that time you took your shirt off

It was a Thursday and the sky was a shade darker than your silverware. You took your shoes off and slung your fingers inside each one as you let your toes feast on the sand, full of cracked shells, twigs and occasional cigarette butts and remainders of glass.

You were with the one you love. The one who searched for the perfect spot to rest blue bed sheet and stack of sandwiches to house your testosterone-fueled appetites.

You placed your sneakers on the corners to hold the sheet down, took a deep breath and inhaled the Atlantic. You kept it in your lungs until you had to let go. All that salt. Waft of seagull wings swirling down your throat.

You look around and see bare breasts and strings of fabric covering up the other parts. You love seeing bodies being celebrated, uncovered and unapologetic.

You look at your lover, who is blinking in the ocean.

And then. You remove your Batman black t-shirt. You remove your binder. You are bare chest and excited nipples.

Your lover removes his t-shirt. Then, binder. He is bare chest and hairy nipples.

You leave your green bandana on, which hugs your neck.

You leave your gender behind for an afternoon at this beach, which is far more gay friendly than the one you usually go to. Several hours later, when you both decide to ride bikes for awhile and explore the nooks, you shake off the sand on your skin, flatten breasts back beneath binder, with Batman t-shirt back on.

You think about Nebraska. Skinny dipping beneath that dark sky. Allowing yourself to be self-conscious for only fifteen seconds. Then, recognizing that these humans– these poets, these artists, these magic makers– see past what your parts look like and recognize you simply as human.

Nudity can be like a shout-out: Hey, look at me! Look what I got. This is what I am!

Nudity can also remind us and others that we are not what we think/feel we are: Hey, forget all this. It’s just the scaffolding protecting the best parts, the parts you cannot see.

On a Friday evening, one day later, you walk on stage and tell a story that is yours, but in someone else’s voice. The audience does not know that it is another human speaking on behalf of your memories. Sometimes it is easier to relay the messages of your mind through a different medium: oil painting, collage, choreography, sculpture, song, poem.

Even all those times you were in various stages of nude, the audience never really saw you.

Then on Saturday, several hours later, you wonder when you might finally take that scaffolding down.

this night leaks homelessness from each exit of air.

On the evening before we are handed an extra hour of minutes, I walk toward east fourth street for some poetry. In my teeth, are the dried mandarins that burst in my mouth with each clap of tooth. There is an applause of bites as I eat more until my tongue is too sugared to speak. I walk up the stairs to a bar with more red than in my hair. So many bottles lined up like stained-glass slurs. I order the cheapest beverage with Brooklyn in its name. It tastes like a hangover. One other woman exists in this bar. She is eating from several to-go tins and I sit, accompanied by broken-in red notebook and black pen. As people enter, what arrives as romantic are the dim shadows over faces. Another poet sits beside me and we roll our eyes around each other. In this light, we are both humans. My supper is this room. I want more of some things and push others beneath the ridges of my notebook. Wang Ping walks behind microphone with length of hair like letters from every lover from first grade to this one. So many words in every dark strand clasped together. She says, “Language…like woman…looks best…when free… naked.” And I want to weep toward this image of dialect on skin. Later, I purchase a stale eclair from a cart for an evening performance of drag and disrobe. I think about the ways in which I envelope my gender lately. On this night, I head toward a theatre for women and trans-folk. I make a small space for myself in a corner of small dressing room where nudity replaces handshakes. I bind my breasts in electrical tape and cannot stop fondling the flatness. When I paint my face, I am other. Two humans on this earth call me animal and I like this moniker of blur. These hours of waiting to go onstage are like curious drips of blood falling on my shoulder. I want to wipe all of this away; I want to run toward its origin. Later, I walk home. The glitter covering my face and limbs are my street lights. I follow my glow back to Brooklyn. Home is where hot tea waits for me. And a painter. A musician and bearded poet. I sleep alone, but my bed is full of the ghosts of others.

Mapping my way through gender with books

There are moments which can be marked through books.

I don’t recall most memories of my childhood, but I remember what I felt when I first read Anne Sexton or digested the cut-up language of Dodie Bellamy in Cunt-Ups. Or Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Or the thoughts I had when I read Rubyfruit Jungle the first time, then the second and third. I could list all the writers who led me to want to translate my own language: Dorothy Allison, Thea Hillman, Kate Bornstein, Eileen Myles, Charles Bukowski, Sapphire and Michael Cunningham.  And most recently: Eli Clare, Ivan E. Coyote, Ariel Gore, Lidia Yuknavitch, Cheryl Strayed, T Cooper, Alison Bechdel, and Max Wolf Valerio.

Then there are the writers who supply us with the ink when we feel we have run out. They might even spit against the dried up stream of black or blue. For me, this writer is j/j hastain.

As a writer, I get how books can be like bodies. And the way it feels to rub against them and underline the best parts. And we become monogamous and sometimes polyamorous with these books, introducing them to others and sometimes selfishly keeping them to ourselves. I have lost a lot of books to lovers, but hopefully they passed them on and continued the lineage of the words inside the binding.

A few nights ago, after a long day of work, then a poetry open mic at a dark bar in Brooklyn, I noticed a package in my kitchen and a book inside: Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace  Peterson. I am so honored to have some of my poems published inside this book alongside trans and genderqueer warriors that I have been reading for a number of years. Writing can be so solitary, but being in this book feels like I am surrounded by family, a giant table where we are feasting on each other’s words.

Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics is a new anthology celebrating 55 diverse poets speaking and writing about gender and language in a way that feels a bit revolutionary. These are true experiments on the page that perform through emotive theatrics. I am still navigating my way through gender. I am still figuring things out and rummaging through lost languages in order to map out the queer on/in me. This book is a learning experience, a gender studies course, a historical scar creating a permanent marking on every body that speaks into it. Read these poems out loud! Buy the book and purchase a few extra because you are going to want to share this.