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.

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dial tone

I play a furiously combative game of phone tag with my body.

When my body finally picks up, call waiting beeps me out of line.

My body informs me that I am too elusive and not committed enough to my internal infrastructure.

 

There is an uncomfortably long [estimated 437 minutes] bout of silence between my body and I on the telephone.

My body is clearly housing a collection of disgruntlement.

 

I call up 1-800 Flowers and order a bouquet of 

just because with peonies and alstroemeria.

My body sends it back without hesitation.

 

I try again, knowing I have over three decades to make up to my body.

I paste letters to its skin. Create melodies for poems celebrating its bones, even the broken ones.

 

I make my body a meal of coq au vin; it reminds me its a vegetarian.

I bake my body cookies; it tells me it no longer ingests sugar.

 

I pay $4,700 for an apology in the sky. But it was windy that day and by the time my body looked up,

my words had swiped themselves away.

 

anniversary of breathing

Did I ever tell you of that memory, seeing “F” beside my name and thinking it stood for Friday. Thinking: this must have been the day I was born. To be defined by a day of the week, rather than smudged genitalia. Wouldn’t that have been something.

* * * *

(conversation between two)

I thought about labeling myself as a couch. Slipping that into my gender marker. 

Why?

Well, I’ve been sat on. My springs are loose. I’ve had overnight guests drape themselves all over me. Notice all these stains. Crumbs of lost meals. 

I guess that sounds like you.

Right? I had a partner call me wishbone once. Maybe I’ll just refer to myself as bone scraps.

* * * *

Today could be referred to as some sort of anniversary:

The day I ripped open my mom’s body.

Or the moment I breathed in the fumes of new jersey for the very first time.

& an accumulation of stretch marks and toiletries.

Or reminder of all the friends I’ve lost track of.

Just another reason to eat cake.

* * * *

An ode to me:

Everyday, before coffee 
& kiss-climb limbs against my other,
I 
inventory my parts to make sure they still remain:
all my teeth, or the ones which matter
gather up bouquet of knots left behind 
on pillow case
feel around for leftover meals 
clinging to my cheek
swallow all the yesterdays that 
have a difficult time being left

today,
i try not to batter my hips with
too much judgmental
too much writer's block
too much emphasis on the 
black hole of bank account

today,
i eat cake
because i am supposed to
because i want to
because i can call myself a couch
or a loaf of bread
or i can call myself door number three
and even if no one else notices, 
i see the evolution of breaths 
on my soul

the heroic body

originally published by great weather for MEDIA

 

When I was twenty-six, I gave my body away. But also at nineteen. And maybe twelve. Details are unimportant and have already been documented through ripped skin and hollowed tongue, so instead, I’ll make a mix tape of the trauma:

  1. Do I Move You?—Nina Simone
  2. Another Lonely Day—Ben Harper
  3. Colorblind—Counting Crows
  4. La valse d’Amelie—Yann Tiersen
  5. Burning Bridges—Chris Purkea
  6. Cleaning Apartment—Clint Mansell
  7. Change of Address—Marina Marina
  8. Fjogur Piano—Sigur Ros
  9. February—Gregory Alan Isakov
  10. The Rip–Portishead
  11. Dumb—Nirvana
  12. I Bleed-Pixies
  13. Son’s Gonna Rise—Citizen Cope
  14. That Moon Song—Gregory Alan Isakov
  15. Wake Up—Arcade Fire
  16. Home Again—Michael Kiwanuka
  17. Red Dust—James Vincent McMorrow
  18. The Winner Is—Devotchka
  19. Remember Me as a Time of Day—Explosions in the Sky
  20. Breathe Me–Sia

&

I’ll alphabetically list colors that could create a collage bright enough to illustrate it:

  1. alabaster
  2. bloodied knee from fist fight
  3. cysts
  4. denim
  5. exercise on a body after thirty-six years of sporadic movement
  6. forgotten grapes left in backpack from a camping trip, found six months later
  7. guitar string—the unplucked one
  8. how can one really describe purple
  9. illiterate notebooks, smudged from the rain/ someone left the windows open so now all that is left to read is / mold
  10. january sky on a friday four hours before snowstorm
  11. krystal meth [sic]
  12. left wrist after the breakdown
  13. marzipan
  14. nest of loons
  15. orgasm (the kind that means something)
  16. pie crust—overbaked
  17. quetzal
  18. radish
  19. something similar to yellow, but more like rubberband
  20. the inside of her kiss
  21. umbilical chord left unsnipped until first birthday
  22. very sour cherries
  23. what suburban new jersey looks like when you are high
  24. x-girlfriend’s mole
  25. your biggest secret
  26. zest from pomelo

or

perhaps it is even more accurately documented in this transcript which traveled from public bathroom floor to underneath chuck taylors to my hands, raw from —-

X: It meant nothing.

Y: Only if nothing means the carpal tunnel syndrome of wounds.

X: Pardon?

Y: The numb. Knowing there is something there, waking up. Trying to yawn out of skin, but—

X: It can’t.

Y: Nothing means nothing anymore. Everything is found. Known. Cut-up into an argument.

X: But. But it can go away.

Y: Only if away means a permanent disconnection of hypnotized raw. The uncooked symbolism of everything that has been taken.

X: Or given—

Y: Yes…away.

one day.

One day, you will rise out from the ghosts of your bones and declare your entire body a forcefield of beauty.

One day, doors will no longer be a vehicle for slamming or keeping others out, but the shape of a wooden welcome banner.

One day, you will walk outside and forget about the trauma of yesterday; instead, you will gasp at all the oxygen and color and music and calories awaiting to be consumed.

One day, you will not be afraid to keep going.

One day, you will finish all the books you had difficulty starting and then, write a poem for all the days that led you here.

One day, you will try out religion again.

One day, you will ask yourself out on a date and actually enjoy…no, savor… the company of your skin.

One day, you will eat without guilt, without mathematics, without purge.

One day, you will leave your declared sexuality behind and experiment with the language of all-of-the-above.

One day, you will dance in the middle of an ocean and flap your arms against the salt that has waited for your swallow.

One day, you will finally go to all the lands you read about in the Travel section of The New York Times.

One day, you will finish your novel.

One day, you will forgive yourself.

One day, you will learn how to trust men again.

One day, you will remove part of your body in order to feel whole.

One day, you will get married and it will not be synonymous with any other contract or relationship. It will be gorgeously queer.

One day, you will sleep through the night.

One day, you will recognize your body.

One day. One day. More.

this is when we had to wait

originally published on great weather for MEDIA

 

I am younger than this moment. Maybe six or four or eleven years old. Tilted against my mother’s hip or arm outstretched for free sample of stale cheese or aged meat: there I am. Can you find me. Hair fainter than it is right now and much curlier. Longer, of course. My grandmother always begged me not to cut it. Why do we choose to forget how to listen during the times we should most.ah

I grab a ticket made of paper with a number on it and then stretch eyes to a neon screen. There are at least five numbers between the one I have against my palm and the one in lights. We must wait.

Of course, I am at Food Town or Grand Union or whatever New Jersey supermarket will accept the most coupons in this moment in this memory. My mother and I are at the deli counter purchasing processed animals and curds of milk. This is before I lost my ability to remember.

This is when we had to wait.

Remember this? When tickets told us when we could place our order. Doors, which closed and locked, led us far away from phone calls because phones were attached to long, windy chords attached to walls. Texts were on paper, not screens pressed into our over-priced pockets.

This is when we had to wait.

I remember—back when I still could—that I had a pen pal in Operation Desert Storm when that was the war of the moment. I felt strange curling my letters into cursive moments, telling this man—this soldier—about my day. Silly snapshots of lunchtime and unrequited love. Fighting with friends and the mess of my home life. I would wonder what my words felt like for him, when his sounds and mine were so divergent. Then I realized that was the point. We need to be reminded how others live in order to understand how to survive the war you’re in. And we are all in some sort of war. War of mind. Of body. Of political disagreements. Whatever the cause or title may be.

I would wait for his letter to get dropped off into my mailbox by the diligent postal worker. Sometimes, by the time his response reached me, I had forgotten what he was responding to. He’d answer questions I forgot I had even asked him, but the wait was always worth it.

Perhaps we have overlooked the importance of patience. Pausing for an answer. Breathing before pressing out our responses.

I’ve recently challenged this wait even more by exchanging war hero with deceased poet, several decades past his last moment of breath. I know that I will never get an answer back this time—that it is more than just waiting—instead, this time it is about remaining inside the questions. To know that sometimes words are most important when they are written, even if no one is around to read them.

 

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.