Once a church group walked up to me in Barnes and Noble
“Sorry you’re in a wheelchair.
Can we pray for you?
Can we lay hands on you?”
I said yes.
They meant well.
They noticed me.
They pitied me.
Bookstores used to be a haven for me.
I miss those days.
I’d wander the aisles for hours,
grab a stack of books from which to choose,
find the nearest fluffy puffy comfy chair and sort
through them to decide
which lucky one was coming
home with me.
Maybe more than one
if it was a good day.
Now that I don’t go out because my feet throb when I walk
And feel like rocks when I stand,
My wheelchair has the only wheels I can access.
I can’t get a ride.
Why doesn’t paratransit understand
Trips to bookstores are just as important
As doctor’s appointments?
Most of my friends don’t want to deal
with something that weighs
as much as a toddler
or has to be taken apart
piece by piece.
Not many forms of transportation
The seat is low on my back,
and there are no push handles.
This is my chair of freedom.
I don’t want someone walking up to me
And trying to “help” by pushing.
It’s a bright yellow that can probably be seen
half a block away. I kept getting my fingers
caught in the spokes. So I bought
rainbow-colored spoke covers.
It’s not an invisible chair,
but people treat me like I’m invisible in it.
Sometimes the entrance bars me
from actually entering.
That small bump requires a mini-wheelie.
The shelves are so close together
I can’t roll my wheelchair
up and down the aisles.
I can sit between them
and touch the shelves,
but I block the whole aisle.
I have to plan my shopping. I can’t just browse.
It helps if there are signs showing
where genres are located.
Poetry in aisle 8.
There might not be clusters of people in my favorite genres.
But that’s probably a clusterfuck of impossibility.
I have to take the long way around the perimeter
of the store
because of people
who sit on the floor
who lean against the stacks
and leave piles of books on the floor.
They stand in twos and threes.
ignore me when I say “excuse me”
(eye level for me is usually butt level for them),
stand in front of the shelves,
page through several books,
choose one to take to one of those fluffy puffy comfy reading chairs
that take up even more space you can’t navigate around or through.
I used to love those fluffy puffy comfy reading chairs.
I used to do all these things.
Now I swear under my breath
At all these people who do them now.
I hate checking out.
I’m five feet nothing, so I have to sit as straight as I can.
It’s almost like they’re conversing with the air,
and the wood takes my payment.
I can’t even meet their eyes. I’m looking up like a beggar instead of a customer.
I believe in bookstores.
But sometimes it’s just easier
to shop on Amazon.
I can shop as often as I want to (or can afford to).
I don’t need a ride to get there.
All I need is a decent internet connection.
The genres are clearly marked.
No aisles to get stuck in.
No people in the way.
I wish I could design a bookstore to live in.
I need plenty of space,
an occasional chat with someone who sees the book you're buying
“Hey, I read that! It’s so great!”
But Amazon doesn’t have those fluffy puffy comfy chairs
and the feeling of home.
MICROAGGRESSIONS AGAINST BOOK LOVERS WITH DISABILITIES has been previously published in The Unmooring.
Lana Phillips is a new poet who has been having fun studying with POETS during the pandemic. She lives with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Her dog Callie and cat Wilson are her faithful companions.
Click to read this piece in the Disability Pride Anthology.