It was just after breakfast, though all that existed inside me was half a mug of coffee with almond milk and a clementine. I was on my way to a place I never thought I’d enter: a giant building full of saunas, pools, rooms to sweat out and disrobe from the toxins tearing up our insides. I was beside one of my favorite humans, a writer with a similar soul to mine. She had been to this place many times, preparing me to just bring my swimsuit to which I replied: I don’t own a formal bathing suit. So, I put something together that would permit me entrance into a swimming pool, and prepared to be cleansed.
At this place, the humans are given uniforms. I called them costumes, to permit the drag I was about to encounter. Pink shirt pressing against unpressed chest. Shorts. Tiny green towels.
Men and women were separated. Men got the blue shirts and I asked aloud if there might ever be a time when a third option might exist. You know, for those unwilling to pick a side.
First, saunas. This space was absolutely beautiful. Each one looked like a hut and the temperatures varied from 120 degrees Fahrenheit all the way to almost 190. There was a pink salt room and one full of jade, containing calcium and magnesium with infrared healing elements. When it got too hot that no more sweat could exit my pores, we entered the freezer, which was only 40 degrees, but covered in ice.
As I sat, I thought of my body as a calendar. All the days that have been ripped up and X’d. Moments of significance. Moments of clarity. Living in New York City has caused some bruising. I could feel the colors lift out of my skin. It’s too dramatic to call myself healed, but I was beginning to feel less……unfurled.
We changed out of sweaty costume and into bathing attire. For me, sports bra and boxers with tank top to cover. We headed outside into the pre-Winter air toward heated pools with massaging jets on every side. The water washed away the sweat. I watched some of my poisons float away. Then, back to changing room to remove wet suit from body.
We had worked our way toward nude.
So….we take everything off? I asked.
This is one of the reasons they separate genders. In the pools and saunas, everyone merges. But in the nude spaces, no mixing aloud. Though I would not use the words deeply comfortable to describe my feelings toward being coupled with the WOMEN ONLY space, I knew being surrounded by nude men would only deepen my discomfort.
So, I disrobed completely and headed out.
I did not grow up in a household where nudity was celebrated. This doesn’t mean we were raised to be ashamed of our bodies; I just always remember covering up. Wearing robe from bathroom to bedroom post shower. I was never given a sex talk and there was NO internet back then. I had many questions back then (still do) and the times I was naked with friends were few and far between and always included some level of perversity that we never talked about.
We entered the enclosed space full of various pools and saunas. Everyone was nude and although I was wearing my glasses, I tried not to see too much. I was immediately brought back to high school locker room days before I knew I was gay. I only knew how uncomfortable I was changing around other girls. Afraid they’d notice me peeking. Secretly comparing my body to everyone else’s. Wondering why mine looked so dissimilar.
In this space, no one sucked in their protruding bellies. No one walked backward into the pool to shield others from cellulite or stretchmarks. There was no apology in these shared waters. We reveled in our various versions of nude in the most erotic and beautiful way.
I did my best to contain my stares. But it was difficult. I am so deeply in love with and moved by bodies. There were no six-packs. There were no air-brushed versions. These bodies were real. Stunning, in fact.
Because I am me, I searched for queer bodies. Though I started to wonder if anyone looking would even call mine this word. At one point, I did feel stared at, but my friend suggested it might be from our combined tattoos. I suddenly realized, at that moment, we had the only skin that had been inked.
I did not think about my breasts all day until I put my shirt back on. Pink costume with sweat stains. I felt deeply aware of how full my chest felt. My nipples were trying to upstage me. I had no binder and my sports bra was wet. This is when I realized though there was a time I would channel my inner-hippie and walk around bra-less…..that part of me was no longer.
My breasts feel enormous, I said to my friend. I am so used to pushing them down.
And I’m so used to you not having any, she said. I became further reminded in this moment of why I love her so much. She sees me as I see me.
Then I wondered, was I seeing those women in their nude as they wanted to be seen? Unapologetic folds and exquisite excess. Wild and free. Is this how they wished they’d be viewed with clothes on?
I cannot control the stares of others just as I have a difficult time controlling my own gaze. I struggle with how inconsistent my nudes are. I am far past my 20’s and I still have no idea how to be nude sometimes.
I still am unsure of how I want to be touched.
My attractions and desires are shifting. My emotions are fumbling to control themselves. Sometimes, I am an inferno of question marks all guided at myself.
Maybe I need to be in more places like this….where nudity is not necessarily about sex but healing and purging. Maybe this is how I will exchange some of my question marks with more permanent answers.
Media and prescription bottles tell me that the voices should not be encouraged. There should be consistency within the leak of our pensiveness. But where is room for doubt? On an evening in a basement full of so many books, I got paper cuts from breathing, I was told by a poet that “love is a place you can go for the rest of your life.” And I wanted to weep against my bruises. And I wanted to ask: but how can you be so sure?
I want to believe in a love that can exist far beyond the grey cloud thunderstorm cold shoulder puddle splashes. I want to believe in a love that makes room for silence and bad behaviors and wrong turns and indigestion and allergic reactions and doubt. It can be easy to find the right words on a Saturday or a Wednesday. In the heat of bodies curled like erotic perms, it can be easy to say “the right thing.” To choose the right voice from within to give to another.
But convince me you’ve never pushed down a voice so far down that you choked. That you suffocated so many syllables, all that came out were gurgles of drown.
Convince me love is drawn on every map, so there is no way of getting lost. How can you when there is a GPS on every fancy phone and most automobiles and if you don’t know which turn to take, a pre-programmed voice will.
Doubt is like seventy pounds of cheesecake in your gut and you are lactose intolerant so no matter how delicious this creamy was, you feel weighted; you feel confused by the asphyxiation in your brain.
Sometimes doubt is born out of its antonym: conviction.
Sometimes these voices are so strong because they remind us of how potent life is.
I have spent more than half of my life unsure about mornings. I have used ropes and pills and drugs and silence and darkness and starvation to attempt an end of alarm clocks and open doors.
Doubt. It is a powerful mechanism reminding us the necessity to slow down, hear these voices and weave gratitude into the wavering. Weave in the echoes of question marks.
Is this good? Is this healthy? Is this right right now? Can I be present while living like this?
I want to believe that doubt is a doorway toward a conclusion. I want to believe. I want to want. I want to remain.
She sat in front of me in a community room in a building which was once a school. The room was so bright, I could hear the visibility of every freckle on my skin. We were alerted that the poetry reading was going to begin shortly. I can’t recall who made the first move. I think it was her who turned around and began asking me questions.
“Are you going to read something?” she inquired.
“Uh, yeah,” I answered nervously.
My eyes studied the language of wax on her lips. A thick coating like winter wool of bloody red on her mouth. Some call it lipstick; I title it paint. And she was like a painting that I felt mesmerized by.
During intermission, which was after the open mic, she asked me about the human beside me, wanting to know if he was my boyfriend, if we were married, and where we lived. Her inquisitiveness was charming and I barely hesitated before answering each one.
At the end of the night, I told her how much she looked like Anne Bancroft. She smiled.
“In my youth, I looked like Audrey Hepburn.”
“Well, right now you look like Mrs. Robinson,” I quipped.
“I’d much prefer to look like Audrey Hepburn,” she insisted.
I looked at her and studied the age in her face. I wanted to see how many chapters I could read in her forehead and between her upper lip and nose in those minutes before the lights went out and everyone had to leave.
I wondered if she wondered about the stories in my skin or if I had revealed them all during my poetry set.
“I’m glad I met you.” She interrupted my thoughts.
“I’m so pleased I met you as well.”
Earlier in the evening, the host of the night asked everyone to look around the room and lock eyes with someone they did not know. Then, we were encouraged to get up during intermission and speak to them. This is an opportunity to meet someone new, he said.
Anne and I had not locked eyes. And yet, she turned right to me and I to her.
I appreciated the motivation to learn a new human. This doesn’t happen enough. I didn’t get Anne’s phone number, nor did she ask to be facebook friends (the current ways in which humans connect these days). Though I quite liked leaving, knowing she’d already turned into a poem inside me.
I was sitting outside on a bench with my superhero nephew eating lunch. With hummus and avocado-filled sandwich between our teeth, I noticed several pigeons swarming close by. A man and child sat nearby and suddenly the man said,”
“Don’t feed those birds anything. They’re disgusting. Spread disease. Just horrible.”
Several of my friends have a strong faith in what they call their spirit animal (a creature you identify with). After taking an unnecessary quiz, I was informed that my spirit animal is a butterfly. Oddly enough, this is the only image tattoo on my body. I used to collect butterfly images. I loved the idea of symmetry and their magical quality: being spun from what once was a caterpillar. I’ve grown out of my butterfly stage, though I still find them stunning. However, I don’t feel symmetrical at all. My thoughts are ragged and parts of my body sometimes engages in silent treatments with other parts.
I could easily say elephant. I find their skin romantic. The weight of them and desire to walk toward what they need like water causes me to love them even more.
My poetry’s spirit animal is an elephant. I am a pigeon.
Pigeons were the first postal workers! They flew through wind and rain to deliver letters before there were stamps and blue boxes on many corners. They may spread disease, but so do humans. They are also deeply curious with an impressive appetite. They will find food hidden in the crevices of stones. To me, pigeons are fearless.
In Brooklyn, I pass by a pigeon with a slight hop, missing a foot. It does not complain, though of course I recognize that I do not speak its language. It moves about, researching its surroundings. I am a pigeon.
Parts of me are missing or maybe I am missing something. Maybe I am missing out on what all this is on me. Maybe I am just searching just like these pigeons for nourishment to my body.
Yes, I am a mailbox (just like they once were).
Yes, I spread disease, though I am grateful that at this moment I am without ownership of such germs.
Yes, I am misunderstood, but I am still trying to understand myself as well.
I am a pigeon.
Poems, amazing people, fun, and delicious food and drink. And books for sale!
$5 recommended at the door.
MEANT TO WAKE UP FEELING POETRY AND PROSE with Aimee Herman and Jenna Leigh Evans
ABOUT THIS SHOW
Celebrate the newest books by these great writers! meant to wake up feeling by Aimee Herman and the excellent novel, Prosperity by Jenna Leigh Evans.
Come to DIXON PLACE: 161 Chrystie Place/ NYC
There will be books for sale.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Aimee Herman is a Brooklyn-based poet and performance artist looking to disembowel the architecture of gender and what it means to queer the body. Find Aimee’s poems in Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books), in the full-length collection, to go without blinking (BlazeVOX books), the recent chapbook, rooted, (Dancing Girl Press), and in the forthcoming full-length book of poems, meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA). Aimee is a faculty member with Poetry Teachers NYC and a writing mentor for the Red Umbrella Project through their memoir writing drop-in classes for those in the sex trades.
Jenna Leigh Evans was named one of LAMBDA Literary’s Emerging LGBT Voices of 2014. Her novel, Prosperity, was published this year. You can also find her work on Autostraddle, the Billfold, the Nervous Breakdown, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, and is a founding member of the Paratactic Fiction group.
This is not easy. This is defined as a rough draft body memoir. This is a human dressed up today as a a ….a. …a.
It can be difficult to exist in the ways in which we really desire. For instance, I exited my home located on a street in a borough in a city on the east coast. I carried the dirt of all my clothes–from two weeks of living–in a blue bag, clung to forearm, then shoulder. Off to laundromat on a day of the week I can no longer remember. But I can recall the interruption of my feet against stiff ground, scent of tired and spoiled:
Damnnnnnnnnnnnn…….. Damn, you are fine. God bless, you miss. God bless, you. You are beautiful. Thank God for you. I like that.
And I wanted to tell him: I do not believe in God, sir, so I’m not sure we have anything to do with one another. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t really asking for a reaction to my existence and if I could possibly critique his language, I’d much prefer silence to whistle. I wanted to tell him that I wish men like him could be fined. I wish humans like him could be fined for interrupting others from just walking. I wanted to tell him that he interrupted my imagination. He took apart my blur and labeled me into something I’d prefer not to be.
It can be difficult to exist in the ways in which we truly desire.
I am on
4 train D train A train 3 train some train and I search out the faces of humans with fur against cheeks and I am searching out humans with flat against chests and I want to ask them how they do that.
Someone recently asked me: If I think someone smells good or I like how they’ve put themselves together, do you think it’s ok for me to tell them? How can we compliment consensually?
It is necessary to acknowledge that being present within one’s body can be more than just a challenge. It can be painful. There are moments where we break out of others’ boxes and become loud.
These are the moments (perhaps) we want to be seen the most. These are the moments where a hey-the-way-you-exist-is-so-brave-and-marvelous OR I-wish-I could-be-like-THAT.
I send love letters to humans reconstructing their gender every day (in my head). Maybe I need to start sending them out into the world……..
To the human on the 4 train heading toward Brooklyn: What I wanted to say to you was: I love how you swirl thirteen genders into your skin so deeply, so intrinsically that you are a rainbow of humans. You are a kaleidoscope of languages. To the human I call pen pal: I love that you label yourself: alive. You are not sewn into any particular pronoun. Rather, you are breathing. You are burning through thoughts and poems as though your brain is a marathon of adjectives.
I dream of the day I walk outside and someone says to me: The way you wear your gender is magical. I see you as human. I see you as beautiful and handsome and all the adjectives in between. The way you tied that double windsor around your neck caused me to STOP and ask you how you did that. I think you’re really neat…….
I offer my consent to that!
Thank you to the great great weather for MEDIA for nominating my poem, quadratic equation, for a 2016 Pushcart Prize
I was never very good at math; in fact, it almost kept me from graduating from high school. Numbers never remain in me and it has been a language I have been hesitant to learn. Sometimes things are easier to learn when pressed into poems.
Linda Camplese – My Father’s Gun
Aimee Herman – quadratic equation
Ron Kolm – Bird and Me
Puma Perl – Stories from the Big Black Shoes
John W. Snyder – To the Girl Who Called Me a Faggot
John Sibley Williams – In the Pitch Bright Darkness
Want a taster? Here are the first few lines…
He was a cash and carry kind of man
cash business, cashed in, cashed out
carried a big, fat, American-style handgun
and he was right when he thought
it made him look tough.
– Linda Camplese
I used my fingers longer than it was socially acceptable. I cannot recall if it’s because I clouded my brain with the smoke of drugs, but numbers and names have a difficult time remaining in me.
– Aimee Herman
I read somewhere
That Charlie Parker
Ate a rose.
– Ron Kolm
William Burroughs’ untied shoelace
cracks my morning dream.
Sad as Coca Cola and a can of Pringles.
– Puma Perl
To the girl who called me a faggot
that day at Six Flags
when I decided to wear
with yellow and pink animal print on them.
– John W. Snyder
What a strange music sounds
from the dead birds frozen to the wire!
– John Sibley Williams