American Ugly by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes

Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in this city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 [about $20 today] for each offense. (Chicago City Code 1881)


I visit myself time and again, an immense
accumulation of spectacles

I voice myself, tinker, and again, an immediate
acquittal of spenders

Call me a street obstruction, call me a pile of bricks
                a stress occurrence,      a pilgrimage of brides disqualified
perfect wrecks, wretches of animal proportion

Sad sight, we miserable objects, raw material, spatial dissidents.
Order on a loop. Organ of lords.

Every mythic city obliges this contract.
Every mythic civilian obliges contractionsays,
conspicuous loafing is the hostile gesture of a tired working class
                                                    ghoul of a ticking world claw

If I am curled up in pain, a collapsed anatomy,
my blood a congregation of fatigues,
bear it with me. Deny your repugnance and brisk parade,
your well-heeled cure and cleanse. Having made a romance
of war, having enchanted the factory: figments, rigid impositions.

Ask      what disaster of history has left our bones crumbling
for output, parallel revenues of slow death?

I yield a velvet, monstrous slang, a surplus of signs
on every limb’s absences, my coin-slot mouth
vomiting copper, menacing comfort. My furrowed brow
a condition of study. Far from nervous.
A joyful pock, I, on the milky
numbers, their happy slumbers of suburb fame.

Isn’t the sidewalk a pavement teacher unfolding
her palm before your very eyes?

Look at me.
                               Look at—


*American Ugly draws on Susan M. Schweik’s 2009 book, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (New York: New York University Press; “conspicuous loafing is the hostile gesture of a tired working class” is part of a quote by Daniel Bell, cited in that book.


heidi andrea restrepo rhodes is a queer, disabled, brown/Colombian poet, scholar, and cultural worker. Her collection The Inheritance of Haunting (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) won the 2018 Letras Latinas Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Most recently, she was a spring 2021 Mellon Arts Fellow at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. Her work has been published in Poetry, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Nat. Brut, Foglifter, and Waxwing, among other places.