Ascension

This poem is a tribute to the Mexican women of the Mariposa Ministry who, by the grace of God, have risen up to affirm their worth, dignity, and feminine sexuality in the face of so many wounds and obstacles. The vignettes are true, for them and for so many women with disabilities around the world.

Please note that some vignettes deal with adult topics. Consider this a PG-13 web page.

Permission is granted to share this work with anyone who might be blessed by it or healed by it or inspired by it to make the world different. For that reason these women have shared their stories. Please credit the poem in any usage to Ken Tittle, Mariposa Ministry. (Rights reserved.)

Ascension

The golden Mexican sun
Flows across your bed
Calling the bone chill
From your ever sleeping legs.

My father came to visit and I started to crawl over to him. He turned to my mother and said, “She looks like a damn run-over dog, dragging her legs in the dirt like that.” He got up and walked out of the kitchen. I never saw him again.

Rise up, lovely one.
Lift your legs from the sheets
With your dependable hands.
Draw your courage
From the hidden treasures
Of your battered heart.

My parents would leave me outside, crawling around in the dirt in front of my house, and be gone so long, I would have to pee in my pants. Sometimes I would think, “What if they don’t come back? What if they just leave me here?”

Rise up, lovely one.
You are woman and you are Mexico —
Color and passion,
Pain and tragedy, and hope —
Hope for this new day.

They would say to me, “I don’t know why you don’t just die.” “Better you should have died at birth than be a cripple like this for the rest of your life.” They taught me to think that way, too.

From the edge of your bed,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself
All you need
To move ahead —
Of shining metal and
Well-worn leather,
Faith, and the courage to forgive
.

My mother would set my food on the floor for me, like feeding a dog. One time I spilled some milk, and she got so angry she dumped a whole pan of dirty dishwater on my head. My sisters would make her mad and then run out of the house, but I couldn’t run, so she would slap me. Hard.

Be Triumphant,
Daughter,
Lover,
Life-giver,
Friend!

It was humiliating to be six years old and be carried everywhere in my parents’ arms.

Glorify your God
In the stunning asymmetries
of your body!
And tell your story.
Lovingly, tell your story.

They would talk to each other as if I were not even there, complaining about the burden of carrying me and lifting me. There was nothing I could do about growing older and bigger.

Confront Mexico
In her blindness
And her cruelty.
Demand her respect.
Call her to redemption.

Mom always said she didn’t know what would happen to me when she got too old, or God forbid, if she should die, because obviously I was always going to be dependent on her. I certainly couldn’t expect my sisters to take on “the burden,” because they would be busy with their own families. I wasn’t supposed to be able to make a life of my own. In her last weeks, Mother was deranged. Knowing she was dying, she climbed on top of me and tried to smother me to death, rather than leave me behind, but my sisters pulled her off. There were times when I used to wish they hadn’t.

You are the glory of
Mexican womanhood,
Drawing your beauty like silver
From the refiner’s furnace,
From the silversmith’s blows.

My wheelchair was all busted up, but it didn’t matter much, since my hands were useless to move the chair anyway. They would set me by the border with a cup in the morning. In the afternoon my father would come and get me and take the money I had collected, but he spent it all on wine.

Rise up, lovely one.
Caress, anoint your gentle legs
With your callused hands.
Draw your courage
From the hidden treasures
Of your challenged past.

Mother would sit me on a chair, and I would watch her scrubbing the lady’s floor on her hands and knees, to pay for my treatments. I would feel guilty for all our family’s problems. I was sure my father left us because I had gotten polio.

You are woman and you are Mexico —
Color and passion,
Pain and tragedy, and hope —
Hope for this new day.

I had a long leg brace and I limped around, holding on to the furniture, or holding onto someone’s arm outside. I couldn’t walk far or fast, but it was so important to my family that I “didn’t have to use crutches,” that I rejected any thought of crutches. I was proud not to use the one thing that would have made me less disabled.

From the center of your life,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself
All you will need
To move ahead —
Friends and companions,
Beloved ones,
Helpers you can help.
Embracing and supportive as
Shining metal
And well-worn leather,
Faith and the courage to forgive.

I always used wooden crutches, awkward, up under my arms, instead of the aluminum canes, because my father said, that way people might think I was only temporarily injured. He didn’t want me to look permanently disabled.

Be triumphant,
Struggler,
Prayer,
Healer,
Spirit strengthener!

I grew up in the hospital. When I was six, and I could pull myself along on crutches, with braces up to the waist, I went home to meet my little brothers and sisters. They took one look at me and ran screaming into the house, as if I were some alien robot.

Glorify God
In your intricate pas de deux with gravity!
And tell your story.
Lovingly, tell your story.

I could never go with my mother and my brothers and sisters to town. “You’re too slow,” they always said.

My sisters always got pretty dresses, but I never did, because they said my legs were too skinny.

Tell your past
Baptized,
Washed pure with tears.
Call Mexico to weep for you,
To weep with you …
To weep for herself.
Call her to compassion.

Someone brought me a wheelchair, but I was horrified. I thought, if they don’t try to do anything for me now, seeing me crawling around like an animal, how much less if they think I am all “comfortable” in a wheelchair. When I was fourteen, a stranger saw me and arranged for me to come to Calexico and get surgery and crutches and braces, even though my mother refused to come to sign the papers.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Drawing your beauty from the fire,
Brilliant blossom proclaiming life
On the volcano’s blackened slope.

I struggled just to get around with the crutches and braces, but I never could climb steps or walk very far. My family said, if they got me a wheelchair, I would probably get lazy and stop walking.

Rise up, lovely one.
You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Color and passion,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day.

My nephews and nieces went to school, and I went around on my crutches begging. My sister-in-law said I had to do it, because she didn’t have enough for her own kids, let alone for a crippled orphan she had been forced to take in. It was true.

Be triumphant,
Trusting giver,
Gracious taker,
Teacher,
Ever learning!

I guess it never occurred to anyone to send me to school. I taught myself to read and write from my little sisters’ school books.

They used to call me names, and make fun of the way I walked. Then one day after school, some of the boys knocked me to the ground and started pulling my brace off, to see if I could walk without it, but then my mother came to pick me up.

Some of the grade school kids would taunt, “Look at the big baby! Such a big girl and she can’t even walk!” I felt trapped in the wheelchair.

From the depth of your soul,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself all
You need to move ahead —
Braced for life, you stand
With yielding limbs
And yielded spirit
For the irrevocable value of life,
Faith, and the courage to forgive.

I had to do well in school, hoping to get a job somehow, someday, to make it up to my family for being disabled. Then, when it rained, the streets turned to mud and my braces would get so heavy and stuck that I couldn’t even make it to the corner, and I had to wait for someone to pull me out and carry me home, while my classmates went splashing and sliding by on their way to school. “See,” I thought, “because you’re crippled, you can’t even do well in school.”

Bare your scars
From the lash of ignorance,
And the arrows of prejudice.
Glorify your God
By all the marvelous things
You have learned!
And tell your story.
Lovingly, tell your story.

I never got to finish grade school. Year after year it seemed there was another surgery the doctors wanted to do. They would take me to Los Angeles, and I would lose the school year and have to do it again. They never asked when would be a good time to do the surgeries, or if I wanted them, and I never saw that the surgeries changed much, but I kept hoping.

Call Mexico to know you
To know herself.
Be proud of your knowledge
and all it has cost you.
You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
A shining star against the night.

I liked school, but there were things like hopscotch and jump rope and baseball games and foot races and hide and seek and folk dances and drill teams and parades and second floor classes and excited chatter about Friday’s dance. It was hard sometimes.

Rise up, lovely one.
Clothe your body with honor.
Embrace your status as woman.
Place the finest shoes
On once rejected feet.
Gird yourself with rightful pride
Robe yourself
With the respect you have earned.

After grade school I sought out my real father for help to continue studying. He said he had to use his money for his other children, because they had a chance to amount to something.

You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Color and passion,
Joy and tragedy, and hope —
Hope for this new day.

I was with a group of my high school classmates, joking around, and one of them started mimicking my spastic walk, and everyone roared with laughter. I had to laugh with them.

Be triumphant,
Daughter,
Lover,
Life-giver,
Friend!

The classroom is so deathly lonely when all the kids have run out to play at recess. It even smells different. The silence roars in your ears.

Glorify your God
In all the possibilities
Granted to you!
And tell your story.
In love, tell your story.

We weren’t really rich by some people’s standards, but my parents built a nice new home when I was twenty, with mosaic tile porch steps, and split level inside. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t even go from my bedroom to the kitchen without help.

Pray for Mexico,
And call Mexico to pray for you,
To pray with you,
To pray for herself.
Call her to the living God —
The God who loves you.

They always made me feel it was my fault I couldn’t walk, because I hadn’t tried hard enough or followed through with my exercises or had enough faith, or whatever. I believed them for a long time, and felt ashamed, but I can barely even uncross my legs without lifting them with my hands.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood
Rising heroically
From among the bent down ones,
The humble ones,
The enslaved ones,
Living your life of dignity and wisdom,
Victorious, to the praise of God,
Even when success is impossible.

The evangelist promised me by faith I would be healed as I came up out of the baptismal waters. But nothing changed. First they said I didn’t have faith, but later they blamed it on my mother’s sins.

Rise up, lovely one.
Put finest shoes on lotioned feet.
Rest from the physical struggles —
Glide forward, princess
On the wheeled chair
Borne with the respect
Your accomplishments deserve.

When I was angry, I didn’t restrain myself, and they would say, “See. That’s why God crippled you. Because you’re so mean tempered.”

You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Color and passion,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day.

I felt so rejected by God that I never could understand or accept the people who came up to me on the street and asked me to pray for them because my disability — my “suffering” — had made me “closer to God.”

Reach out,
Beyond the confines of your life.
Draw to yourself all you need
To move ahead —
Of shining metal and
Well-worn leather.
The weak is bound to be useful.
Yielding limbs,
Braced for the future,
Declaring the undeniable
Value of life!

I felt punished, and I looked around and said, “There are other people, worse people, who do really bad things, and they’re not punished. Why does it have to be me who can’t walk?” I felt perhaps I had to be extra specially good in order to deserve that God would heal me, and in my heart, I knew I wasn’t extra specially good.

Glorify
God in your body!
And tell your story.
Lovingly, tell your story.

They examined us in a room with other patients and their parents and several doctors and the translator. There I was, ten years old, stripped to my underpants and made to walk back and forth, demonstrating my twisted spine and my struggling walk in front of everyone. Thank God I never fell.

Pray for Mexico.
Go as a healer, and
Tell your story to the healers.
Demand their respect
For all life has taught you
About disabilities —
And about ability.

I went to the clinic to ask for braces, to not be totally dependent on the wheelchair, but they turned me down, because a social worker said I wouldn’t use them if I had them. She was wrong; she didn’t know how hard it is to use a wheelchair in Mexicali.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Broken and lifted up
So healing light
May flow from you
And the children may bless you.

The doctor said I had enough strength in my legs not to need the long braces, and he took them away. It left me terribly disabled, but I thought it was part of “getting well.” I struggled like that for two years, before the Mariposa group taught me I had a right to ask for the braces back if I needed them. But it was sad to realize I was always going to need them.

Rise up, lovely one.
Press your skirt
Between your silken thighs.
Arch your back,
Tilt your chin,
Cup your breasts
With your sustaining hands;
Celebrate your sexuality.

It seemed obvious to everyone I could never be truly attractive, and that’s what they taught me, in so many ways I cannot even retell them.

You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Desire and passion,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day.

For eighteen years I thought I would get treatment and braces to start walking when I finished school. In reality, I never had any hope of ever leaving the wheelchair, and my parents had always known it. They had lied to me for all those years so I “would not lose hope.”

As if there were no other hope in this world — no hope if you are wheelchair borne.

From the wellsprings of your pain,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself all you need
To move ahead —
Faith and the courage to forgive —
The healing gifts of God —
Until you can offer yourself
Unembarrassed
With pleasure and pride, in love!

This guy tried to talk to me about God, and told me I should be grateful God had crippled my legs. “Otherwise you probably would have become a prostitute, or worse,” he said.

Be triumphant,
Struggler,
Prayer,
Healer,
Spirit strengthener!

I kept going back, hoping the next treatment or the next surgery would be the one to eradicate my disability. No one ever talked to me to tell me the truth. “She’s doing fine,” they would say. “Come back in September.”

Glorify
God in your body!
And tell your story.
For love, tell your story.

I hated those ugly orthopedic shoes! But no one would listen to me; and no one told me I could have put prettier shoes on my braces. I felt I could only be a woman from the waist up.

Proclaim the victory
Over all those
Who would destroy you
As woman, as lover.
Call Mexico to heal her sexuality.
No more virgin sacrifices!

Don’t get trapped into marriage, they said, because obviously it would be just a matter of time before he would leave me for an able-bodied partner. They said, “Just look how they leave even the able-bodied ones!”

You are the glory
of Mexican womanhood,
Sensual poetry in motion,
Involved intimately with your body
In all that you do.

He said he loved me, that my disability didn’t matter to him, and he wanted to marry me. He made me believe it. Then his family and friends panicked.

They started a campaign to keep him from being tied down to a cripple for the rest of his life — that I couldn’t have children, couldn’t be a real woman for him in bed, couldn’t do what a housewife ought to do for her family. For all I knew, they were right. A few months later, he met another girl and married her, almost right away. Afterward, he told me he had always loved me — that he had made a mistake.

Rise up, lovely one.
Surrender your chair.
Lay your legs upon the sheets
With your sensuous hands.
Arch your back,
Open your heart,
Celebrate your sexuality!

They always isolated me from boys, to “protect me,” to “keep me from being hurt,” so I wouldn’t get any “false hopes” up.

You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Desire and passion,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day.

I had many decent guys claim they were attracted to me, but I never really believed them. I thought they were making fun of me, or came out of pity, so I never gave any of them a chance. I wonder do they still think of me?

From the courage of your body,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself all you need
To move ahead —
Trust against the crutches —
Forceful probes
Working the soil of your life,
Flying buttresses
For the cathedral of your body.

How could any of us survive under constant assault from the sun-bathing, long-legged, wave-splashing, television goddess in all her forms?

Be triumphant,
Daughter,
Lover,
Life-giver,
Friend!

Glorify
God in your body!
And tell your story.
In love, tell your story.

I wanted him to seduce me, and I was amazed when he responded to my flirtations. When the time came, I was wild with shame and excitement as he fondled me and fumbled to get my braces off and pull my panties down, but then he couldn’t keep an erection. He sweat and swore and then abruptly pulled his pants back on and walked out without even saying good-bye. I always thought he would not have been impotent with a girl with normal legs, but now I wonder.

Turn your shame to caring,
Tell your story
To your disabled sisters,
Before they throw the priceless gift away.
No more virgin sacrifices!

Mother said any man who would be sexually attracted to me would surely be perverted, and I should have nothing to do with him.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Sensual poetry in motion,
Involved intimately with your body
In all that you do.

From the power of your passion,
Reach out.
Draw to yourself all you need
To move ahead —
Faith and courage
To offer yourself
Unembarrassed,
With pleasure and pride, in love!

As my sisters became teenagers, my mother had conversations with them she never had with me. She assumed (and so did I, for a long time) that I would never marry, could never have children, would never need to protect my virginity from any crafty, hard-breathing suitor, and would never be able to sexually satisfy a partner the way an able-bodied girl could.

Rise up, lovely one.
Put finest shoes on lotioned feet.
Move into life
With rightful pride,
Robed with the respect
Your accomplishments have earned.

Funny how they assumed that because I was “incapable” of raising children, or having a family of my own, I could be the one left at home to raise my little nieces and nephews. For years. Without pay. In exchange for a place to be.

You are woman, and you are Mexico —
Desire and caring,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day.

I let him move in with me. He never mentioned my disability, and every night I pulled off my slacks and my braces under the covers so he wouldn’t see my withered legs, but when I told him I was pregnant, he left me lying in my own humiliation. He had assumed I was sterile.

Be triumphant,
Daughter,
Lover,
Life-giver,
Friend!

He said he would have sex with me if I wanted, but I should never think he would ever marry a spastic cripple like me. I was so desperately lonely, and I thought, why would anyone want to marry a spastic cripple like me? He is not gentle with me, and lives off what I can make. He drinks too much, like my stepfather

Struggler,
Prayer,
Healer,
Spirit strengthener!

He would beat me and ridicule me and abuse me, and somehow I felt I couldn’t deserve or expect more. It took me a long time to leave, trembling with fear that I would never find anyone else, much less someone better.

Glorify
God in your body!
And tell your story.
Lovingly, tell your story.

The doctor said cripples like me had no right to be having babies we couldn’t take care of, so when he did the Cesarean section, he tied my tubes. I was eighteen and had been raped. How incredible that God has healed me.

Tell your past,
Washed clean and pure with tears.
Without the past,
The present is stripped of its majesty,
The future has no wonder.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Broken and lifted up,
That wellsprings of healing
May flow from you,
And the little ones of God
May bless you.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Drawing your beauty like silver
From the refiner’s furnace
And the silversmith’s blows.

You are the glory
Of Mexican womanhood,
Drawing your beauty from the fire,
Brilliant blossom
Proclaiming beauty and life
On the volcano’s blackened slope,

Sensual poetry in motion,
Desire and passion,
Joy and struggle and hope —
Hope for this new day!

Make the high places low,
Make straight the paths
For a servant of the most high God!
How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of those
Who bring good news! Amen.

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