it’s not an uncertainty about my own masculinity, or a concern that someone would challenge that. rather, it is a concern that my femininity, and that which doesn’t fit into the either/or (but is, in fact, my own perfect blend) that will be ignored or dismissed. see this beautiful boy. see that he is as delicate and strong as his sisters. i don’t care much for a challenge to my masculinity because i don’t care much for my own masculinity. see this small, beautiful boy. he is as much a man as any of you. don’t reassure his masculinity, love and cherish his femininity. it is a thorny bramble, lipstick filled with sharpened knives, a kiss with a bruised mouth, a hard cock underneath the prettiest dress. it is, my darling, just perfect.
consider this the undressing.
the peel of skin off muscle,
the tendon translucent rope
lashing mast to sail.
(the frame of the boat is
consider this the undressing;
the tear of cloth,
the breaking buttons,
(the exquisite sound of it all;
crisp and neat.)
not the same as the marrow,
not the guts spilling, sublime.
i told you once about the scar tissue. how i imagined them half moon smiling, a productive rope of sutures reshaping the boundaries of the body. but i didn’t know how it would be; could just imagine the other scars peeled off and re-affixed on top of ribcage, under arch of collarbone and foundation of sternum.
but here is how it is: the ropes are still candy pink licorice and when he presses his fingers into them and asks can you feel this? they turn into sticky sugar whips hugged around my torso. the hair has grown back and then some in soft dark fur. it creeps up from my belly and sits newly welcomed on the convex of muscle.
here is how it is: the soft rub of the cotton against the skin; the nipples no longer tender or nerve-end-reattaching-prickly. the posture of the body is slowly straightening, the shoulders their own body part now, more than acting as an unstable framework for decaying tissue.
they want me to tell you it is a different body. they want me to tell you this body had to be reassigned, dismantled and recreated.
instead i will tell you this body is the same, welcoming itself back into the world after a quiet rest. i will tell you this body, once adorned in dresses and breasts, fake fur and feathers, is the same body that still appears in certain dreams.
bird is caught. spread wings held fast with sterile medical pins to a dissection tray. heart still fluttering at 100 beats a minute. increase in heart rate due to the impending examination. feathers flayed and panic twitch against the pins. blood trickle of scientific stigmata. beak half open, a bird’s pant. panic. pant. shadow of hand of doctor above. of young child in biology class experiment. of sadist 4 year old wanting to learn how it all works. he pulls a feather from the right wing. gasp of sound from bird’s mouth, a whisper of the wind he last flew upon. gnarled toes claw at air, trying to steady himself but only bucking against the wire entangled to keep him still. bird struggles. bird waits. patiently though scared for the end to this. feather is examined with careful notetaking and bird feels the ghost limb where she once was attached to him. feather bristles, longing for contact but is placed in a tray next to bird. pictures will be drawn later, labels affixed.
7 minutes. freewrite.
bird fought hard for this body. built nests out of chicken wire and discarded drag queen hair to protect against the elements. every season a different shape to the nest. in march, the needles and bootlaces of a stranger. in may, the bitten off nail nubs of mournful parents. in december, the nest is soaked in blood and spit, held together by the cupped hands of warm stones at the cliff’s edge. bird fought hard for this body. preened to shine his feathers, attempting to catch the eye of the neighboring squirrels, then covering his beak with a shy duck of the head into the moss. the squirrels chattered and kept their distance, leaving acorns by bird’s autumn and winter nests, whispering to each other what they thought bird might be building for the next season. bird fought hard for this body. the delicate bones, the curve of beak, the crook of his tiny bird knees. he was slow to fly but ambled among the crags of the rocks and easily hopped from branch to branch. in the mornings, he stretched left wing first, pulling the night from his quills. then the right wing, a ritual of attention.
10 minutes. reclamation.
freewrite: 12 minutes
this morning she scratched at my window. crying to get let in and bleary eyed i half fell out of bed, grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and threw her into the hallway. moments like that where i know that children, in any traditional sense of the situation, are not in my future. or even a dog probably. i’m enjoying being selfish with my time these days. or at least the time in my room. haven of hoarded clothing for post-surgery fashions, art postcards and letters from across-country friends lining my wall, books and books and books. my room would light up in a bonfire if a stray spark ever flew. i remember writing about how scared i was of a house fire. college notebook thinking about the apartment patricia, then haley and i shared. all the friends that slept on the chartreuse stripped velveteen couch i bought for $50 from the hadassah house in skokie. my first night in that apartment spent there while i waited for delivery of first double sized mattress. alone in the apartment that night. excited. unknowing of the simultaneous trauma, support, blessings and delicious feasts that would make their way into that apartment over the next two years. clifton avenue. we would lock bikes to the chain link fence out front and the poorly boundaried landlord who spoke too loudly and grew up in the apartment would get mad at us. i’ve always lived places where landlords have suspected us of housing too many people. but really there was just a constant stream of visitors. sleepovers so that alejandro and lisa didn’t have to go home after late nights. that summer where it seemed there was a different person every night. that summer we went to des moines, then omaha. two car caravan of city queers off for adventure. we picked up kristina in iowa, spent time with haley’s family. cyndi was a smoker then. i hated it. it made my stomach turn to smell it on her and i would have mini panic flashbacks. haley’s dad, lonnie, telling lisa and cyndi that smoking was bad for them in his half serious deadpan.
object as intended: freewrite: 12 minutes
the image of the tea kettle on stove is reassuring. every house i walk into i check out two things. location of books and tea kettle. if there is no tea kettle there seems to be a hole on the stove, waiting to be filled with the steam of wintertime company. my tea kettle is paul revere brand, as given by my mother, two match hers. since my sophomore year of college it has collected the orange rust stickiness of grease stains. i once was, but can no longer be bothered with scrubbing in down. no longer the silver of my mother’s kettle but something layered and dense, and yes, a little dirty, but mine.
he lifts the kettle off the stove. the kitchen is cold, the only heat emanating from the front gas burner. pours water into french press of albina co-op tea blends–cool out and immune boost to keep him focused for homework and free from the constant sickness of last winter. sometimes he talks distractedly to me, sometimes bangs the kettle down with too much force, squeals, calls to his boyfriend who lies in bed with the cats. “kristopher, come pay attention to me. do you want tea? drink this coffee jesse made. can i give him the rest of your coffee? kristopher you should ask before you take jesse’s food.” we laugh at him, scatterbrained and constant in his stream of thought. no filter. back to the kettle. we refill it hourly, it seems, on cold days when we are all home. add water to half heated water, wait for the boil to begin. mugs of morning coffee, afternoon tea and the strong whiskey-lemon-ginger toddies we drank all last december and january. back to the kettle. rachel’s hands are toughened from food service work and she calmly lifts the black plastic handle without flinching. i use towel, rag, hoodie sleeve to lift the kettle and not hurt my heat sensitive, social worker hands.
object re-envisioned: freewrite: 12 minutes
ginny sits on the scrubbed wood floor. around her, in half circle, a drum kit of upended pots of varying sizes, a tall, empty quaker oats container and fresh scrubbed silver tea kettle sit and she has the stage. wooden spoon in one sticky hand and whisk in another she loudly bangs in rhythm on each of her different drums, chanting songs about the family of ducklings she found yesterday nestled in the wound up garden hose and about asim, the boy n her class that she thinks has very cute dimples. “ducklings why are you so small, maybe one day you’ll be tall. boys with teeth and lips and hair, sit in class, in line and stare!” she bangs on the tamale pot, the biggest of her drums, her bass drum and knocks out the beat of her song. bumpah bumpah bump bump pah! with that a final crash of the whisk on the tea kettle the way she ends every song because it is her favorite sound. it sounds different depending on how much water her mama has left inside it. hollow, empty rattling when all the water is gone and full it is deep and heavy sounding, like when she hits the metal posts on the playground with rocks at recess. today it is maybe half full, she thinks, and echoes loudly when she hits the side, like the way a submarine might sound if she threw a rock at it. with a final flourish, she tips the kettle into her mouth and pours the cold water in, chugging and dripping water down the front of her brown corduroy jumper. “thank you! thank you!’ she shouts to her audience of stuffed animals and kitchen spices, waving the kettle around so much that it splashes water into the whole crowd.
metaphor, body parts: freewrite, 10 minutes
sweat. points on the body that glow like embers. between the rock of chest muscles, the simmering of belly, glowing lit tips of fingers. heavy scent, thick as cinnamon, cardamom, ash. flashes of skin smell when i cook, knead dough, chop onions, my sweat out of tear ducts. milk smell. almonds. sweat instead of body above me, sweat becoming the density of bone, the foundation. i dig in dirt to pull up the glands seeping sweat into nutrient saturated loam; the beginning of a body. press seeds into. plant something i may or may not find later. the starts that curl out, the fresh green sharp smell of them; the unknowing green of survival.
sexy in every day locations #1: freewrite, 5 minutes.
i wrap fingers through chainlinked fence, cold metal of chicago november. close my eyes, hear the rattle of rough and tumble summer bounty. memory of sweat thick voice in ear, streetlamp fury of kiss, spark of palm on face. gravel underfoot, keep walking, nearly miss my bus.
#2: freewrite, 5 minutes.
“jim hearts devon” “suzie + kelly 4ever” scratched into the stall door. i am pants around ankles, bare ass on white porcelain, head and bladder whiskey heavy. the room so cold my piss steams. door swinging open and shut, echoing shouts, laughter, water out of faucet. rest my head against graffiti-ed tile wall.
body part zoom in: free write, 10 minutes.
i do not know that toe.
above rubber sole and hard curve of boot tip,
i do not know that toe.
encased in sock, i imagine, half moon of toe nail
big toe snug spooning against four smaller siblings.
i know cheek to boot
cool leather on flushed face
but i do not know that toe.
know firm nudge of boot;
steel toe? i do not know.
just hard welcoming arch of laced up tight
of matte sheen, clean boots, never without.
but i do not know that toe.
know only grateful acknowledgment of boot,
soft voice through well worn leather
again, cool leather, breathing leather fitted around unknown toe.
my head bowed, no eye contact
no toe contact
just once animal now messenger of my voice to you.
cheeks whisper of please and sir to your toe
new writing group. such fantastic people to practice writing with. honored to be asked to join. looking forward to these new relationships.
freewrite. 12 minutes
the gray days set something off in me. or shut something off is maybe a better way to describe it? the clock slows, mornings don’t ever become afternoons. instead i lie in bed imagining sun coming through the window and enticing me to put on my pants and get my ass up. i drink coffee in bed instead, hoping the caffeine will jumpstart something. it doesn’t, so instead i plan morning meetings, late morning excursions with friends or else i think i might just stay in bed all day. once in awhile i do, though i try not to.
rainy days remind me of moving to portland. traveling from snowy mountain passes into this cool wet city. the rain smells like the december i got here. i was so in awe of the green of the fir trees. such a contrast to the bony naked branches i left in chicago. the gray there versus the gray here. there: white snow turned a few hours gray from car exhaust and so many pedestrians. the concrete. the fire escapes. the walls of buildings that wished they had branches. here: white gray of sky on mornings when rain is delicate. dark gray of clouds hanging heavily above rainsoaked streets. the bikers next to cars next to parks that contrast bright green to gray. the stillness of my neighborhood before noon on a rainy day. wet gray silted footprints of the cats woven in circles across the black wood finish of the living room, dining room and kitchen.
sometimes, when the sky is not white, that death colored sky white that i hate, it seems the grays here have more depth. the range of the gray scale has its own density. where in chicago the gray takes a back seat to the multicolored signs, garbage piles, cars upon cars upon people milling about. i appreciate portland’s grayscale. even if it does make my energy drop down to my toes. at least its acknowledging itself. in chicago the gray tries to hid behind everything else. loses its own brilliant character. pretends not to exist.
prompt: drama in the everyday. two people purchasing a mattress. 12 minutes.
no, nevermind, i don’t like that one.
what about this one?
sit on it, it’s not comfortable.
but it’s not for you.
(he sits gingerly on the edge of the last mattress in the row. not getting too comfortable. not letting the full weight of his 120 pound bony frame dent the mattress at all.)
i thought you wanted to come with me for this. (the other one, tall and baritoned soft voice breaking the thickness of the space between them.)
i did. do. i’m fine. (he stands, goes to the tall one’s side, wills his body to relax into the tall one’s hand on his shoulder.)
i’ll visit you, you know. (his eyes looking up into that treasured face.)
i know. (they know it will be months until he comes back for a visit, that the trip to move the tall one out here changes everything.)
(this will not be my bed, he thinks.)
by the time it’s delivered, i’ll be gone. (he says.)
i know. (baritone voice steady, hand still on shoulder.)
(i love you, 120 pound frame thinks, trembling under the tall one’s warm hand.)
i know. (steady hand, steady voice; sure of this decision.)