by Sandra Beasley
Pistachio’s buds of salt-funk;
cayenne macramé of boiled crawfish;
cantaloupe’s tacky, thin sugar;
the first time I eat a thing
I can eat anything.
The allergy requires initial exposure
before my mast cells gather,
before my body says No.
Let’s consider your need to center me
on the table, to call my portion
naked or plain while offering
others the “real” version.
Let’s examine your suggestion
we put warnings on the cabinets,
attach my name to a list.
First time, I tasted
a kind of kindness. Then
came my second reckoning.
In my first collection, I wrote a series called “Allergy Girl” that focused on experiencing severe dietary restrictions. There’s pleasure found in litany, and in my case, a perverse pleasure found in the litany of things that could kill me. Yet, as I return to that personal material in my fourth collection, I’m thinking less about how my allergies render me vulnerable and more about how society makes it difficult for those with disability to thrive. Accommodation is a good thing, in theory, but there’s a particular kind of accommodation—a self-congratulatory gesture that ignores the cues offered by the “accommodated” party—that does no one any favors. People often grab the word “allergic” as a casual metaphor for a reaction of sensitivity or rejection, without any real understanding of how allergy works in the body. Here, I’m turning the tables.
Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections—Count the Waves, I Was the Jukebox, and Theories of Falling—as well as Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a disability memoir and cultural history of food allergies. She served as the editor for Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. Honors for her work include the 2019 Munster Literature Centre’s John Montague International Poetry Fellowship, a 2015 NEA fellowship, and four DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities fellowships. Beasley lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches with the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program.