an overheard conversation between richard brautigan and aimee herman

It was a day unlike Wednesday, but it was Monday or was it Sunday. It was definitely sometime around 4pm and 3:15.

Richard: I started out this day thinking about the exhaust fumes from cars fighting their way to a parking spot in Hawaii and now I am wondering why the cost of cantaloupe has gone up.

Aimee: I call them candy-lopes.

Richard: I had a lover who lasted through one nocturnal whose hair smelled like the ripest of cantaloupes. She was studying botany and when I kissed her, she told me she could feel the rash my mustache would give her mouth. She smelled like a harvest.

Aimee: And did you give her a rash?

Richard: In more places than just her lips.

Aimee: I started out this day thinking about that library you wrote about. I wanted to find that tall door leading into the house for books and bring you one.

Richard: Poetry.

Aimee: No. The other one.

Richard: You done with it?

Aimee: I’m scared to peek at its end.

Richard: I wrote letters. Mailed some. Gave others away to the wrong ones. Sometimes I’d write suicide notes and stick them beneath seats. I never signed them, of course.

Aimee: Why not?

Richard: Because they weren’t mine.

Aimee: I found one of my suicide notes in Connecticut.

Richard: Was it beneath a white oak?

Aimee: Yes. No! In a tiny drawer, second one down. Purple. Purchased at a garage sale somewhere east. I didn’t recognize the handwriting, but I recognized the name.

Richard: Did you want to edit it?

Aimee: Yes.

Richard: Tell me about the painter. Didn’t she bring me to you?

Aimee: No. Yes! She reimagines rooms. When I met her, I was hours away from an interaction with ticks. I was also desperate for a recall.

Richard: What do you mean?

Aimee: I mean…we were in a town full of three hundred people. Or less. And I was this blank page. I kept wondering what words I could fill for them. Who I could be? You know I come from a city where we are forgotten. Or–

Richard: Unseen.

Aimee: Yes! No. Seen through. Or unheard. No one looks up anymore, Richard. But she does.

Richard: The painter.

Aimee: Yes. Yes!

Richard: Tell me what she looks for.

Aimee: An answer. But there are so many questions.

Richard: Do you know, I spent days in my youth obsessing over a family who brought their furniture to a fishing hole. They’d sit on big, comfy chairs as they dug their line into water to see what they’d catch.

Aimee: And did they catch much?

Richard: Always. And you know why?

Aimee: Ummm….persistence?

Richard: Because they were comfortable. Tell her she needs to settle. She needs to bring her chair with her wherever she goes.

Aimee: Really?

Richard: Aimee. No. Yes! She’s a painter! So, I imagine she can paint this chair. Paint this comfort. Paint what she needs. Paint her answer!

Aimee: And then she will find her fish.

Richard: Right. Or whatever it is she desires at the end of her line.

good with words

Recently, a Rabbi called me a wordsmith. He knew me many years ago, when my hair was a different color. I was not much like this person I am now. I didn’t want him to recognize me, and I was quite pleased that he didn’t.

I read a short poem and words about mourning at a funeral for my uncle. Afterwords, once all the salt that sifted out from both eyes had dissipated, and I, longside five other men, took on the role of pallbearer, he said to me, “You are quite the wordsmith; you should keep at it.”

I smiled because he had no idea how much I needed to be reminded that I do. I smiled because my sister heard and she looked at me with pride.

This man of God, saying to me, a human who teeters on the edge of atheism, that I am good with words. 

On a Friday night, I sit wearing nothing but skin and remnants of sick still stuck to my flesh. I light a stick of incense and encourage the smoke to breathe me in, wrapping its seductive trail all over me. When one stick burns out, I light another. Inhaling this nag champa tickled my stuffed nose, but gathered me into a deeper mindset.

I began to think of the time my mother stormed my bedroom, and threw out all of my incense. She thought I had it because of drugs. She had no idea that I had yet to begin my thunderous battle with addiction; I just enjoyed the smell.

Even now, I like lighting these aromatic perfumed sticks not to mask any other smell, but to remind me to breathe in deeper. To get lost in the curls of smoke.

All I could say was, “thank you,” to the Rabbi, even though I wanted to say so much more.

I wanted to say to the Rabbi, “Do you remember me? I used to be blond and my parents liked each other. But you must see a lot of rotating marriages. It is 2015 and all.”

I wanted to ask him, “I know Jews don’t believe in heaven or hell and I don’t either but. But what do you think about a human who no longer feels comfortable in the body they were born into? There are words for this, but for me, those words don’t quite fit. And Rabbi?” I’d continue.

“Rabbi, what I mean to say is, I’m not so good with words when I need to use them to describe how this all feels. And also….” Here is where I will pause for such a long time, I will watch this scholar of Jewish law, get uncomfortable, and even impatient.

“…The thing is, maybe I just have a difficult time committing to letters. And designations. And clubs. And groups. And classifications. And stereotypes. And….”

The last time I went to synagogue, I sat, nervously reading prayers, translated into English. I was with my partner, who practices.

I practice to0. But not religion.

I practice how to be.

I just said thank you to this Rabbi who knew me before puberty and mental illness and trauma. I’m much better with words on paper; I’m just not so good with words when they want to come out. Sometimes, they just need more time to prepare.

On Death

for my Uncle Teddy

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. 

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. 

(—–From On Death by Khalil Gibran )

When I think about the brutality of life, I think about discoloration of breath. Paper cuts from every card we receive and all the letters reminding us of the life and lives ribbon’d around us.

I think about traffic jams within one’s brain stem; I think about every sunset that waits to be seen until it can no longer hold its breath or body weight.

What can we learn from death before it claims us too? We can learn the best ways to make the ones around us laugh. We can learn how to eat without worrying of its contents, but rather to enjoy the way it celebrates our taste buds. We can learn how to cut away the gristle of overwhelm and stress before we realize we’ve spent weeks, months, years forgetting how to live.

Here we are today and it is often new life or death, which collects us into the same room. Why must we wait?

From death, we can learn that to really live is to really ask how are you and remain. And continue asking.

To climb mountains but also just cross streets without forgetting how everything around us was built by human hands or by the musculature of earth.

To mourn is to gather. To mourn is to engage with every bit of life around you. To mourn is to honor who we have lost by living as loudly and beautifully and authentically as we possibly can.


how to report a crime.

It is 3:30am in the morning and I awake from couch, after stirring earlier in the night. Outside window, a group of men push voices against each other like bowling bowls, trying to pin each other down. I watch, thinking of the power of sight and reaction.

Who to call when, so often, the ones who signify justice are the ones who misbehave the most.

My chest grows heavy, as though suddenly these men are on top of me or perhaps it is all the words drenched in fear, toppling over my bones.

My mate is asleep and I do not wake him; I must react quickly.

I walk away from sheer curtains and window to get my phone. I gasp at the sight of my partner who is reacting to the sounds as well. I tell him what I see; I ask him: what would you do?

9-1-1 is an uncomfortable combination of numbers to dial. There is panic in my fingerprints. I think about these men. I do not want to escalate their anger, but I do not want to wait for weapons to replace fists.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency,” speaks a female voice.

I explain the location and announce this group of men, around 5, who are fighting. There is heavy pushing. Moving into the street. Howls from their vocal chords.

She asks, “What do they look like?”

I answer, “They appear to be men. People of color.”

She asks, “Are they Black?”

And my heart sinks further into my body; I worry it has slid into my lungs or liver.

I tell her: I cannot say. It is dark and I don’t want to assume what race they are.

She persists, “Well, I have to write something down, otherwise the police won’t know. Are they Black?” she repeats.

I take a deep breath and think about my students, many of which are first generation college students. Some are immigrants. Most of which are people of color. Many who have shared stories of being perceived as one race, conflicting with their own. I think about all the Black men who are incarcerated for being Black. That society is jumbling up justice with guilty before innocent. I want to scream at this woman that she is doing the largest disservice by making assumptions and encouraging racism. I want to tell her that I am frightened of this 9-1-1 number combination, but don’t want to be complacent.

I tell her, “I will not and cannot answer that. They are men. And it is 3:30am in the morning. There is no one else out on this street corner, yelling and pushing. I do not believe the police will have any difficulty figuring out who I am referencing.”

Ten minutes pass by, upon which someone could have been shot or injured and I am breathing like a windstorm, staring out the window as my partner and I wait. And wait. For justice.

When the police arrive, they do not get out of their car; I appreciate this. They use their megaphone voices to encourage these men back into their cars. There is no aggressive force from police, only a prompting to leave.

My mate and I walk away from the window after watching the last man leave; I want to know they are gone; I want to hope that their anger has dissipated from the bright lights of the police car; I want to believe I did the right thing.

green pie.

for Jenna.


It is quite easy to forgo chatter and how-is-the-weather speak for a slice or two of pie.

You choose key lime. And as you plunge three spikes called fork toward shape of lime juice/zest, eggs, and condensed milk, you realize how little there is to say in this world.

You realize swallows can be far more profound than asking about the latest talents of their children.

You realize licks of sour and graham cracker sweet is much more satisfying than alphabetizing their weekly accomplishments.

You realize pie can be far less judgmental and cynical than social gatherings.

You do not floss. You prefer calories to sit between your teeth as though they are star gazers, howling at the moon or (in this case) your tongue.

This pie is your confidant. Your traveling companion. You scale mountains and hop streams with this pie.

You neck in a movie theatre playing a documentary on poverty or poetry; it does not matter because you and this pie are chewing language into one another.

You dip your unmanicured but proud fingers into its sticky pale green. Nor grass green or pea green. Not olive or jade. Neither emerald nor peridot. More pale, like sun-starved. You prefer it this way.

Now, what else must be written?

You remove battery from phone and unplug distractions like electricity and clothing.

You want to uni-task with this pie.

You want to taste and flirt with its crumbs, without interruption. And this is how it goes until there is no more reflection of green and only full.


inside the hollow/& found/& found

What an abstract thing it is to take your clothes off in front of a stranger for the very first time. It isn’t really what we planned on doing. Your body almost looks away from itself and is a stranger to this world.”  

Richard Brautigan, from “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966”

[for lindsay]


Elliot Smith knifes the ghosted speakers hidden in radio, blowing lyrics like incense smoke. Musk of patchouli rhythm curls around your bare shoulders, nude because it is too early for sleeves and folds.

Wrapped around your thighs is a green blanket from early adulthood, when your skin was taut and taught to moisturize in preparation for now.

There is a crowd of strangers in your bedroom, which is two rooms away from your kitchen; they are in there too. And they are named window and door frame and parquet flooring. And dresser and wardrobe and even the drilled holes meant for hanging are watching, too.

Call this dancing, but really you are just bending your knees slowly and then straightening. Tilting like a carnival ride to the left then right and back again. It’s from the music; this has nothing to do with foreplay or tease.

Your body blinks closed; it cannot watch this. And then, the slow drip (leak?) of skin away from bones.

A song about Omaha, which you’ve never visited but imagine is bright and vast, kind of like your throat.

Your nudity is parched, so you drink a leggy glass of milk, though you are allergic and begin to spoil from within.

You forget your lines. Were you supposed to gasp now?  Your moans sound like choking and maybe you are. Maybe your nude is one giant allergic reaction.

How to get back from all this?

Elliot howls behind screeched guitar chords about drinking stars or kissing shotguns; you aren’t really listening. And also, he is the only one you hear.

Yes, that is an elbow. And how about that hip. A field of tattoos. Scratched in and scratching their way out.

This body is grey, gray, grey. Like earl. Like elephant. Like ail.

This body is sound machine. Alarm clock. Concerto.

The strangers leave. Body grows clothed. Elliot grizzles cold and fades out into the perfumery of oil and carbon.

how to re/approach a body

originally published by great weather for MEDIA


Imagine feeling as though you have something stuck in your teeth. You swirl your tongue around, anxiously trying to dig at it because it is embedded too far in to approach using just your fingers. You can still eat, but this thing lounging in the grooves of your teeth does not let you forget.

This is how I feel in my body. I can eat and work. I can sleep and kiss. But there is something stuck in there that taunts me—sometimes silently, yet there are moments when I can do nothing but listen to the echoes of all that is jammed inside.

Bodies have been bothered for centuries; this problem I have is not new, nor interesting. To call my body a stranger or infiltrated chest of drawers has all been done before. There are no metaphors left to describe it.

So, what to call this…unease?

About six months ago, I performed a piece in a room full of strangers that addressed the topics of gender, identity and trauma on a body. I brainstormed all the ways I could speak this out without actually speaking and after many weeks of thinking, I could not get away from the one answer: nudity.

I have removed my clothes before in front of an audience, but never all of them at once and never in a way that did not abstractly address the issue(s) of my skin. But to speak out the dire truths of my scars, I needed to show them. All of them. Even the ones which might not be classified as such, like genitals.

I filled up placards with quotes that spoke to my vocabulary. Writers like Michael Cummingham, Ivan Coyote, and Kate Bornstein found their way onto white, neon yellow and green squares of cardboard. I also dripped a few of my own words onto the paper like queer, enough and even questions like what does it mean to be human?

Before the performance, I took time to ask myself what I needed from this. There are many things we cannot control in life and how others take this piece in was one of them. To be fair, I was a female-bodied human removing all my clothes; even though I had no intention to turn others on, there was a chance it could happen. I should mention that this piece was during a night full of mostly burlesque performance artists.

So, I wrote a short letter to my audience, which I never showed anyone, but it allowed me to articulate what I hoped for.

I want you to see the various genders on me. I want you to notice that although a/this body is/has been sexualized, what exists are the reverberations of trauma. I want you to notice your scars too. I want you to not call me girl/woman/miss/ma’am anymore. I want you to see the trans (movement) on me. I want you to read the queer tangled up in my tattoos and the words written on me. [Before the performance, my partner wrote down various words on my skin that I requested. Words I’ve been labeled by others and myself.] I want you to ask me questions. No one ever asks and how is anyone to know/learn/understand without asking. I want you to travel with me as I give you what I used to charge others to see. Except now…now…I want to remain whole. Or find my whole.

So, I started this by addressing how to re/approach a body.

Here is goes:

When my name was called, I approached the stage wearing all black. Music began to seep in like fog, filling the room. I removed button down shirt. Then pants. Then binder. Then underwear.

I commissioned an artist friend of mine to draw three separate panels: an over-sized pair of breasts, a male-bodied chest and a well-endowed penis. Throughout the show, I put the panels against my skin, approaching my body as though they were mine. With each switch of placards from illustrated parts to written words, I felt as though my skin was digesting. Gargling with language and genitalia. Suddenly, it did not matter how the audience took me in, I was gaining insight on myself.

I may always have this thing stuck in me, but maybe I don’t want to pick it out and remove it. Maybe I want this ambiguity, this uncertainly to remain. Maybe that is how I can re/approach it. As I said, I can still eat. And kiss. And breathe. I like feeling un-boxable and I can continue disrobing in various forms to connect with others. And myself.

summer in september

Everyone is calling it OVER, but you press severed denim fabric against your mosquito-bitten legs to remind your exposed knees that summertime still exists in september. You take the long way to the subway, zig-zagging your toes against dirty city pavement just to breathe in the sweet, warm air just a little longer. The days are not quite as long, but you still dip your lips over watermelon, juice dribbling down chin, against chest. You wait for these final weeks because all the spots where the crowds gathered, are now sparse.

Everyone seems to forget about summertime in september, but you fall in love with the scent of autumn on your mate’s skin, crisp spicy drips of seasonal sinta apples. The orchestra of ice cream trucks still parade down your busy streets. See, you can still buy those bomb pops and artificially flavored treats shaped as your favorite childhood cartoon characters. The waves still curl over beaches; the shells weave in and out of sand, anticipating the pluck of curious fingers; the moon still rocks its summertime glow; the farmers markets make mouths water, still, from the array of roots seductively swaying; shoulders are still bare and burnt skin from overeager sun still stripes various parts of bodies. There is still time.

nebraska (a short story)

The ladder existed in the middle of a field swarming with chiggers and ticks. It was a day in June I would have titled: denim cut-offs sky with acid washed pocket clouds, had I thought long enough.

Leigh did not like heights; she could barely stand on her tip-toes without feeling excerpts of vertigo.

This ladder was buried eight feet deep into the ground. Held by cement and sturdy earth. She told me she was doing this to get closer to the sun because—and here is where I must quote her, “because when we whisper our truths to the sun, they are burned into us like ritualistic brandings.”

photo by Raluca Albu


We had only known each other for twelve days and she announced her queer after an evening of shared mead. I can still feel the fermented honey drinking my tongue.

Where she came from, she told me, there is no room for declarations such as this. You are born into the gender you are assigned. You are to marry the opposite of what you are.

I told her that where I come from, they extended the land perimeters to make room for the additional boxes declaring the array of humans that exist.

Of course, I come from New York City.

I watched her ankles tremble. Even her blond hair shook like corn stalks in the wind. I stood at the bottom, ready to catch her, but I knew she wouldn’t fall.

And when she finally got to the top, she kept on climbing.

Review of “meant to wake up feeling”

Thank you to Blotterature and Lily Rex for reviewing my latest book of poetry, “meant to wake up feeling” published by great weather for MEDIA.


Meant to Wake Up Feeling, Aimee Herman
Great Weather for MEDIA, 2014
Reviewed by Lily Rex

Aimee Herman’s Meant to Wake Up Feeling will have you afraid that someone in a crowded train station is reading over your shoulder. So, you read it in your own house late at night, and with your heart racing you promise never to admit to anyone how deeply parts of it resonated with you. The grace, honesty, and bravery with which she addresses issues that many won’t touch with a ten-foot pole will shake you to the core.

Herman’s poetry collection is a living, breathing thing that not only explores “[e]xist[ing] within abstraction,” but makes you feel it. Like a body, some of these works are so personal and surreal a reader is left yearning. Her flow and voice shine through, yet the images play hide and seek—the reader can relate to having scars, to hopelessness, but is also left to wonder what inspired this exact combination and not quite sure how it would all look in real life. Take this excerpt from “geographical discourse.”

and the oil which never dries like the scars which never melt like puddles into gravel into choreographed body. perhaps none of this is directed.

In her bio, Herman describes herself as a warrior for the dismantling of gender. She is definitely deserving of the title. Her fearless comments on gender and the body, focused through the lens of her own struggles, are gutsy but skillful. Poems like “dirty pieces of nothingness” touches on how a body can be treated in public.

these legs have become an impossibility
these breasts have become a questionable activity
these elbows have become a cough or
hazardous choke
these fingers a tangle
these feet are a distress

“pretend away the cupboards” is a monologue of what not to say to someone who expresses their gender in a way most aren’t used to, and struggling to feel like they are in the right body.

You hoard stamps and amputated limbs from rejected genealogy. Your inconsistencies make others uncomfortable…All I am really asking is this. Don’t politicize your gestures. Don’t flatten what should be lifted and gawked at. Don’t hide your pretty.

Many poems lack traditional punctuation like periods and commas. The lesser used items on your keyboard, like numbers and parentheses, take their places. Even struck-through words and mathematical formulas abound in Herman’s work. These elements that seem to make the book inaccessible are purposely used to convey that we sometimes struggle to understand each other’s bodies.

Her language is stripped to a raw form that sometimes sounds callous and bare like a set of directions. Sentences are often missing helping verbs, possessives, and articles. There is also a lack of direct or indirect objects. Her work rumbles with all-encompassing body positivity and introspection. Take these lines from “sadness from being a girl.”

the way we disguise bodies can easily be defined as
approachable or

Her work is not comfortably approachable or easily digestible for most, but it wouldn’t be right any other way.