on the road pt. 3

“The two impulses in travel are to get away from home, and the other is to pursue something – a landscape, people, an exotic place. Certainly finding a place that you like or discovering something unusual is a very sustaining thing in travel.” – Paul Theroux

First semester of graduate school and my professor asks us to state our name and where home is. These literary-soaked strangers name places on the west coast, in the middle and a few from the south. I hadn’t lived in many places, but none really felt like home to me and what does home even look like. So instead, I thought about the place I knew the best but felt at home in the least: my body. My professor was not impressed, a little confused and asked about a place on the map. I said it again: my body. He made that sound men make when they just want you to concede.

We collect stamps in passport books and catalogue our trophies from everywhere we’ve traveled: post cards, shot glasses, magnets, t-shirts. But what about the markings on a body. That bullet-shaped hole beside my knee from challenging, beautiful, love-soaked canoe trip in Canada; blisters on feet from all that walking in Amsterdam; sunburn and hair loss and sore throat and those pants from that thrift store.

What will be discovered today? What will be lost? What will be mailed back? Someone will say a prayer for a part of the body that never felt like it belonged, so trained hands will scalpel and remove and sew and send home a body that now looks familiar, only bloodied and bruised and tender and right.

Someone else will stand beside that person and wonder what else can be removed. Wonder if one can create a gofundme page for a brain that is soaked in sadness.

Many years later and “my body” is still the answer when asked about where home is. Welcome mat long gone (did it ever exist?), windows stained, door hinges rusty and squeaked, quite a bit of hoarding. No, I guess there is no map with my body’s coordinates plainly presented, but not everything that we (want to) believe in can be seen.

 

This Empty Bowl

from Sara Ahmed’s “Living a Feminist Life”: “An empty bowl that feels like an accusation can be the beginning of a feminist life.”

 

Inside, I put pieces of my hair that appear like loose, bloody windstorms. But isn’t it still empty? I use plastic scissors, because I want my fingers to struggle, as I cut away every claim on my skin that has been denied. I place that man’s voice who asked me why my arms were so scarred. I told him: I tried to kill myself. He said to me: You didn’t do it right. But isn’t the bowl still empty? I place laughter–my own–when fingernails like shovels dug beneath armpits behind knees to tickle. I shouted NO! because it was too much. You kept on you kept on because I was laughing. My NOs got folded in somehow. But isn’t it still empty? I practice expository essays each morning to train my voice into a deeper chord. Use punctuation and footnotes and even an alphabetized works cited to show the archival of trauma. Placed into bowl, but you said it just repeated itself. Isn’t the bowl still empty? I electrocuted my fingers and wrists in order to dig out the wiring trying to disconnect us all. Took photographs of all my stretchmarks because society seems to think they are extinct somehow. Mailed you the history of starvation to explain my discomfort with Western fasting culture. Removed the airbrushed bruising on my brain from every drug I ever used to help me escape. Put into bowl. Watched it disappear. Isn’t the bowl still empty? What does it look like to finally be full?

 

 

A Run-On of Deficiencies

And knee pads as footsteps are not enough

And carved out broken bedsprings are not enough

And Woolf and Lorde and Hurston and Baldwin are not enough

And wound shape comparison, whistle sharps are not enough

And spoons burnt from below are not enough

And museums and meditation, not enough

And reoccurring dreams of hostage not enough

And the sex you think you shouldn’t be having, not enough

And cage. And babies. And babies in cages. Not enough.

And the reason your body odors and resistance. Not. Enough.

And hymns. And disbelief. And disbelieving hymns. Not enough.

And liberated spines and discounted lacerations and everything we choke on that cannot be deciphered. Not. Enough.

And incubators and incubating and departments. Depart. Mental. Isms.

Not. Enough.

Archived and Bodily

After a certain age, you don’t have a figure; you have a body.”  —Bobbie Louise Hawkins

 

All of this is borrowed, isn’t it? This sky with tear-dropped cumulous barely belongs to any of us. What they used to whistle at is now pillowed and pockmarked, and if you look closely enough there is a misspelled slur. What would it look like to archive all of this. Catalogue recently pierced ear, measure diameter of hole still remaining in tongue, separate sod from soil, open up the grave behind heart.

Maybe it is erasure, maybe it has become too queered. All of this, symptoms. Your lassoed hair. The cigarette burn above right knee. The alleyway behind throat. All of the arguments which grime beneath fingernails. The places on your body which could have used stitches. The audiobook of your belly.

You don’t have to figure; all you need to do is body.

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.

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