Thursday, December 14, 2017

2005,6 (queer memoir)

i remember writing an entry in my journal when i was 15 about how i felt like i was growing up in spurts that were so dizzying. i felt like i was competing in a bicycle race weeks after learning how to ride one. i think that it was recently after the 'cool kids' in high school started talking to me like i had a pulse, like i might be as alive as they seemed, and i had started my band with violet and we were getting noticed and photographed on the street all the time, which was weird because there was no music on our myspace yet. we didn't even have any songs back then, but we would hang out in union square all day covered in shiny beads and scarves, singing at the top of our lungs (mostly janis joplin and that one song from rent), arms wound around each other's waists. people thought we were sisters or dating, and i think back then we were both. we felt so invincible, but i was incredibly fragile. i remember writing in my journal, "four months ago i didn't even know what a hipster was" and this was back in '05 when that word wasn't an insult yet and it was really all we wanted, a craving like the taste of salt on our hungry tongues.
i used to sit on the corner of east houston and eldridge in a red and white striped dress, no shoes on, back shoved up against the glass windows of the 24-hour pool hall. this was "the spot." one of many, but the best one because it was just outside of "territory," the rectangle we all used to walk that stretched from avenue B to the Bowery, but close to silver spurs too, where violet and i split grilled cheeses with bacon (extra crispy) and always had to go to the bathroom at exactly the same time. their milkshakes were thick as cement.
territory was the neighborhood where our high school is and where my and violet's ex boyfriends both lived. we used to walk the streets giddily there, half-hoping we'd see them so we could run away holding hands and laughing. one night we stalked up avenue A at midnight and covered all of his band's stickers with ones of our own. we always joked that each other were the prizes won out of those early attempts at love. i remember when nate and violet used to come down the stairs of his apartment and it was so obvious that they'd just been fucking, and half the time she was crying, but she never ever wanted to let go of his hand. one night he threw a printer at the wall beside her. i remember hearing stories about sex and vaseline, violet's dislocated jaw and seizures. i remember the story about how they finally did it on the floor of her bedroom in a pile of stuffed animals after months of Nate not being able to get it up.
they were my model for what it was like to be an adult. i think that ben was 16, and violet a year older.
i remember when they finally broke up for the last time. there had been twenty-seven ruptures before this one, a number that you can't make up. i forced my way into violet's apartment and held her while she sobbed in jerky breaths. we were both afraid she was going to die, but she didn't. after that night her bed became another spot for us. a place where we sat end exchanged dreams through our open hearts.
one night violet asked me if i thought i was a good person or not. i wasn't sure, but we were determined to figure it out. "i know" she said, smiling. pulling out a piece of paper, she began writing a list of names on it. we were sitting on her bed and i was backlit by a standing lamp that always shone in my eyes. my shadow fell across the page. "write down the name of every relationship you've had that's ended. friends too. cross out the ones where they hurt you. if you have more crossed than uncrossed, you're good. you know what makes you bad." i found a piece of paper of my own and started writing. this girl was complicated and sharp in a way i'd never seen before.
AngelicaSadie, Cleo, AnnaHeatherTim. Tucker. Mallory. almost all my names were ones from middle school, mostly friends who'd bullied me and jerked me around until it wasn't really a choice to stop talking to them. By contrast, violet's names were exotic. I could tell from how many boys there were that a lot had to do with dating--sex, in my mind. HelenaSpencer. I'd heard of these two. They seemed like fucked-up twins, each with black hair and a scowl. Spencer loved Violet until he met Helena. and then they all were together, a codependent triangle, for a few months. This was the most glamorous thing I'd ever heard of. Violet explained cautiously while she continued writing names on her list. i'd been done for almost ten minutes. Sam, she wrote, "but this one's not really over yet."
Eventually we concluded that we were both good people. Out of my eight, I'd hurt three; out of Violet's 15, she'd hurt six. it was may of 2006 and we were alone in her bedroom. the walls were painted pale green and her shelves were still lined with horse figurines and children's books. i was supposed to have been home hours ago, but i didn't really care. i'd never known a person who approached her world so systematically, and with so much force. it meant so much to me to be good in the eyes of the world, and in this spring, that's what Violet was.
i laid back on her comforter. Violet's ceiling was speckled with little black marks from when she and a boy (years ago) had thrown firecrackers at it in the dark--the kind that come in a box full of sawdust and explode when they hit the ground with tiny pops. "i love you," i whispered, and she jumped on top of me. we often sat like this, with her innocently straddling my hips. she'd kissed me once that year, in her sleep, but we hadn't talked about it since. the sky outside her window was black, and i could see our silhouettes reflected in the glass, dark and angular inside a yellow halo. violet replied carefully, so as not to include the "too" that would cancel out our words, a running joke. the pieces of paper slid to the ground.
"i love you."

Friday, September 8, 2017

Soon Lake

i'm changing my name to Soon.
so much of my existence has been trying
to deny that this word touches the center of survival.

the knowledge of Soon is a soft lake
that touches the edge of the world.

when i climb into it everything is true
and not true. the sun still sets in the west
even though the constellations have moved.
light is coming again
and it is coming tomorrow.

how many heartbeats are in a while?
children need to know exact measures of time to feel safe.

when we fight i feel the core of your brain
and see us both as small bundles of blood.
everything in the atmosphere stops
and one word can tilt
the axis of existence,
like we're in a dream.

to survive i need certain things -
only what i call myself
can carry me
to the work i need to do.

Soon is a spell. it tells me there is still a world to know.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

response to brunem

i love witnessing your process after long-short years
of knowing you closer, then farther, then closer
a catch in my heart as i think about us both writing
from new email addresses, new names
propping up hearts that are impossibly old.

what is old before our time? if we are connected
to the endlessness of weaving you describe
as underpinning the legacy of femme.

walking through the park yesterday, i thought
of fem as an adjective, 
femme as an impossibly brilliant verb, the difference
between a life seen and a life lived.
the difference between not looking sick
and living on the edge of death
and planting flowers around it.

i hear the deep pain in your experience.
i want to hold it, carry it
i want both of us to know that even when we can't tend
to our external beauty anymore
this role, femme, will still be here to carry us -
to make our bodies home.

the relationship webs we weave tighter than fishnet, 
our names, our gardens, our loves:

we are the material community 
manifested from the memory of all the witnessers 
who have come before us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

i identify as a tiny girl on a bicycle
i am prepubescent, i am free
i don't have a body that's easy to read
i'm not sexual and nobody should sexualize me
my interests are reading and biking and horseback riding
i like catching small things
i like looking at the stars at night
and trying to find the star my parents named for me

i am a small child
but now i have a grownup body
and now that i am aging i have to remember
always treat children the way i needed my mother to treat me
always respect, protect, defend and understand
always encourage, always be teaching
i will model safety for you

you are not me
any longer i am not that small being
but i carry her inside me
and i will honor her always
the 10 year old who never died
who still does wheelies in my chest
when i find a pair of moth wings
on a path
between the trees.

tonight i'll eat blackberries until i feel sick.
tonight i'll read alone in my room.
tonight i'll ride my bike with no hands
in honor of you.

the day

there is a radiance about my geoded diaphragm

i'm still working on filling the yellow hole

i'm looking forward to the day that expressing gratitude stops feeling like a jinx
i know it's coming

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Damnable Bell

In preparation for publishing a new chapbook of poems that use images from the myth of Ys, I wrote this little piece on Joanna Newsom's song "Sawdust and Diamonds" from her 2006 album Ys.

For those who don't know, Ys was a city off the coast of Breton, France, that was flooded and sunk in the Middle Ages by its Queen, Dahut. I'm (re-)writing my own myth of Ys that will be released with the new poems, so to get the basics of the story refer to these sources for now, and know that there is more to come. A few key details to know: my reading is a feminist one. I do not cast Dahut as a corrupt woman. In my story of Ys Gradlon, her father, is to blame for Ys' corruption and eventual destruction. Thank you to Bird Lindsey for this summary of one possible feminist story of Ys: "In some stories Dahut's painted as a woman of lust having many lovers and being evil and flooding the city when she didn't get her way. I see it as a woman who was born at sea, who resembled her mother, which brought her father joy and pain. He built a city for his lost love and Dahut on the water so he would never have to leave his dead wife. How I see it is, Dahut represents women and the city is patriarchy... [Dahut] is accused when she doesn't love men back; they make up lies because their pride has been hurt about her being a 'whore.' [Dahut] finally destroys the city...just like how we have to destroy our society that was built for us, without our consent."

Joanna Newsom resurfaces the story of Ys in her album of the same name. The track "Sawdust and Diamonds" most directly references the story of Dahut, daughter of Gradlon and Queen of Ys. In the first verse Newsom sings: "drop a bell down the stairs / hear it fall forevermore / drop a bell off a dock / blot it out in the sea / drowning mute as a rock / sounding mutiny." This lyric is a reference to the church bells of Ys, which rang wildly in the vacuum that the ocean's rushing water created as it devoured the city. In Breton the bells can still be heard when one is out at sea.

Like Dahut's narrative, "Sawdust and Diamonds" (as well as many other tracks on the album) tells the story of Newsom's manipulation. Over the course of the song she is turned into a series of puppets--a woman, dove, a donkey--and is handled and forced to perform over and over. Who moves her is unclear; we imagine a man, but Newsom continually addresses herself: "settle down, settle down, my desire."

Though Newsom appears conflicted about the role she plays in an abusive relationship, it is clear that her lover isn't a safe person. Newsom sings "push me back into a tree / bind my buttons with salt / fill my long ears with bees / praying please, please, please / love, you ought not! / no, you ought not!" This image--Newsom as a clumsy animal with a buzzing in her ears attempting to fend off a violent hand--comes shortly after her portrait of herself in a public cameo with the same person: "and the articulation in our elbows and knees / makes us buckle as we couple in endless increase / as the audience admires."

These vignettes are punctuated by the image of "a little white dove / made with love / made with love / made with glue and a glove / and some pliers." As the song progresses, Newsom reveals that the dove is also herself: "and a system of strings / tugs on the tips of my wings / see me warble and rise like a sparrow." However, it isn't until close to the end of the song that the origin of the dove is revealed: "A slow lip of fire moves across the prairie with precision / while, somewhere with your pliers and glue, you make the first incision / and in a moment of almost-unbearable vision / doubled over with the hunger of lions / 'hold me close' coos the dove / who is stuffed now with sawdust and diamonds." In this verse there is no escaping that the same "you" being addressed throughout the song as both Newsom's collaborater and manipulator is also the one who created her.

Finally Newsom tears it all down: "and I crash through the rafters / and the ropes and the pulleys trail after / and the holiest belfry burns sky-high... / then I hear a noise from the hull / seven days out to sea / and it is the damnable bell / and I believe that it tolls / that it tolls for me!" Again Newsom's ambivalence about her own guilt or implication in the relationship surfaces, but we see the choice she has made. Ys, Gradlon, the dove, the knight--they're left behind in the ocean. Newsom closes "Sawdust and Diamonds" with the image that opens it--she stands "at the top of the flight / of the wide white stairs," presumably looking down at the sea and wondering: "though the rest of my life / do you wait for me there?"