How to Ask

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

Audre Lorde asked, “what are the words you do not yet have?”

I ask my students to bring to class the largest sack they can find. Made from forest or skirt or their least favorite weather pattern.

But it must be the curvature of empty, I add.

I arrive early and some of the students are sucking on the neon haze of their cell phones. One travels their neck and shoulder to places I’ve never been to before because of the music collected in the drum of their ears.

When it is time, I ask them to clear their desks of everything but their sack.

(They are quite used to these odd requests from me.)

I am wearing pants, color of crushed moss, with long-distance pockets.

Dig long fingers—once described as emaciated pianos—down deep and lift out as many question marks as I could fit inside.

I dump them onto desk and ask my students what they see.

Lines. Curls. Arches. A mountain?

Each student receives a question mark to place into their sack. The ones who insist get more.

We walk around the room with our voices, practicing how to use our question marks.

Lorde wrote, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

I urge my students to rise. They clutch their sacks, which beg to be filled.

Here is when I begin the list of what will go inside our sacks:

  1. the discolored fist-marks on skin
  2. the hisses, hauntings, hunted parts of us
  3. mirrors or any reflective glass that forgets to disclose our most important bits: our insides
  4. every pronoun that mispronounced us
  5. all the no’s incorrectly heard as yes
  6. our childhood (optional)
  7. the memory of that time someone told us to let go of reaching because arms are never long enough to get us out and through
  8. every single box which has boxed us in
  9. that scar hidden behind a different one, shaped like an EXIT sign
  10. the words: I can’t

Our muscles grow vocal chords, working hard to lift what now overflows.

Some students are still confused. Several are crying.

Audre Lorde reminded us, “We were never meant to survive.”

So I ask my students, what can we do to remain?

I can tell them all about how classrooms felt like cliffs to me and I jumped more times than I can remember. That the few times I remained were because a teacher gave me a sack to fill with words. And questions. And dreams. And poems.

I can tell them that I still hoard questions marks in my pockets and beneath my tongue because there is so much I do not know and cannot claim to understand.

I can tell them that for every time I was incorrectly pronounced, I could feel my mouth’s zipper get thicker and stronger and tougher. Creating my invisibility.

But it’s not about me. So, I wait for them to decide how to feel. How to react. How to respond. Give them paper to write on and words to read to fuel their question marks.

To keep them here a little longer.

Which keeps me here too.

 

Upcoming Performance: On An Island of Love Poems

I’m excited to perform alongside David Lawton in our poetry/music collective HYDROGEN JUNKBOX on Tuesday, April 4th at Dixon Place located at 161 Chrystie St/NYC  from 7:30-8:30pm with very special guests, Zita Zenda and Annette Estevez

ON AN ISLAND OF LOVE POEMS

Hydrogen Junkbox and Special Guests

ABOUT THIS SHOW

Hydrogen Junkbox, a poetry/music collective, performs a range of poems set to music, with other special guests interpreting their own love stories

Catharsis

Thank you to Kofi Forson for such excellent, thought-challenging questions, when he interviewed me recently for GAINSAYER. Below is an excerpt. Click HERE for full article! 

In Conversation with Aimee Herman

on March 10, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Post-Inaugural Women’s March of 2017 set off a redirect in me first as an example of the post-popularizing of male id-ism and the resistance from women the world over. Aimee Herman, Brooklyn-based performance artist, poet, and educator, widely published in journals and anthologies including cream city review, BOMB, nerve lantern, Apogee and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books), along with her several chapbooks.

We talk in search of an understanding of the appropriation, politicizing of profanity, confessional female lit and language as orgiastic and cathartic.

Kofi Forson: With respect to the new feminist how does she honor Michelle Obama as a sign of progress and maintain her sexual independence using for example Annie Sprinkle as inspiration?

Aimee Herman: I absolutely love that you are mentioning Annie Sprinkle and Michelle Obama in the same sentence. There are so many versions, flavors, and shapes to what a feminist is. A feminist as first lady. A feminist as sex worker. A feminist as educator. When we talk about language, it’s important to make room for as many interpretations as we can. And through these interpretations, it is just as important to question the meaning and significance behind these words. As I joined the thousands of humans marching in New York City, with my protest sign raised high, I took in the clever artistry of words and images everyone screamed out on cardboard. I thought about why we were all there. Now more than ever, we are fighting for more things than we can fit on these placards. We are defending our genitalia, our gender, our sexuality, our race, our class, our future. It’s frightening. And yet, I am empowered by the volume raised on so many voices. Of course there is that realization that our volume should have been raised this entire time.

 

Performance on March 18th: Night in the Naked City

I’m excited to perform a new piece exploring subway love this coming Saturday, March 18th, at Cornelia Street Cafe, alongside some of my favorite NYC poets: Steve Dalachinsky, Matthew Hupert, Jane LeCroy, Puma Perl, Thomas Fucaloro, and George Wallace.

Cornelia Street Cafe: 29 Cornelia Street/NYC  @ 6pm   $10  (includes a beverage)

 

Bladder Control

previously published by great weather for MEDIA

 

When can we start to admit that the more doors we close on people—locking them out—the more ledges we are, in turn, building for them to jump from.

This doesn’t need to be political.

I ask my students: Raise your hand if you went to the bathroom today. They look at me, inquisitively, wondering why I would ask such a personal question.

Slowly, they all raise their hands.

Then, I say: How many of you paused at the rectangular sign announcing who gets to enter? How many of you didn’t relate to the word or image announcing a gender you may not prescribe to? How many of you just held it in because a possible urinary tract infection made more sense than entering a room that didn’t include (or welcome) you.

This doesn’t need to be political.

This is simply about a universal human function. In fact, maybe our bladders can be the thread that finally sews us all together, reminding us we are human. We are not the same, but we connect. We all just need to urinate sometimes.

In a recent article in the NY Times, Janet Mock wrote, “When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet. It also blocks them from public life.”

If you’ve ever gone camping, I mean, without the nearby showers and stalls, real wilderness without wifi signal, simply stars and moon and occasional bear sightings. You’d know that there are no separations. The earth doesn’t care about what gender you identify as. The soil does not lean toward a particular political party. It exists for you to dig your fingers into. To squat over and pee. To dig your hole and…well, I think you get it. Maybe this is why I love camping so much. Because I can be my loudest version of wild. Be naked (at times). I am not woman or man or ma’am or girl. I am just flesh. Wild and free.

I wasn’t supposed to still be here; I think this thought almost everyday about all the ways I have tried to erase myself. And all the ways government and others have tried to do the same.

I just want my students to remain. To feel embraced in a world where walls are replacing welcome mats. It is difficult enough to exist without all these question marks growing inside a body and mind.

For me, it is not UTI or bust. Though I linger at times and wish for more options, I walk into the F room. Women’s. Ladies. The one wearing the dress.

I try not to make eye contact with anyone, circa 1990s high school gym locker room.

I walk into a stall and squat. Try not to make eye contact with my vagina because we are so often not on speaking terms. I just need to pee. Wipe. Pants up. Flush. Wash hands without engaging in mirror contact.

We all do this. We all go to the bathroom. So, why not make it just a little less stressful and offer more options. Take the signs down. Or add another one like: FOR ALL.

I’m not interested in starting a campaign to investigate the obscene amount of urine splattered on toilet seats. I just want people to feel more welcome nowadays.

And I only want ledges to be homes for pigeons, not humans who’ve been pushed out, whose bodies have become politicized. Perhaps we need to take the time to ask: Who are you (today)? How do you feel? What do you need in order to be who you are for even just one more day?

Hydrogen Junkbox: Two upcoming performances

Someone once asked me: do you play any instruments? 

I answered: My mouth. And also my hands to turn the dial of the radio.

Now, I can say: ukelele. And cookie drum. And stoop sale tambourine a bit too.

I am part of a marvelous poetry/music collective called Hydrogen Junkbox, alongside David Lawton and Starchilde. We aim to merge poetics and various forms of instrumentals to create something a little magical on stage.

 

I’m excited to announce two upcoming performances:

MONDAY FEBRUARY 20th: VOICES OF THE RESISTANCE @ LA MAMA  8:00-9:30PM

Poetry Electric Presents:
VOICES of the NEW RESISTANCE
Against the President on President’s Day!

TICKETS $10
@ LaMaMa (the downstairs space) located at : 66 E. 4TH STREET/ NYC
Beats of THE BEATBOX HOUSE (Kaila Mullady & crew)
along with all-star POETS & PERFORMANCE ARTISTS:
Liza Jesse Peterson, John S. Hall, Puma Perl, Alex Tatarsky, Jane LeCroy, Jeff Wright, Heide Hatry, Maria Muentes, Peter Spagnuolo, Susan Yung, Norman Stock, Bruce Pandolfo, Hydrogen Junkbox (Aimee Herman, David Lawton, & Starchild), Jimi Pantalon & friends

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 24TH : ICONS IN ASH: DEATH IN ART @CENTRAL BOOKING 6-8PM

CENTRAL BOOKING gallery  located at 21 Ludlow Street / NYC
ICONS IN ASH, DEATH IN ART group show, curated by Maddy Rosenberg and Heide Hatry
Book Party with Conversations, Readings, Spoken Word performances & Music

Performers include: Linda Weintraub, Sigrid Sarda,Jennifer Elster,  Heide Hatry, Daniella Blau, Jane LeCroy, Dusty Wright, Robert Brashear, Aimee Hermann and David Lawton
Exhibition: through Sunday, February 26
Artists include: Roberta Allen, Dianne Bowen, Theresa Byrnes, Kathline Carr, Jennifer Elster, Max Gimblett, Heide Hatry, Richard Humann, Gregg LeFevre, Julia Kissina, Kate Millett, Jim Peters, Herbert Pföstl, Michelle Ross, Sigrid Sarda, Carolee Schneemann, Aldo Tambellini, Linda Weintraub and Brenda Zlamany

 

Kind of Like High School

first published by great weather for MEDIA

 

It is similar to when you are in high school. You are in the cafeteria and the smells of imposter pizza and imitation chicken nuggets lead you to almost forget about your deafening hunger. You’ve got your lunch and your over-stuffed backpack and your quintessential post-pubescent pimples and you’re ready to search out a table to sit at.

Usually, you’d be sitting with _______, but you are no longer speaking because of _________ or __________, but probably because ___________ said ______________.

So, you sit elsewhere and pretend that person who you used to call your best friend simply no longer exists. This friend who knows that you used to pick your nose and then eat your findings. Who knows that you had a crush on Judith Light from “Who’s the Boss”. Who knows that you sometimes forget to brush your teeth and hair. Who knows simply all of you (thus far).

You pretend to easily digest your lunch even though you ache. Even though this friend who was like part of you is like a stranger now.

It is like that.

Except this isn’t high school and the friend who held the other half of your BFF charm is your body. Yeah, it’s like that.

But here is the twist.

Cut to twelve years later or fifteen or twenty and you see this friend and you don’t know how to act. Can you just say hello after all this time? Do you pretend you didn’t spread rumors about each other and that most (if not all) were true?

Somewhere in my twenties I had a massive fight with my body and banned it from sitting at my lunch table. What I mean to say is: I ignored IT. Gave IT away to strangers. Handed IT over to people who didn’t even care enough to learn how many vowels are in my name. Dressed IT up, even though the lace was itchy and the push-up was too pushy.

It doesn’t matter why (that’s another month/another poem/another story), but what matters is I let go of IT. I stopped addressing IT, asking IT questions: Does this feel ok? Am I mispronouncing you? What is off limits?

After years of the silent treatment, I started to call my body QUEER. It felt slanted, but not exactly toward anything specific, just away from WOMAN. Away from GIRL. Away from SHE.

I covered up the parts I gave away. I ripped off my pronoun. I cut my hair. I grew out my hair. I asked my breasts to stop addressing me. I grew attracted to those who slanted too. I liked the ones who understood what it was like to be engaged in bouts of silence with their bodies. I liked not having to explain why I cried every time I was touched.

For me, I just wanted to erase everything I had done to IT. Hide the parts that had been broken into (by others and myself).

And then. One day—it happened to be a Saturday—I saw IT. We sort of made eye contact, but both immediately turned away. I almost didn’t recognize it; it had been so long.

*

When I was old enough to get a tattoo (18), my friend and I (who shared the same birthday) went to a small shop on route 9 in a strip mall in New Jersey, and got inked. She got a fairy on her lower back. I got the WOMAN sign.

I was not yet OUT (lesbian) but a FEMINIST and excited by my breasts which were finally growing on me. I wanted to look like her and all the other girls in my school.

Eighteen years later, I added to that woman sign because it didn’t quite speak the truth of how I saw myself. So, I added a MALE to the FEMALE and suddenly I felt a little better.

On this Saturday, where my body and I began to slowly break the silent treatment, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So many years of reticence. I had forgotten how to approach it.

 

ME: It’s you, isn’t it?

MY BODY: Yeah.

ME: I…I’m not sure if an apology is—

MY BODY: There’s nothing to be sorry about.

ME: But I stopped talking to you.

MY BODY: And I stopped listening.

ME: Is it too late?

MY BODY: Why don’t we go for a walk?

ME: Can I…can I hold your hand?

MY BODY: As long as you don’t let go this time.