finding love again through the bottom of a glass of language

Dear Richard,

I was not expecting this. I gave up men even before I began, but there is something in the simplicity and omission of your words that causes me to feel as though I should remain. So, I guess I will for now.

I write four letters to you in a book that your daughter wrote, which was all about you. But also about her. And also about loss. And searching. And the hesitance to find.

Did I ever tell you about the time I scratched my name into someone else’s womb just to see how far my fingers could stretch. Or the time I got lost on a railroad track in massachusetts and the only thing that brought me back was the trembling of metal beneath my wrists.

None of this is simple, Richard.

You set fire to telephones and I set fire to memories. But I have gathered up all the ash and resin of months and dates in order to understand. In order to be in my body. In order to keep reading you.

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.

an affair with books

She handed me a book and asked me to read it to her/ It had the color blue melted into it like an improperly hidden secret/ I read until I lost speech due to lost spit due to lost air/ swallowed before and after every word.


My thirteenth lover refused to read anything outside of cereal boxes or street signs. We would make love in silence, moving only one-third of our bones. When she kissed me, I alphabetized my book collection in my head. Reread Baudelaire and Cesaire while she flapped her tongue against mine like a drowning victim.

She had no idea I was cheating on her with the volumes of books inside my imagination. She had no idea that the small moans exiting my mouth were for Sexton and Rumi and Giovanni and Baldwin.

One day, I slipped a poem beneath her pillow, cut up from a book I found on a stoop during a walk without her one Spring.

She barely noticed it, except that when she woke, she did mention an infiltration of noise in her sleep.

Usually, she dreamed in mute and beige.

Soon after, we broke up due to the fact that kissing can only last so long before one aches for an index and bibliography. I left her for a writer who drank shots of ink and licked me with stained tongue. We wrote novels with our bodies. We made love on abandoned train tracks and defrosted the language of seventeen poets onto each other’s skin.

It only lasted a summer. Until I met a novelist. With a vocabulary stretching past seventy-three states.


day 26: read (some more)

Reading a book is like being in a relationship. There are moments you do not want it to end, yet there are also times when you feel more than ready to walk away from it. There are disappointments, but also surprises. Sometimes, there are sequels, which just elongates the pleasure.

I’ve had entire summers dedicated to writers, unable to say goodbye to their language: Mary Gaitskill, Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski, even an orgy of Pablo Neruda, Kazim Ali and Hafiz.

It is easy to use the excuse: there is just no time to read a book, but time must be paved and watered.

When I read, I travel to countries and territories I may never get the opportunity to discover. I meet characters who help me to understand myself and the world around me. I read poems that expand my vision. Reading reminds me to always believe in magic.

Here are just a few great books I read this year and highly recommend:

Nevada (Topside Press)  by Imogen Binnie. Throughout this book, I felt like I was part of the bike gears turning over bridges as the narrator, Maria, traveled toward and away from herself. I was significantly blown away by this novel and the honest, funny and emotional writing of Imogen Binnie. After reading this book, I purchased, The Collection, which is a phenomenal anthology of transgender writers, including Binnie. I just didn’t want to let go of her yet.

Man Alive (City Lights Publishing) by Thomas Page McBee is a memoir exploring masculinity and a highly focused dissection of the past. It is poetic and brutal and exploratory. I found myself folding over the corners of pages in order to go back to his words. I even underlined some things, faintly, since it was a library book. This one I need to purchase, so I can reread and rediscover.

Prosperity, A Novel (Dog Ear Publishing) by Jenna Leigh Evans. I was blown away by Evans’s vocabulary and cinematic approach to the ways in which debt can be overpowering and (oddly) funny. It is beyond relatable, since I want to believe that everyone is slathered in some form of debt. The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was watching it. Her mind is so illustrative and she crafted a place that I could see in every scene, down to the color and smell of it all.

For Today I Am a Boy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)  by Kim Fu explored the complex relationship of gender and culture. I fell in love with the protagonist, Peter Huang, and loved being a part of his journey away from and toward home. Kim Fu brings such dynamic characters together up until even the very end of this novel.

An Untamed State  (Grove Press) by Roxanne Gay has infiltrated my dreams and has sewed itself to my palm. I am forever changed by the horrific accounts of the protagonist, Miri. Roxanne Gay already had me with “Bad Feminist”. I fell in love with her frankness. Here, in this novel, she captivates my core. I feel bloodied and battered from the scenes she creates.To write that I could not put this down is not exact enough. Even when I put it down, I was reading it. I want to ask Gay: How did you leave these scenes while writing them? How were you able to move through the world (eat lunch with friends, watch a television program, sleep) with these images crafted by your mind and fingers. This book MUST be read.

Retrograde (great weather for MEDIA) by Puma Perl surprised me in such marvelous ways. I’ve been a fan of Puma Perl’s since moving back to Brooklyn almost five years ago. Her poetry is gritty, like rock-n-roll slurs of graffiti against the page. I’ve seen her perform many times and she slides her words out seductively and authoritatively. I have read most of (if not all) of her books and find that this collection shows such immeasurable growth that makes me an even bigger fan than I already was.

the pedestrians (Wave Books) by Rachel Zucker feels like a walk through the subconscious mind. This is what I imagine it might feel like to hold hands with another’s frontal lobe, interlocking fingers with mood and behavioral status. There is a saltiness to her prose. A desperation drenched in almost-stale tears. It is a unique experience to read a book of poetry and want to call it a ‘page-turner’, but this one definitely is.

Here (Mariner Books) by Wislawa Szymborska became my travel date on a long walk through Greenpoint, Brooklyn one day. I carried her words around and could feel the seep of her line breaks saturate my skin; her words drip. I feel full when I read her, like I’ve just eaten a meal full of protein and starches and my insides feel bathed. There is an optimism in her writing that also reveals a bit of loneliness as well.

day 18: read

You are significantly overwhelmed at bookstores. You cannot believe every title is alphabetized and has its own section. You realize you are slightly jealous that every spine’d story has a place to be. A home. You wonder if maybe you have chapter envy.

Every time you visit a bookstore you cry. This is not mentioned for pity; it is a fact marked by the salt which drips down your face each time you walk out. You have a library card which is meant to curb your desire to spend money. And yet, you find yourself purchasing the books you borrow because you want them closer to you. You want them to live beside you. You wonder if the only reason you became a writer was to have an exclusive pass to these shelves. You fantasize about being alphabetized and which writers would live to the left and right of you.

You go on a three week cleanse that lasts one week and in this time, you give up dairy, gluten, meat, alcohol and coffee. You get your protein from books: Thomas Page McBee, Vera Pavlova, Rebecca Gay. Your tongue has grown loose and sleepy from all the pages it has licked, but you no longer feel indigestion after a meal. Instead, you feel like you’ve learned something.

When you meet someone new and they invite you to their home, you study their bookcases. You learn more about them by the titles and organization of their books than you have from weeks/months/years of knowing them. You fall in love with a human who organizes by color; there was that one who shelved by size; you remain loyal to the one who did not alphabetize but permitted you to search out their order.

There was that time– let’s call it yesterday– when you had a difficult time leaving a bookshop with empty hands. You feel lonely when you do not have a book to get lost in. These characters, their stories become yours.

Read. The words are always there, even when you think you are alone. Words surround us just like air. And if there is ever a time you are somewhere without any text, speak and spread out your language like the most exquisite song you’ve ever heard.

Tomorrow, you will start carrying around an extra book to give away. This is for that moment you lock eyes with someone who has nothing better to do than swipe their finger back and forth on their fancy phone. Blow someone’s mind with Bukowski or Baldwin. You’ll never need an outlet or internet access to read. Just turn the page and get lost.

(I’ll meet you there.)

day 16: dream.

You dream you are a fountain with water the color of birds and hunger. The air whispers abstracts of books you’ve forgotten to read. You are visited by a former love interest with palms full of saffron and Gabriel García Márquez magic. Your breath tastes of overripe bananas and nettle. You crave seaweed and sonnets. There are no walls, only doors with windows for knobs, so you cannot leave, but you can see out. See through. There is wood. Seven spiders wearing rouge and running shoes. There is emptiness. Or, a feeling of it. You hunger for dashes. You thirst for chandeliers and train tracks. None of this makes sense and yet, suddenly there is clarity.

tilt your naked toward the ugly and squeeze out reformation

Much of it begins out of something else. You read it; you noticed it on a Tuesday stuck inside that book everyone has been telling you to pick up. You captured it inside the fist of your pupil, punching the air with that dust-collecting stare.

It started like a dribble of compare.

He spoke it in his language, which was yours until they frightened it out of you.

In order to go on, turn body into the only carnival ride you could commit to. Like carved-out pills or shy spaceships, they call it tilt-a-whirl. Shake out your biology, your apologies, the startled cause of your sick.

Forget the fur and wool, step into plaster and caulk. You may only be kissed when the wind storms away the layers of your lips from the past seven years.

It’s not that you’re ugly. You just don’t have enough symmetry to warrant air-brushing and notice. Take travel-sized sewing kit to the death in you and seam-rip it away.


what all this means is what does all this mean.

The woman from the radio sings about her brain being picked at like a chicken bone and I think about the last time I was gnawed on by another. She fears insanity as the range in her voice reaches raspy or the kind of holler that only dedicated nicotine inhalers receive. I once dated a Human who started smoking to strip layers off throat. I want to sound affected. I want to appear bothered and broke. When I was nineteen I learned how to forget myself in chemicals and imbalance. Sometimes it is necessary to recall an evening when books replaced clothing and you wore Cisneros and she wore Hafiz and somehow Sexton and Neruda joined in. There will be a vow taken today between sunrise and star patterns and it is difficult not to think of that afternoon I lied about peach trees in an alley below the mountains. What has happened to the moments below your clavicle and when you find someone who calls your hipbone a rainforest or lightening whelk, remain beyond the fear of its end.

the gender of clothes (shopping)

I used to dress this way. I owned some skirts and I didn’t mind the jutting of wire beneath breasts–its intention to lift and raise and press firmly together.

Although I still draped myself in polyester pre-owned fabrics, I could also be found wearing curved-neck’d shirts and sometimes eye shadow (though I still haven’t learned how to properly rub it on). I owned some dresses and had shirts that could be called tops, purchased in stores that had no men’s section.

What does it mean to attach gender to a garment? This is not about wearing a tie (though I can often be found with one around my neck); this is not about wearing a vest or slacks or even converse or bandanas.

Yes, I often strap my breasts down as though they are wild animals and need to be caged. But it’s not about that either.

I guess I just want to be one of those hardcover books you find at stoop sales. No fancy jacket with summarized description of text. Not even a title or author sometimes. Sometimes there is a hint of its contents, but often the blurs become an androgynous unknown. You will need to skim and reread, question and annotate in order to really gather its intention and exquisitely intricate existence. There will be twists and turns, perhaps even a choose-your-own-adventure sort of thing.


My dad and I are leaning against a clothing rack as his partner shops for clothes in a small town in Connecticut. I love her enough to forego my hatred for shopping and stores that do not go beyond a size zero (even with hushed-in-the-back plus-size section). Surrounding me are thin fabrics, see-through blouses, and half-skirts. Studded bras. Cropped sweaters. Leggings and pants tighter than surgically stretched out skin. A woman named Jenica wearing name tag and headset, sings along to the piped in music. Jenica walks up to me and asks to read my body. I turn my arm toward her as she reads my tattoos. Then she takes in my attire, which does not quite match the feminized fabrics robotically hung all around me.

You like old things, Jenica says. I can tell.

Yes, I reply. I like when the elastic has been worn away by a stranger’s body with occasional life stains in inconspicuous spaces.

Jenica tells me about growing up in the Bronx. Missing only two things about New York: the ability to eat anything at all hours and the nightlife. I want to add to her list: Prospect Park, the benches along eastern parkway, the poets, the magical collisions of humans finding each other even amidst severe overpopulation, the music, the graffiti, the pigeons. Instead, I just smile.

I love that Jenica isn’t trying to sell me anything here. She doesn’t tell me how great that dress over there would look on me. Nor does she persuade me to try on that glittery pair of high heeled monsters closest to the door. Jenica and I have an unspoken agreement that I am just a visitor. There is no section that includes my body’s gender.

I think about clothes as I prepare to attend a friend’s wedding. Just wear a dress, I am told. I already have one, purchased for a different wedding from a different time that felt awkward then too. Although it still hangs in my closet, my body refuses its existence.

I’m going to wear a pair of fancy slacks, a button down shirt, tie, vest….

Suddenly I am interrupted by my sister. No. Please don’t wear a tie and vest. (As though anyone would even be looking at anyone besides that beautiful bride.)

I have been wearing ties for many, many years, but just within the past three or so I have been wearing vests quite regularly. Perhaps they feel like armor. Bullet-proof gender concealers. Slick and sexy flaps of open fabric. I feel most handsome in this.

I have never been a good dresser, and haven’t really cared enough to spend entire paychecks on denim or famously labeled shirts. I’d rather pay my rent or buy a book. But I am learning that since I want to be this smelly old book found on a Brooklyn stoop for 25 cents without title or cover art, I am often misread. So here is my synopsis:

Human arrives wearing red and scratches. Falls in love. There is a death somewhere. There is a collapse of language and after the fall, new words arrive. There is no rainbow or acronym or if there is, this Human cannot be found in just one letter or color. There are some fights. There is a contemplation of sanity. There are many meals and family and then Human relocates. Then Human chooses poetry over employment. Human lives in a yurt with another named Rebel. Human is a bit blurry and quite hairy and has so many knots that there are too many tangles to mention. There is an engagement. There are apologies. In this book, there are no clothes or defining hairstyles. Human prefers nudity. There may be a sequel.

now tell me what you really think

My wise soul sister talks to me about the importance of connecting to words. Beyond just licking fingertips to flip pages. Beyond even the recognition of finding oneself within the lines.

She tells me that if I am moved, I should say something. As a writer, I know how solitary this process can be. A lot of thinking, cataloguing, noticing, noting. A lot of writing, typing, choosing to be alone over being with others. So when I am moved, inspired in such a way that I weep trees out of my body, then I should really let that writer know.

The first time I contacted a writer, I was living in Brooklyn (the first time). I recall sitting at my roommate’s communal computer, writing out the words that had been oozing out of me. I first read Kim Addonizio several years earlier after an older poet friend shared her work with me. When I picked her up again, I felt the reek of erotism from her poems pull at me. Even if she didn’t write back, I knew I had no choice but to write her. And. She wrote back.

A few years later, I was feeling ghostly. My body was sitting inside classrooms for an overpriced degree that just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s kind of like pursuing the most attractive person in a bar (or the most sober, cost-effective one with a rolling admission). And that person accepts you without hesitation. And you’re in. And you’re into each other.

Until their first word. And you notice their breath or odd jargon or or or. So, I was feeling uninspired and I sought out a writer/ performer/ beast I once saw in a land I used to live in. And this letter was long. And I wasn’t quite sure it would be answered. And. I heard back. This beast has been my mentor ever since.

Recently, I came across a writer who tore the hair out of my legs. This writer boiled my sweat and caused me to think even further about sexuality than I have been already. She turned me on, while also making me want to do the butterfly stroke inside my tears. I think about sending her a letter, but it just needs to be perfect…because what if I don’t get a letter back this time.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. We need to be writing these letters. We need to tell these writers what we feel, the traffic accident on our bodies after reading their words.

If you wrote a poem or a sentence after reading something I wrote, I want to know. Because I am sitting in a metal chair, hunched over– occasionally aware that I should straighten my back– with a brown, borrowed blanket wrapped around my waist. I am typing on a computer held on a slab of wood, which was free because it was from the scrap pile at the hardware store on fifth avenue. I stained it red, then painted it in puffs of multi-colored paint on my rooftop, which is no longer mine because I no longer live at that particular address. To my right, is a see-through mug with earl grey tea interrupted with honey. To my left is a tall window illuminated by a string of purple lights purchased for $2 from my soul sister’s stoop sale. It is silent here, until I interrupt it with my voice or hear the slurp of tea plunge down my throat.

I could use a letter. I think we all could.