black out 10/8/15

Vladamir Nabokov wrote, “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.”

I ask: Is there such a thing as a blank page? Are we ever really starting from nothing? Pages come from trees, which come from earth, so even in the emptiness, there is a history of something that once was.

Blackout poetry is a form that celebrates this. Finding words from within other words. Creating something new from what already exists. One can take any text and blackout as many words as one desires. Leaving several words, strung together or all apart of just leaving one. But what is left is what becomes newly birthed. Because the meaning changes. And it becomes yours.

Here is a recent blackout poem I created:
into your intestinal/ your weird evolution/ of neurons/ of trouble/ of bacteria/ (yes,)/ and pretty/ of timid/ called “gut”/ also Who knows?/ with yogurt/ Okay, what if/ to stop/ at our stomachs/ go poking/ write, the human/ the privilege/ the self.

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.

the currency of concern.

“A body holding its own dusk/ That is what a predator is, mostly.”  –Elizabeth Robinson

A body shuts down. It is night and there is only enough room for airplanes and crickets and moon and sleep. 

Here is how it goes. The author sits wearing wet hair and long underwear. Breath of peppermint and coffee, barley and long-distanced lover’s tongue. Outside, one could pretend it is spring, but it is too cold to title it as such. The author has consolidated their loans; the author has consolidated their bones.

Monthly payment does not match bank account and when asked how many members in family, suddenly one sounds synonymous with failure.

A body searches its contents and recognizes only the stink of bones, but cannot recall if that is actually what they are called. It is a time congruent to morning. 

It can be immensely humbling to prove one’s poorness. There is enough food in cupboards and shoes to wear and enough options of laundered clothes to fill a drawer and closet. Hot water and heat paid for by unseen landlord. The author can even afford capers, but chooses to wait for tax return.

However, the amount owed far exceeds the amount author owns and on this morning of unzipped blue denim sky, the author cries store-brand version of tears and swallows store-brand version of oxygen.

A body exhales and spits out the dust of agony.

This is not about educational tabs running over. Nor is this about economic class or the woes of a poet in search of a space safe enough to wrap skin around. This is not about what plagues a body. Nor is it a prompt for pity.

This may be about what it feels like to occur. To be the one folded in the corner of rooms wondering why every circumstance is a reminder of what you do not have.

How to populate with only words. How to birth without heteronormative consumption. 

Here is how it goes. The author hikes toward the closest mountain found within the nooks of mind. Digs torn-up fingernails into soil that is highlighted by the sun. Fondles the pebbles and branches, which feel like found currency. Puts loot into pockets. Continues traveling up. Up. Higher. The author pretends to be unafraid of heights; the author does not look down. Up. Higher. Until. The only thing that matters is the wind. The curves beneath each step. And the way down.

day 11: fall.

“She is a letter in the / envelope of your body”  –r. erica doyle

1. You don’t always know. You don’t always know when you lose something. You don’t always know when you lose something, especially when you may never have had it in the first place.

2. Suspend your disbelief for just a moment when I tell you that sometimes love travels with you in silence until you are ready to fall. Until you are ready to articulate your dark, your scary, your spider webs, your uncertain.

3. “I knew when I could combine the disconnection of my nude with my clothed and they still loved me. When I wasn’t shamed into a gender that did not feel like my own, I knew they were the one.

4. Letters. Post. The intimacy of handwritten articulation.

5. Be someone’s Autumn. (Translation: Show all your colors and encourage them to show theirs. Be an adventure, as you give yourself permission to fall and be and belong. Mesmerize.)

6. “She is the gape of a second.” –r. erica doyle  (Translation: Do not look away because there are moments that are like gasps and you may meet someone who steals your blinks away. So brief. But in a sliced-open second, love can be found.

7. The others do not have to hide. You can still find room inside the carved box of your mind to love the others. To remember them. But do not romanticize. There is a reason they are no longer in sight. But love never goes away. It just elipses……

8. Ray LaMontagne on repeat.

9. Unfold your hiding spots and play seek.

10. Love like you have not watched any of the movies. This is your script to write.

[this] happened.

There was that time the lights remained off.

There was that time your palm was just a palm and when you searched it for directions, it simply led you back to you.

There was that time you did that thing but you kept it to yourself.

There was that time you traveled where there were no outlets. There were no switches. And then, you just remained present.

What will happen if you stop photographing your belongings? What will happen if the only friends you have are the ones who fit inside your home? (the ones who call when it’s just a thursday) What will happen if you do a good deed but do not post about it?

Are you still good? Are you still alive? Are you still human?

Are you validated?

how to remain without remaining still.

“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel. And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another.”
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender

Be unpossessed about being just one thing. I do not own just one t-shirt or sweater. I have several different trousers and more than one pair of shorts (which used to be trousers). How can I possibly expect myself and those around me to just exist in one way through one set of clothing. Undo your threads. Allow those around you to challenge what it looks like to settle in.

“Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.”
Judith Butler

beyond breath control.

When I meet someone new, their first question becomes one I am often ready for.

What do you do?

My answer? I breathe.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

I’ve carried this Eleanor Roosevelt quote with me to every apartment and home I’ve lived in. I want to remind myself that sometimes I need to be uncomfortable in order to remember how to survive and move beyond it. When I find myself in yoga class, upside down or stretched in a position where I am suddenly aware of all my bones, sometimes I forget to breathe. Sometimes I forget that my body is like a machine. Switches often turn off and we often must manually turn them back on.

Beyond breathing, sometimes this frightening activity includes engaging. Walking toward someone and letting them know how stunning their brain is or maybe it’s about entering a room full of strangers or beginning a new job or letting go of an activity or human that is just not right for you.

Eleanor said it best, but I’d revise and say do two things or try out a day full of things that scare you. These are the days when you validate not only your existence, but your bravery.


Dear Rebel,

I am hoarding wine beneath my tongue. I’ve disarmed my hips for another and this one seems to be carefully slipping love notes inside the marrow of my bones. How do you nourish your memory. In what ways do you feed the scratch-outs on your soul. Eighteen years ago, I paid a stranger to press purple ink into my lower back through single-serving, vibrating needle. He joined circle and lines into a universal woman sign. I carried that female insignia for all these years, which slowly turned from friend to acquaintance to stranger. Are there indentations on your body that no longer belong to you, Rebel. Recently, I paid a guy from Bolivia to alter my gender marking. He told me all about the places he traveled to and the days he scarred his thighs with illustrations to practice being an artist. What would it look like to practice being human. Last week, I carried a rock resembling a tiny egg and an eight line poem by Vera Pavlova. She reminded me that if there is something to desire/ there will be something to regret. But in desire, there is so much breath. The weight of our exhales, Rebel, can turn our forearms into paved roads. Our shoulders into mountain tops. Our chests into stationary reservoirs. Let’s swim in all this burgundy lust, which can be found in Poets, Chefs, Former Monks, Music Makers and Hippies. We can climb our way toward the tallest tree top and swing from the branches of its origin. I am finally digging myself out of all these roots, untangling and recognizing the hybrid in me. Let’s eat up all these question marks and digest the answers that come.

reading palms.

PalmistryCharts_02Some palms are like walls. Too spackled and hidden to read. But when she let me grab her left and right and sit it in mine, I could have read for hours. She held novels within each crease. I traced each finger as though I had never seen one before; hers could have lead me to believe in anything.

She told me mine were artist hands. You’ve crossed borders on your knuckles, haven’t you? she said. I called her fingers pianos. I forgot to ask if she played any instruments. Maybe because I already know.

Around us, poetry. Occasionally, we would stop to listen. But I would not let go of her hand. I could not call her beautiful because that word describes days or meals. It is used everyday on too many things. She is more like a mountain. Difficult. High. A rubble of lives. Impossible to leave behind.

I pressed my fingers into her back. Rubbed at her energy. Yellow. Dim. Glow-in-the-dark.

I asked her to hold her gaze into my left eye for two minutes. I needed time to untwist the tether of her mind. 52 seconds, I taste salt. One minute 7 seconds, she drips fourteen yesterdays. One minute seventeen seconds, I see why she flinched when I touched her chest. One minute thirty one seconds and I feel what she feels. One minute forty nine seconds and I see green and owls and can taste the elephant in her.

Two minutes and I ask her what that led her to see or feel.

She smiles and I want to be homeless. She smiles and I want to be homeless so that I can beg her for the shelter that lives inside her smile.

I can’t…I can’t speak, she said.

Her face is contagious. I tell her to pause.

A poet walks on stage and she tells me that he is her friend. We watch and my knee touches hers and her shoulder leans against my forearm and all this touching should never have to end. Should never have to be named.

After our palms become instruments to honor the poems left on stage, she turns to me. I let her move my hair, which is far longer than hers but more masculine.

She whispers: Cement. I felt and saw cement.

I laugh because this is what I do. I touch people. I heal. I read. But I’ve never heard this before. I want her to clarify, but I also just want to leave that word alone.

It is getting noisier, but our pitch remains the same. We are now reading each other’s lips. Hers are small and she bites down on the bottom as though she is reeling it in like something she has just caught. Her teeth are crooked and charming. I whisper into her left ear a paragraph from Fear and Loathing. I ask her what she has memorized. When she leans in and presses her breath up against my hair and neck, she softly slurs: my name.

When midnight arrives, the chairs are put away and the lights tell us it is time to go home. I ask her to drink tequila with me because earlier she called this the liquid that causes her self to be left behind. We walk across the street and drink it on ice with sour mix. We both leave our straws behind as I hand her my passport and go page by page, reading out each stamp. She listens, creating poems in her head that I’m sure will be read on tomorrow’s stage. I want to kiss her but I am indelicate with my mouth and instead I press my chest to hers and we embrace. Tomorrow, her palms will be hungover and I will wonder about the three identities I located inside her. I will try to place the name of the forest her smell reminds me of while finding the remains of her salt still swimming in my skin.

how many words are in your lexicon.

for  s.

She told me lovely. I mentioned exist. Another reminded me human. That one deep into Brooklyn said collarbones. He said sad, but clarified more of an exude than a vocalization.

How many words exist (see?) in my throat or lay dormant on my tongue (another one!) until another sits beside me to hear my sounds.

What decides the cut? Is it the music that occurs when each syllable or accent is accentuated? My least favorite word is wound. Is this because of the “oo” sound? As though something tragic is occurring?

She writes that maybe we can find our way back to each other through language. That when we lose one another, we can travel the roads that lead us back through vocabulary instilled on others. These parts of speech are contagious. And like most communicable diseases, it happens without even realizing when or how or where.

One human (there it is) I fell in love with added a “u” into my words and she gave me an accent, which I still enforce into some of my sentences. Another human introduced wicked, an adjective that made another cringe, so I did my best to drop it.

When I teach writing, I ask my students what makes up their glossary. I write all the accumulated (there goes another) words onto the chalkboard to see if there are any similarities. How many are nouns and are there any verbs? Mostly adjectives. I encourage them to purchase a thesaurus and practice replacing their “go to” words with their similarly defined counterparts.

If we stripped our tongues–like we strip our bodies–of words which weigh us down or define us, what is left. What words are we forgetting when we get lost inside the repetition of vocabulary.