too short
for NASA’s height restrictions.
I’d tell them you can fit more short people
into a rocket. Don’t worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It’d be nice to float
and give my bones a break.

I would go to Mars
if I didn’t have bones
clicking against each other,
if I was a jellified blob. If the genetic
letters within me
didn’t spell out feeble,
different, unfit for space travel.

Application to NASA

Even if all the pain I’ve felt in my whole life doesn’t equal
the pressure an astronaut experiences in G-forces on reentry,

even if the fact that I’ve been staring up since I was born —
at people and the stars — isn’t enough,

even if I was born with arthritis,
cushioning between my bones faulty,

even though I’m beneath your stated height restrictions,
I was shorter than every water slide and roller coaster I’ve ridden on too,

even when my lower left back feels like
it’s been hollowed out with a jagged spoon,

even through the spreading unfeeling,
numbness from my butt to my toes,

even if my room at 10 and 25 shines
with green glow-in-the-dark stick-on stars,

even when sneezing feels like I’ll push
my spine out of alignment,

still I’m strong. I may be one of the strongest
candidates you’ve ever had.