from self diagnosed lactose intolerance (chapbook/ Baobob Tree Press/ 2008)
from self diagnosed lactose intolerance (chapbook/ Baobob Tree Press/ 2008)
When I was fifteen, I was still writing letters to my breasts, asking if they got misdirected. Sent to the wrong address? Used incorrect postage? (There was no FOREVER stamp at the time).
I thought I wanted them. All my female-bodied friends had them. Many in size extra large and abundant. At that age, we want what is around us. What other people have. Or…..we think we do.
And then I got them, but in size small and some people touched them and then I did not want them anymore and then and then. The End.
I think a lot about breasts because I think a lot about bodies. Therefore, I think a lot about knees and collarbones and earlobes and hypothalamuses.
When I was asked to read something for a Breast Cancer fundraiser, I immediately said yes and then I realized why I was asked: because someone I really care about has had it: my mom.
So, I’ve been thinking not just about breasts, but my mom’s breasts. And it’s hard sometimes to find time to grade papers and write poems when you’ve got four breasts on your mind, but more than that because….as I said, I think about bodies quite a lot and I live with another set of breasts and I walk out the door and breasts and and and. The End.
Research is being done to learn more. To catch it before it climbs further into body. More and more people are surviving. But more and more people are getting diagnosed.
Please support a night of honoring those who have survived breast cancer, those who did not make it, and those whose loved ones are still fighting.
Come to The Parkside Lounge on October 4th at 7pm
317 E. Houston St. NYC
Tickets are $10, but if you can give more, please give. 100% of the proceeds go to The Pink Daisy Project. Even if you cannot attend, you can STILL support by buying advance tickets online or donating directly to The Pink Daisy Project.
The Inspired Word Presents its 5th Annual PinkSpeak: Breast Cancer Journeys in Poetry, Music & Prose – a breast cancer fundraiser in Manhattan, New York City.
Dedicated to the memory of poet/author Pamilla DeLeon-Lewis, a beautiful, inspiring lady who performed at our first PinkSpeak and passed away on January 6, 2012, and Dorothy Geffner, mother of Inspired Word founder/producer Mike Geffner.
Poet/Storyteller Phillip Giambri aka The Ancient Mariner – https://www.facebook.com/AncientMarinerTales
Poet Keisha-Gaye Anderson – http://www.keishagaye.com/
Singer/Songwriter Samantha Leon – http://www.samanthaleonmusic.com/
Poet Aimee Herman – https://aimeeherman.wordpress.com/
Author Sofia Quintero – http://www.sofiaquintero.com/
Poet Cindy Peralta aka Black Angel –https://www.facebook.com/blackangelthepoet
Writer Bob Lemoullec – http://www.thenewsroomconfessions.com/
Singer/Songwriter Natatia Allison – https://www.facebook.com/natatiaallison3
Singer/Songwriter Matt Jacob – http://www.mattjacobmusic.com/
Spoken Word Poet Lana Rose – http://auntlana.com/
On the 4 train headed toward Utica, Brooklyn, I look up and notice an ad.
How to describe what should never be described? How to describe an advertisement that shames bodies and attempts to capitalize on a woman’s parts? How to imprint media’s peer pressure module to coax a woman to…..
For the low, low, CRAZY price of $3,900.
White woman in white tank top holds two clementines between white fingers against chest.
MADE IN NEW YORK, it says.
Same white woman in white tank top holds two grapefruit, one in each white hand, against chest.
“For other body modification, we also do liposuction, tummy tucks and Brazilian buttock lifts,” reads small print.
In the first photo with the clementines, the white woman is frowning. Her mouth is turned toward the floor as though an invisible wire had been threaded into each lip, causing it to droop.
In the second photograph with the grapefruit, the white woman is proudly showing off her white teeth. Her smile is large. Large like her breasts. After calling the phone number.
After emailing for more information.
After making an appointment and heading into the clinic to be cut into and accentuated.
I stare at this ad and then look around me to see if anyone else is noticing what I am noticing. How is this an emblem of NEW YORK, where we are a “melting pot” of so many types of bodies and minds and backgrounds and emotions.
Why would any of us want to pay the low, low CRAZY price of $3,900 to have a floatation device on our chests?
(That said, for anyone reading this, my intention is not to shame or dig at those who have chosen a breast enlargement. That is your right and your body and your money. I just think about how advertisements are crafted and the thoughts these images can leave us with.)
When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I stuffed my bra.
That’s not one-hundred percent accurate. I stuffed my undershirt, because I didn’t wear a bra until I was in high school.
My chest was flat like Delaware. Like North Dakota. Like the table I eat my breakfast, lunch, dinner on. My best friends called me: Mosquito Bites because…..(well, I think you get it).
I wanted a chest because they had a chest and so did Janet Jackson, who I had a deep crush on (a crush that extended to her brother, Michael as well).
I wanted a chest because I thought if I didn’t have one, something was wrong with me.
Because of Media. MTV. Billboards. Basically everyone around me telling me what a “woman” should like like.
This is what I was thinking about, upon seeing this advert on the subway.
I was also thinking that I certainly have altered my appearance to look/feel a certain way.
Would I pay the low, low, CRAZY price of $3,900 for any of these changes?
Every month, I dye my hair from what used to be titled dirty blond, to RED. I pay anywhere from $6-$12 for various tubes and developers.
When I first noticed this ad, I thought: What fruit would I want against my chest?
Kiwi? Lychee? Grape?
There is no hidden meaning to this ad and perhaps that is why I feel so impelled to write on it. Small breasts make you sad; big tits will make you happy.
How many other people have looked at this ad and wondered about their inadequacies? How many people eyeing this suddenly wondered if the fruit beneath their shirts were no longer good enough?
How many people?
How many other ads are just like this on other trains, over highways, interrupting television shows and in magazines?
What fruit are you?
No one asked. There are no messages inquiring. But I still feel the need to answer.because my button-down collared shirts look so much better resting against my parts. because I know they are mine but so are my fingernails and I bite them off every single day. because as I get older, I am less inclined to pick a side. because I never knew I had the option before. because though it is uncomfortable, I feel more comfortable. because I thought I’d give it a try and it’s been over a year and I am more and more sure that it is right. because we don’t have to comply with what exists on us just because we were “born” with these parts. because sometimes they are so painful to look at. because I feel closer to the “me” I have dreams about. because I am interrogating my parts and finally taking notice of the hidden narratives on my body.
This has been the longest relationship I have ever been in. I can celebrate over three decades of this partnership; yet, I’m still trying to come to terms with what we actually have in common. In the morning in my nude, I am reminded by what I have. I am not haunted by all of it. In fact, there are some parts to my body that make me want to take it out to dinner and forego sleep in order to get to know it even better.
We’ve slept beside each other every night for over thirty years. We’ve been joined by another, though these were the times I lost track of its shift. You see, bodies never remain static. They shift in shape and desire. Sometimes, our bodies get loud enough in this displacement that alteration of clothes or vocabulary are not enough.
Initially, when we meet someone, there tends to be that immediate attraction that either let’s you know this is a possible friend or future love interest. Then, there are the ones we meet that remind us to keep walking. We cannot be expected to get along with everybody. When things don’t work out with someone you love, you break up. When things don’t work out with your body, it is far more difficult to walk away.
Recently, I was trying to explain my relationship with my body to my dad. He has seen me poke holes through various piercings, distract my skin in ink with tattoos, and alter my appearance with hair color and wardrobe. He wanted to know why I’ve been so afraid of the word, pretty. I stood beside him in silence trying to understand why he thought this and if he is right. Why might I be fearful of this simple word?
Beyond this adjective, I think about the parts of me that might attract such a word. Often, I am approached due to the boldness of my hair: knotty, red curls. My responses range from thank you to complete silence. Perhaps I shun this word because I prefer that my intellect and poems get approached, rather than the curvature in my hips or the flames in my hair.
As I officially slide into my mid-thirties, I recognize that I have been cheating on my body. I think of other bodies when we are together. At night, when it is just us in bed, if I am not too tired to be intimate with myself, I imagine my shape as something else. Not quite male, but not exactly female either. How to describe this?
Over five months ago, I started wearing a binder. There are many different versions to choose from, but the one I purchased is kind of like an extremely form-fitting tank top, that flattens my breasts and slurs away my curves. I’ve worn sports bras that have a similar effect, but I wanted something that completely smoothes them out. In addition, I have acquired a few more of various lengths and fittings.
My relationship with my breasts has been tumultuous like most love affairs. I desperately wanted them and then once they finally arrived, I eventually wanted nothing to do with them. Over the years, this detachment has grown more and more. Wearing this binder has been an experiment; I wanted to see if it would help the way I viewed my body. Now, I notice the way my button-down shirts, held captive by double-windsor tie and vest fit so smoothly over my paved chest.
Recently, a complete stranger called me handsome. When I was called this, I thought: perhaps this is how I am expected to feel when I am called pretty. Funny how letters pressed together have so much significance to us.
Here comes the possibly confusing part: I do not desire to be male and I do not view myself as transgender. If I must label, though I prefer not to, I see myself as gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and transgressing though consonants (M/F).
When I was fifteen years old, I started treating my body like a tree. I began carving my way in and through my skin, searching for a way out. I soon learned this behavior was called cutting and I also learned I was not the only one. Many years went by and the wounds healed, replaced by scars. As I made my way through adolescence and into young adulthood, reactions from lovers and strangers ranged from looks of pity to obscenely rude accusations and questioning.
Summertime in New Jersey at nineteen. I am filling up my green car, scratched up just like me, and as I pay the guy, he says: Yo, what happened to your arms? Why they all marked up? At an open mic at twenty-seven. A young poet approaches me after exchanging no other words with me throughout the night, grabs my left forearm and says: These markings are so beautiful. Were they part of an art project or performance?
In the beginnings of these self-induced hieroglyphics, my mom suggested vitamin E and other scar-reducing creams. I got angry with her, though now understand that she just wanted to make it easier on me. Humans have a difficult time with scars. They immediately want to know how they got there and then they want to know if there is a chance more might arrive (depending upon circumstance).
I refused the cream because a large part of me wanted to be reminded of these markings and these years of sorrow inside my body. I am no longer a cutter, though have relapsed a few times in recent years. When I look down at my arms and the few ghostly markings on my hips, I think of these lines as words. What was I trying to tell myself? I want to believe that I was digging my way out and toward the innards of not only my gender but the core of my self.
How true is this body? What will it take to fall back in love with it? Have we ever been in love or has it been like an arranged marriage? Would I choose it if I could?
If we all came with our own airbrush machines that the fancy fashion photographers clearly use, I wonder what parts we’d compress away or enhance. Would I leave my scars alone? Would I flatten my breasts out permanently? Would I leave my dimples, otherwise known as skin deformities? How about dead-ends left on every strand of my hair due to forgotten haircuts? Would I want my thin lips to be fuller and my collarbone to be bonier and more dramatic?
We exist in these bodies that grow and shift in ways we accept and in ways that can be deeply confusing and even painful. Some things can be controlled. If that extra weight on your belly overwhelms you, then a few months at the local gym or daily sit-ups may flatten it away. If the skin on your face sags in a way that disturbs your ability to feel pretty, you may choose a face-lift. What isn’t big enough, you can now make bigger. What is not small enough, you can pay someone to take away entirely. No one can really say what isn’t necessary, because no one is inside anyone else’s body but their own.
It’s not that I want to break up with my body. We’ve been through so much that I feel like no one else could possibly understand me in the way that it does.
It survived that faint from the deeply traumatic panic attack at age twenty-seven that left me with several cracked teeth, a scratched up face and nine stitches. It survived mental illness and more suicide attempts than I could possibly keep track of. It survived drug addiction. Deep into the night, it has begged me to remain. My body has allowed me to orgasm even when shadows of sexual trauma have crept its way in. My body has given me more love affairs than one should be warranted in a lifetime. My body has remained even after all the walk-outs (my self included).
However, even after all these years, there are still times like now, where I feel like we are still getting to know each other. I no longer wear dresses or bras with a clasp in the back. I prefer much simpler attire. Sometimes I have to remind it that what I wore last year may no longer feel right against my skin. So, we must unhang, fold and give away what no longer matches how I/we feel inside. It is not too late.
I want to give myself time with this binder just as I gave myself decades in these scars. I’ve learned to come to terms with the discoloration of skin on my body: war wounds from the battle between my body and me. This disconnection I have with my breasts may not be flattened away with assortment of binders. I may need to move forward and make a more permanent choice. My fear of telling others obviously ends here.
The need to speak out has been modeled to me each time I hear a poem or read a story that moved me enough to write or speak up. We all have these bodies that encapsulate all these stories. If we continue to speak up, more languages will form. More and more humans are realizing that they’ve been living in the wrong body and finding ways to rebirth themselves into their truest form. There is absolutely nothing more powerful than that.
(Thank you, Imogen Binnie for breaking my mind open with your transferring language, relocating my thoughts in so many directions with your incredible book: Nebraska. Other gender warriors: Ivan E. Coyote, Dhillon Khosla, Carter Dyer, Kate Bornstein, Tahrah, S Bear Bergman, Dylan Scholinski and the list continues)
Here is the thing. I find you extremely persistent. You have a difficult time letting go of things. You fall in love so easily. And when you love, it scares you toward an exit sign. None of this is going to be simple. As wrinkles form and parts push their way off of you, you will still find yourself living inside skin that screams out new versions of itself everyday.
You are like a fancy phone: often running out of batteries, swiped at and (possibly) in need of an upgrade. But you are also like the moon: magical. And the sun: dangerously difficult to make eye contact with, but rewarding in your gaze.
I am tapping you on the shoulder. I am trying to get your attention. I want to make you that mix tape you always beg for to remind you the importance of remaining.1. The Winner Is, Mychael Danna and Devotchka 2. Comptine D’Un Autre Ete (La Demarche), Yann Tiersen 3. Sweetness, Pearl and the Beard 4. Home, Edward Sharpe 5. Colours, Graffiti6 6. I Will Wait, Mumford and Sons 7. Evelyn, Gregory Alan Isakov 8. Made to Love, John Legend 9. Dancing on my Own, Robyn 10. Quelqu’un’m’a dit, Carla Bruni
There may be a time when you look outside and start to see your self more. More and more people around you are presenting themselves in ways that represent their inside on their outside. This excites you. I know this because your face glows each time you see a human who blurs the boundaries of what a woman is or how a man should be. You are not so old that you are engraved and complete. There are so many more books you need to read and poems to write. So, can you stay? How about you stay?Dear Scar. I’d be wrong to promise no more siblings. We fall. We scab. New skin forms. A scar arrives. But how about I try not to give birth to anymore on purpose. Dear Gender. It’s ok. You don’t need to footnote yourself. You can reference yourself as a punctuation mark. You have nothing to do with why your heart got hurt. There is someone out there who will love your awkward, your blur, your fear. You are expanding. How beautiful to arrive at a moment of clarity. Keep walking and you will find others who understand. State your boundaries, so there will be no more break-ins. Stop giving your key away. Move slower when trying to exhale out your particles. Not everything not everyone can be put inside a box, so start getting more comfortable with being outside.
Found and feeling this:
“The hard part of realizing and accepting your own gender is trying to explain it to people who have never questioned theirs.”
I was trying to explain the punctuation mark called period ( . ) to a student of mine.
Use it when you are done. When you have completed your thoughts and you’re ready for another, I suggested. It is the end of one thing, which begins another.
So then of course, I think about body. Will I ever reach a time when I am ready for that period…a time when I can say: it is done. Complete. I understand it and now I am ready to begin something else.
We are more like exclamation marks amidst a crowd of questions. We must be loud and stern and sure. But what if we are not.
What if when you ask me what it means when I call myself queer, I answered:
I just need to give myself room to understand what all this means. Queer is my elipses.
I search out my body among others. I want to know that what I have exists elsewhere.
I sit beside a human with the backdrop of sunset and concrete fountain and notice hair on their legs so I let mine exhale in their direction.
I speak about breasts with another and want to understand what it means to want them there or not want them there but still have them touched.
When I am asked what it means to perform in drag. I say:
I cannot choose between masculine or feminine because neither feel enough. So, I create a hybrid of both and all and that is my performance.
All of this feels like weaponry. But it doesn’t need to be dangerous or threatening. It can be powerful and conversational. I want my body to be a dialogue that allows space for opinion and observation and reconfiguration. Stares can be heavy, causing discoloration to the skin. If you notice something like a scar or rip out of space, search out some words and ask me what it means to live like this. But then but then but then be prepared to answer it yourself.
[I don’t quite know you anymore]
Remember that time I suffocated you with two-ply? You hacked and gasped and chafed, but I left crumpled toilet paper against you all day because you weren’t tall enough. Someone else called you brick wall. I called you stubborn and flat. Evening is when Judy Blume taught me how to accentuate you. Increase your existence.
And then. And then when you started to exist, I wanted you away. We can wish for things, but I wonder how much we really want them.
When wishes arrive too late to the someone we are who we weren’t when we made them.
Suffocation continued but tissue became replaced by bandage. I tried to medicine you away.
The first time someone else touched you: I was eighteen. Jennifer. We contemplated each other’s softness and extended parts. Hers were bigger and she liked when I sucked and pressed and squeezed. Hers were an atlas and I often get lost so I studied and studied and used my fingers to trace every line and bump and formation of beauty marks.
I soon began to realize: no one really touches them the way I want them to be touched.
How to explain: use your ribcage more. Think of them as a bench and straddle and lean in. Please do not allow them to help you decipher what I am. What am I.
In the summertime, I let them float and fixate on the thin fabrics of old shirts stuck against them. My nipples rebel. Drama queens. I don’t mind when they grow erect; I only wish the land mass they extended upon were wiped away.
A new lover likes to defy gravity with mouth, wafting lips over nipples as though they are their own singular entity. This one pretends there is nothing else there and that body is a haunt of so many genders, why pick one why pick one.
Sometimes my body and I agree to disagree. I am fickle with my rules and regulations. There is no static or one way. I change my mind as often as my skin cells evacuate. So…..ask. Our bodies are made of invisible ink and there are so many guidelines that are too faint to read. I am unsure of what goes on beneath and above and around my bones sometimes. Even I need to ask sometimes.
Body, can I touch you there. Are you closed today. Are you on holiday. Are you in mourning. Are you choking on trauma or can I rummage you. Where can I touch you and tell me for how long and how soft or fast. What should I ignore or what can I call you today. What is your name today. Don’t worry about your answer for tomorrow…that may change. I’m just asking for right now; when I come around another evening, I’ll inquire again.
There is no idea but to cover up or clarify how those folds got there.
And if belly is soft then explain that a baby once grew inside it or if breasts lack complacency, make sure to convince them that it’s from feeding or genetics. Or lie about exercise regime or explain that work hours overlap possibility of sit-ups or weight lifts.
Bodies are like snowflakes are like fallen secrets pressed against windows are like reflections are like sharp implements are like dangerous exaggerations are like predators.
And in a room full of humans, take note of the shapes that take shape within the shape of a space.
Ninety-degree angles and triangular justifications and octagons and rectangles and its been awhile since my body existed inside a classroom where numbers were examined but I’m quite sure there is a reason for all these symbols and figures to differ.
I disrobe and replace mirror with an audience / distract eyes with poetry so stretchmarks are an afterthought.
But don’t all our bodies stretch and without those marks couldn’t we assume that body as one of static…no movement…no evolution of self?
It’s ok that you notice the blurry lines on my body. The ones beside the scars. The ones that arrived as I arrived into my bones.
We all began as nudes. As empty. As exotic folds. Put away your irons and embrace the wrinkles and grooves.
Clothes are just an accessory; what whispers underneath is the truth of beauty.
Several days into Winter and seven windows grew into brick building across from my bedroom built into
borrowed burrowed apartment.
Window with slanted ladder. Window with winking curtain. One with candlelight. One with hidden lamp with one-fourth visibility. One with shadows. Two more clarifying darkness.
Who planted seeds made from glass? Translucent tear-dropped stones pressed into earth to create these rectangular holes in buildings. And are there people on the other side and do they watch me and when they find me in my nude, do they stare? Do they wonder why my body flops in different directions like rebellious rabbit ears? Do they question my gender? Do they masturbate to the disturbance of my breasts?
There is so much silence, one must speak out loud to prove one is alive. And then an airplane. And then stomach, overfed and rambunctious, growls. And then dirty fingernail scratches at scalp growing roots of reddened knots or a hairy rash. Oh right….I’m still existing.
Sometimes I need to stand and my window becomes my reflection and don’t judge me for judging me. But I jump up and down because how else can I get these stubborn words out. I have just arrived to this night that lives on the other side of my window.
My bra hangs like a wire-rimmed bat from a doorknob. My breasts are flattened but still ghostly, haunted orbs below my collarbone. I touch them you can’t touch them but I can. And I wait for a Human to arrive at one of these windows, growing out of that brick garden. I wait for a Human to scowl at my unapologetic mashing of my body. Maybe I need to be noticed to notice how odd all this is.
My tongue tastes of London fog. Taste buds are honey’d and hungry. I do not trust the shadows in my bedroom; they are misshapen. Or. They remind me too much of myself.
My windows are nudists. They are monogamous with the sun and moon. They itch with the thought of fabrics or curtain rods nailed into their frame.
Window oh window, we are similar in ways which must be mentioned.
Chipped and cold.
A reflection of what is/ isn’t/ wants to be.