Zainab Mohammed’s People Fear For Disabled: PFFD is an honest and emotional poetry collection written by a 14-year-old girl who suffers from a rare condition she names in her prose introduction as “proximal femoral focal deficiency.” Readers learn through this introduction that Mohammed is wheelchair-bound and struggles internally and externally with her life as a disabled person. The introduction is followed by 13 poems and a few images representing disabled people and their communities.
Although a clever play on the acronym for Mohammed’s condition, the collection’s title is misleading. Her book focuses much more on self-perception and personal feelings than on other people’s fears of the disabled. A representative passage appears in “Slavery,” where the speaker declares: “I’m used, and I’m abused,/ And I don’t know what to do./ Nowhere to escape to/ After all that I’ve been through./ I’ve been sold, and I’ve been told/ That I’m not worth a dime./ I am a slave, but I am strong,/ I am brave.”
While the words express powerful emotion, without the context of Mohammed’s introduction, readers would not recognize the feelings expressed here as unique to a teenager with a rare physical disability. The diction and metaphors could apply to almost any circumstance. Although Mohammed tells us that she wants to challenge perceptions of people with disabilities and “talk about something everyone should know and take note of,” the poems are not specific enough about PFFD to accomplish this goal.
Mohammed clearly has much to say about a difficult subject and shows real potential with this early work. Her reference to Maya Angelou in “Enough is Enough” is also promising, as these poems will be greatly strengthened by their speaker’s dialogue with other marginalized voices. If she can also learn to incorporate more specific and ultimately more sensory details of her life-experience, her poems will benefit, becoming more resonant and ever more compelling.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.