ODE TO NAANI AMMI
one two beads strumming down her pink
thumbs & astaghfaar astaghfaar
she sings for her fears
are all too real.
My naani, her anthem of bliss is for
me. Her moonlight of the times when she
lit up the cowfat lamp. Her
beeping radio sound before blackout
Our veranda flooded in eulogies whispered
by naani. she gifts me talismans
she kisses for the umpteenth time before
bed. her poems are mercy. She
calls me mercy. calls me soothe. butter ghee.
calls me the warm oil she floods
my hairline with. Her touch - all feeling
When the gappaywala wails, wait
wait, let silence brood the air &
this is harbinger, she is that autumn
tree I'm preserving. Don't you see
She is me. She/me thumbing tasbeehs
I collect pearl lotuses and embroider
her sapphire necklaces. her tinted
hairline down the equator
ON BEING FAT & DYING
Embrace me in dying light
no whispers, no moving jaw.
sealed mouth you carry
me – in your quake
singed with all the powers
The first time he called me fat
& sick & useless like the Chinese
leftovers, Trump and armpit hair.
He meant it.
He meant it when he staked chemo faggot
through my pelt. I blame DNA like
an unwanted reality, like that surgery
scar kissing my belly. My war prize.
46 chromosomes and my dying light
46 chromosomes & nowhere left to go.
He meant it when he pushed me
down the concrete sidewalk, smell
burnt tyre & sugar spit like it’s heavenly.
like chomping down nails is an act of god.
He asked me to shake the dust & I prided
forever. in sap, skin – all the flesh &
this saturated oil in everything in me.
No blood, no room to call home
adipose a native city. Plump, yet mellow
Whisper in my skin
& love me no more
Lately, I can wade into the ocean
without imagining drowning
I don’t consider the feeling
of opening my skin
with every sharp item I encounter
And I can hold a pen
ramming it deep into my skull
So now I’m not entirely sure
what to do with them
How do I write if
I’m not doing it
to keep the pen on paper
and out of my forehead?
I know my rage is still there,
I never have to fear losing it
But it’s resting for once
and I’m afraid
if I try to pluck a poem
from the blue-hot embers
I’ll wake up every flame
i watched you die last night and left you in the snow
packed ice against your ribcage
keep him like this forever, i tell the coyotes that gather at your boots
he loved basketball and his father, i think or just
was i meant to survive this
your diary on my bedside table. that long finger tracing the veins of my cheek.
i was always blushing. now i wash my mouth out with soap. erase the grit.
i meet my dad for coffee and tell him that you left because we weren’t in love anymore
and it can be true. and i put more creamer into my coffee. and i try to feel something
again. i retrace my steps down chase avenue. past UDF. deleted voicemails. the
newsreels. the national crisis. your blue eyes. your dirtiness. oh my god.
you kept me so hot it was like you were alive.
on the street we used to live on,
i can become anyone:
your mother, a carcass,
streetcleaner, your boss
the woman that lives in the alley
telling me people are so goddamn mean,
a little boy, banging a stick on lampposts down the street, yelling each time
oh my god, another one? he’s laughing. it’s a game, his mother asks him to keep up--
oh my god, another one?
oh my god, another one?
are you eating
meet me where we vanish into white
i can’t find your body anymore
was i meant to survive you
oh my god, another one?
oh my god, another one?
oh my god, another one?
oh my god
arms and legs tuck to make a cradle: a turtle dream. i snuggle into an alcove of thoughts and sheets
silence replaced by the echo of whitecaps. warm darkness beneath the blanket
lit up by bakugou’s explosions, izuku’s countering kick, the sensation of flying. i pretend
to be epic daydreams of dodging attacks, saving pedestrians, telling a joke that’ll make
someone smile. i want to smile. i want to grow flowers and firecrackers
inside bone cocoon, shell full of ocean sounds, anime cries, someone telling me that i am good enough.
there’s a yolky sunlight dripping into my eyes. i collect what i can and dive until only
a lump can be seen above the waves. i sustain myself on iced tea, poetry, and boku no academia. i stay caught up, still indecisive about my own on my future. i am wondering when i will stop
referring to this shell as external. i’d like to be a hero to someone. no poster or news articles.
i’d like to make someone smile because sometimes i do not remember how to and maybe by
enfolding another person inside the shell-- i am nudging my head out from beneath the sheets.
forgive me when i forget to reply to text messages or am too tired to call you. i am not
ignoring you. sometimes, i cannot handle the noise of the outside world, retreating into my own music. there are times when i desire to be condensed, full of energy,
a blind star overlooked by telescopes and astrologists. content to stay a secret
for a little longer. i wake up, sit in the morning like a turtle opening itself to the outside. loneliness is not a bad thing. being soft is not a bad thing. this body maybe more soft than hard, but i have survived this long without being eaten, without losing
myself to scorching sun or birds of prey. i bend the blankets around my body into a functioning carapace and plastron. it solidifies, hardens. i am safe. i am solid, strong. i have not been
eaten. nothing will eat me. my shell is the resonator of an instrument. someone is singing,
airy and tangible like the universe. it might be God or the wind or both. i am here
listening and filling myself up. the airwaves are full of low-fi and sea sounds.
you might think that i am afraid of something. sometimes i am. there are times
when i do not recognize my friends. my eyes fissure over, everything far away, dizzy. sometimes they wave and i miss it by accident. i have been trying to wake up. sometimes
i catch them. it confuses them, when they get a few feet away and i suddenly say hi. i see
their confused expressions, the why-didn’t-you-see-me in their eyes, and i do not know how to tell them that I am a sea child far from home, making do with two legs, classwork,
winter months. that sometimes i am sleepwalking, sleepwaking, that sometimes i am only a sometime presence. i return to my sea cave and unpack my tension
from the day. i love the mornings. when i wake up, there is a brief moment when i am
warm, still drowsy and genuinely love myself. i wish i could stop saying
salt. sugar. light abs make a gradual disappearance, jelly a soft replacement.
love handles firm yet malleable in my hands. i grip the smooth flesh, pull.
the flesh is warm and spiderwebbed with stretchmarks. trace my growth
around the curve, down between thigh and spiral outwards to return to the
handles, rub them over. do not wonder whether or not someone else will
one day grip these handles, want me against them, want me to stay.
salt bones, sugar muscles. flab that hangs, flaps like heavy wings.
my arms hide small diamonded muscles beneath their plumage.
these lungs can carry a song through a storm. these legs can take me anywhere,
even if they’re burning. this larynx can capture and release stories.
i hold my body and my body holds me and we, as one, continue learning how
to navigate one another. i name every place i touch with a memory.
weight is always a scary thing for some reason. that slump over the
border of my light blue jeans is easily seen through certain shirts. can’t tummy
tuck. i used to wear my body like another thing to deal with. thighs felt too big.
never had a flat stomach. couldn’t aim the ball into the basket. couldn’t run
fast enough to win the game. i watched anime and imagined being able
to command my body, be in tune with its movements. flying kicks, backflips,
hand-to-hand combat, limitless pain tolerance. sometimes i still wonder
if i can fly or if i am too heavy.
i am tired of being told that this body is a project that i must continuously
work on. i can eat pizza and greens too. vegetable stir fry or chicken salad
then wash it down with water or a stewart’s orange cream soda. i like
to wear baggy shirts not because my rolls will roll but because i don’t like
things that feel like an extra layer of skin and maybe a baggy shirt is like
wearing a hug, which i don’t get enough of. i don’t want a man anywhere
inside my perception of myself.
i am not chocolate or caramel or any other flavor don’t look at me as if
i am something to order off of a menu something exotic or greasy. i taste
like clay, wobble like jelly, sway to a rhythm of church, rain, lo-fi, loneliness.
i cannot forget the trauma inside the black body. i am a crossroads
of two kinds of suffering which creates a unique kind of suffering.
i see this in the way my sisters and i are told to wear ourselves as if always
ready to be taken, to defend, or to run. i am in the constant process
of separation from historic and current subjugation.
i have experienced joy. i have jumped from swings and for a free-falling
second, caught summer in my hands. i have danced at a party with several
friends and held the dancefloor like my personal bedroom jam session.
i have been held close, been told that i am soft, that i am beautiful not
despite of these curves, this skin, love handles and soft tummy, but because
of them. i have touched myself in the shower, not for need of release,
but because i like that i am solid and present, and soft.
my hips are blessed because my momma’s hips are blessed. the most stable
and tree-like hips. every time she says something about her weight
i hug her and say she’s the most beautiful woman ever. she is one
of the only reasons i know how to call myself beautiful.
we are the most beautiful houses. the most beautiful oceans. the most beautiful
minerals and gradual crystallization. we are glass and shatter, rock and erosion,
tree and roots, spirit and levitation.
i touch every bodypart with a memory, with magic, saltwater.
i will return again and again until the chant is a prayer renewed
and answered in every new layer of cells.
If we match, message me with what song you would Gone Girl yourself to. Do you like Santigold? Lorde’s new album? Have you ever felt hunted? Or crazy? Have you ever been called crazy? Turn another book/movie adaptation about a woman framing her husband for her own murder into a verb while you’re at it. Does it comfort you? Do you feel something when you picture yourself getting away with running away? I don’t want to tell you about what I’ve gone through. I don’t want to tell you about how I came to be both the loudest and quietest survival tactic. What about Beyoncé? Imagine Gone Girl-ing yourself to a Beyoncé song. Let me know how often you drop the word bitch like a spoon, or a piece of paper. Let me know how often you pick bitch back up off the floor because you are able to. How much do you think a single word is capable of? What do you think your own two hands are capable of? Sorry, I know these aren’t the type of questions you ask when you’re trying to get a date. Let me start over: did you grow up here? What’s your favorite song? Have you ever called yourself a feminist and meant it? Have you ever told a woman in your life that you loved them and meant it?
i want to be a good girl™
but online is cursed
and people tell me that i’m not doing it
i have to walk with my feet closer together
so as to take up
l e s s s p a c e
i have to make my voice
two (2) octaves higher
i have to wear high heels
i have to want to have sex
(especially with cis straight men)
i have to move differently
(be more feminine)
I have to tape
the fucked up thing is:
people online ARE REAL PEOPLE
they are the same fucking people as
the people who exist offline
HORNY JESUS-LOVING DYKE
my type of boy is a catholic jesus…
like hanging up there all golden and frail…
my type of girl is… also… catholic
my type of non-binary/
gender non-conforming queero is…
all cummers welcum!
please don’t stare at me in public!
(unless you have cash)
missed connection: theodore, the trans guy
who works at the bunnings in brunswick:
we were in a hurry and I didn’t have time
to flirt with you more but you are hot as… hello!
i’ve been feeling a lot of powerful energies
ever since my cat threw up in the shape
of a perfect number 6, the devil’s number…
when avril said, “uh huh, life’s like this,
uh huh, uh huh, that’s the way it is…” etc.
it’s friday and the bin smells strongly
of various cums :)
often it feels like
even when they can’t see me
that some people’s driving
is straight up transphobic…
a lot of things in this world don’t make sense
like how milk is gross
but cheese is good
only tweeting trans dyke content from now on
and if you don’t like it you can leave :)
if anyone made me transgender
it was trinity in the matrix trilogy,
jessica alba in dark angel,
and pam anderson for vivienne westwood
honestly, the worst* part about being a trans woman
is all the fucking paperwork
*aside from all the terfs and trans misogynists
straight cis white boy:
“it’s funny that you’re trans now
because you’re not very feminine”
me: “suck my dick”
SMOKING KILLS YOU
i started smoking
because it looks ~cool~
and it is a good excuse
to leave a party
and go outside for a little while
also… it kills you
i’ve got second puberty blues
i’m 25 going on 16
i still want to die
like when you glare at me
and/or point at me
and/or laugh at me
and/or make vomiting sounds
or when you yell at me
from your car
to tell me
to kill myself
i want to be alive
just to spite you…
to blow smoke in your faces…
to die on my own terms…
disclaimer: say no to drugs
unless you need them to stay alive
moon, tyrant of the sea, may the tides be her bedding
the witch-tongue her means to speak
& the umber-furl of pine’s spectral mist
her hair to tangle
unfathomable nightbirds shed
their tears of the Estranged
where voids ache in the empty air
come to me, the lilies spill
from the mouth of mourning
infinitely into every distance
I am changed
buried in the dark movements of beloved
the unwritten laws of water
shadow-bringing master, I took, and was taken,
I had to touch, and hold, all that was not mine
a hunger that did not belong to me
I see your pale restlessness in a sky of thieves
you are like me,
gone, unsung, forgotten
made to wander over the sea
where the fine-boned wind breathes
hold me to my name, the kingdom of wheat
and the shore I belong to
press the old-woods to your lips and draw meals,
bleeding silver sideways into marshland,
the dark human waters of mother
already, I am part of you
They stare at me through windows crystalized
Over years and years
From gardens I will never see
Lost to highways, houses
Their jewelry and little bones
Removed, poured in concrete
For a new franchise gym
I breathe on the frames of ancient doors
To create maps of our faces with water-swollen fingertips
Blood left on the lentil
Cut from my own lamb palms
Reading tiny notes with phrases I can’t decipher
But the meaning doesn’t matter only the translation
Their letters reframe me, reminding, echoing
Shoving me back to my beginning
A name connected to lines
That pulse through each initial
Whispering they once lived
In my cells
I won’t continue but
I will give them memory.
YOU ARE MY FATHER
I wait for the magnetism
Our gazes germinate
Avalanche of breaths
Buries the phallus
I have no ancestor
Our current fills the porch
And the question that emerges
Call me babe
These barbecue meat games
23 years ago you are conceiving me
Whiffing your nearest set of armpits
I betray my material
in the Genesee river
My discontinuous bod
So I let myself get runny like this
Slipping through the sieve of crowds
But how will I be a baseball hole
fitted hat pitstrap
Sniff my pig quadrant
you different broseph
I teem with succ fluid
At the coney island
I process my special milk.
Pineapples for self-image
I can’t abide a meager load
I bring you home
to my bromance cave
Daddy’s Dick-scented candle
you love me in front of the playstation
Leave your air jordans on
The first cool day, I drape my knotted body with old sweatshirt, cheap canvas sneakers, a dressing down I usually reserve for home
My period 8 days late, I am crying on the steering wheel, unable to allow myself to mourn my shoulders, how they escalate, how I need to pierce myself and drain the excess I am trying everyday to shove inside my skin like a sack of grains but, you know, the rotting kind
I buy makeup that promises glow or glimmer or another adjective I reserve for how fireflies were the only lanterns I knew for the first hundred years of my country life, how everything smelled electric and benches were jaunty wooden stumped hunks and how your porch leapt when it saw me drifting
Instead of glow, I gloom, dark but iridescent dunked gasping, my body on mute except the dreams where I open drawers of my dresser from college: cateye sunglasses, femme gear, things I haven't touched since I started to feel
In another, I am folding laundry still dewy with sunrise, the hammock a knotted metaphor for my clasped back, how I only jumped off of the roof that once, mattress leafed with autumn sparking bark, my legs collapsing into the swell of soft, my own swells still steeping along my hips, my hands, your hair, hideous fist I begged you to leave rattling in the pickup bed
If I could still play with space, I would
interview with zefyr lisowski
Hey there! I'm excited to have/start this conversation, and I'd like to lead with something we've talked about individually with each other several times—what does hybridity mean to you?
We're conducting this conversation both digitally and in person, and I know you've talked about the blurring of forms between essay/poem/memoir in your work. Certainly for me, in both my writing and my physical embodiment—and yours— there's a certain polymorphousness that I'm excited by, a refusal to, so to speak, check just one box. What does the idea of the hybrid mean to you? How is that shaped for you by digitality, disability, queerness, etc?
early 17th century (as a noun): from Latin hybrida ‘offspring of a tame sow and wild boar, child of a freeman and slave, etc.’
This little snippet gives me pause: a miscegenation of two unlike types.
To me, this dualism speaks to well/unwell; IDK that I'm OK identifying as "polymorphous," but I definitely feel that my writing is doing some of the work of embodying me.
There's some stuff I actually can't even speak about except in my work. As someone with sliding degrees of ability, depending on the severity of each oncoming illness flare-up, hybridity is a reminder of the weirdness of the liminal body I inhabit/have available.
Why does polymorphous feel applicable to you?
I love the idea of writing doing the work of embodiment, rather than the other way around. And the way that hybrid projects these meanings of coerced couplings and slavery is deeply unsettling to me, but also reminds me of why I find etymology so interesting: a way of forcing visibility of those violences that have been rendered invisible by day-to-day use. Thank you for drawing my attention to both of those!
For me, "polymorphous" is part of a project of weirdness, like you note, but it's also a way of making work against the ways in which trans and faggy self-representations have been historically constrained. I'm drawing my use of the word from Freud's "polymorphous perversity," the violence that medical gatekeeping, pathologization, etc, have writ onto bodies similar to my own.
I don't need to explain to you why Freud, like, sucks, but I find something exciting about using this language that infantilizes to refer to my own work, bending the box out of shape by claiming the words that made it. Of course, my ability to claim this language has everything to do with my whiteness, ability to present as abled, and so on. Yet still, I think reclaiming it can be important! Do you know the artist Greer Lankton?
Yeah, girl, you talk about her all the time.
I'm obsessed with her! She was a trans artist in '80s New York, but she made these enormous, mutable, life-size dolls out of scraps of fabric and wire--all kinda monstrous, gender-liminal, but also invested with this enormous care and tenderness. There's a photo of her that I think Nan Goldin or Eric Knoll took where she's sitting in a bathtub smiling, and all these dolls are hovering around her:
I love the idea of crafting other selves/forms as something both deeply eerie and kind, and hope to gesture to those same types of mutability—a polymorphousness, to return to Freud—in my own writing. There's this tenderness, but also sadness, in Greer’s eyes that I keep returning to. I think of poems (like dolls in many ways!) as bodies or imitations of bodies. As I’m building a piece, I think of what it would be like in three dimensions, what part of the poem would be the arm, what it would mean to feel that. Looking at Greer’s process helps me picture that in some ways, feel kinda less alone.
I'm deeply bored by ekphrasis and hope we don't start talking about that, but are there artists or non-writers that you channel in your own writing? What places, besides other words, do your words come from?
I have been working on a pop-ekphrastic series based on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, which I binge-watched when I first got really sick in 2016. I began jotting down slivers of dialogue, and the off-screen narration from one of the characters (usually the titular Grey) that opens each episode.
I like the idea that we can articulate patterns and themes as they happen, which I know comes largely from my work as a writing consultant. This kind of meta-awareness of practice can lead to valuable insights about personal needs in creative projects: I work best on my phone with some tea and a heating pad.
It’s funny that I identify with the GA narratives about doctors and surgeries: I’m so suspicious of the cultural power that MDs wield, but I’m drawn to the intensity of the work as it’s depicted on the show. I waited tables for a super long time—and I loved it—so I harbor nostalgia for urgency, embodied laboring that I can no longer perform since my chronic illnesses have pulled me away.
Otherwise, contemporary poetry is super exciting. I’m constantly favoriting new issues of mags on Twitter and when I revisit the links, I’m like, I should have done this sooner. I also love Instagram meme accounts, although the form is so different from my own work. Something about the disregard for professionalism is enticing.
How/do you find shards of your writing practice showing up elsewhere in your life?
In my text messages, weirdly! Writing poetry has made me a better (or at least weirder) texter, and there's a constant transmutation between texts and poems, switching back & forth. I suspect this is true for most writers of this generation, though—it's really interesting to see how technologies are affecting writing, and I share your enthusiasm for memes as a similarly millennial way of wilding/queering form in these interesting ways.
Even though I think of myself as someone who is bound by the page in some ways—I started making visual art before I really started writing, and keep returning to the physicality of a watercolor brush or sturdiness of a pad of paper in moments of high stress—it's undeniable that digital technologies shape my writing. And that's something that I think is so important to talk about! How have computers, smartphones, etc changed the way we think, or write? In what ways can these changes constitute a queering? (You don't have to answer these questions if you don't want to).
But there's that word "shard" that you used, as well—I'm so interested in rupture and in my current work am looking a lot at different units of breaking—writing about holes, and decay, and glinting. How a thing shards apart. What’s left after the shard. What meanings do the break/shard hold for you or your writing?
That’s not weird!
I think of “shards” often lately: memories, snippets of conversation. I have late-stage Lyme disease, and especially when I’m tired or in pain, I feel much of my emotional and intellectual work appears as these “shards.”
I have an acute memory of hosting Nicole Steinberg, JD Scott, and Niina Pollari on tour in 2012 when I was running the Juniper Bends Reading Series back in Asheville, NC. Niina got up and read weirdly and fabulously off of her phone and I was like, done. I had never seen anyone read off of their phone, and it was such an intensely casual and confident gesture, and she did it in this astounding laid-back style that totally rocked my world.
Obviously, this gesture has become more commonplace, but Niina’s performance laid the foundation for me to start working on my phone: the aforementioned work on Grey’s Anatomy, my first book forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in 2019, much of my work towards my MA and now my PhD—all completed on my phone. I can lay on a heating pad and watch workplace TV dramas and write.
I tend not to tell my PhD colleagues about this behavior, but I do talk to my students at City College and Cooper Union about this, and about how lowering the stakes of *sitting down to compose* has helped me loosen up and experiment with weirdnesses that have always rendered me self-conscious in other writing spaces. I don't know that it's a queering, but it's definitely an important piece of student-centered writing pedagogy!
I'm all about this practice! I think it was you who turned me on to writing on my phone—it’s definitely lower-stakes, but also does weird things with form that I'm interested in. In a lot of ways, phone writing—for me—becomes sort of a box building process, the constraints of the screen (and you know my phone is tiny) a way to get in to the poem immediately, do some weird stuff, and get out. To that end, it's especially good for editing for me, forcing a kind of concision I don't naturally drift to.
I'm preparing to give a conference presentation on ecologies as we're emailing each other so I'm all over the place, but I'd like to conclude by thinking about how technology or writing intersects with our environments, too. My presentation and, like, two of the chapbooks I'm pulling together currently (like a typical Gemini moon, I'm always working on six too many things) is about ~trans becoming~ as a form of kinship-making with surrounding biomes—what it means to queer a body or queer a form of writing against the mass extinctions, etc, that are unfolding everywhere.
I know we're both vegan (which is boring to talk about—vegans, especially white vegans, as you know, suck) so we could obviously talk about animal rights in our poetry or whatever, but I'm deeply uninterested in that. Considering this instead, I'm wondering what it means for you to write environmentally. We're both from North Carolina, which is such a fecund state. For me, the greenery there—the Great Dismal Swamp especially, but the swaths of kudzu across the plains, the dogwoods flowering everywhere, Appalachia—is something that keeps me scrappy. I love those territories of becoming, wildness, and home, and I try to channel in my own writing.
But, of course, "nature writing" as a genre is marked by really intense ableism and also colonialism! So much of the "natural" world is glorified as a way of emphasizing nature writers' physical health, the ability of people or bodies to make do without accommodations. And, obviously, the creation of natural parks, preserves, etc, is an act of theft, stealing the land away from the poor, frequently Black and indigenous inhabitants who were already living there (to say nothing of the original thefts in the United States that happened as part of manifest destiny, etc).
So what I'm constantly trying to do is figure out how I can write about nature in the 21st century without glorifying any of these processes. I'm not sure it's even possible! But how do you connect with the physicalness of your home state yourself, avoiding those toxicities? How does technology intersect with that? I know you aren't even interested in writing about nature, but I see its shadow in a bunch of what you produce, especially how your first chapbook, Soft Switch, uses the moon as a framing device. Where does this sit within you?
You know, I’ve thought so much about how to I neglected to credit the Indigenous
knowledge of the moon that I relied heavily on in Soft Switch, and that's 100% my white privilege showing; we have the ability to ignore historical contributions by BIPOC to all forms of knowledge, but it’s especially pervasive in white *healing* spaces and social justice work.
I apologize for this tremendous oversight, and I commit to unpacking the white entitlement that allowed me access to this knowledge without giving credit to the folks whose labor I took for granted.
When I moved to the west coast, I began to feel my Southerness as I faced loads of anti-Southern language and ideologies (white liberal cities *shrug*). I began to dream of venus fly traps, dogwood & azalea blossoms, afternoon thunderstorms, and while I don’t especially work with the pastoral in my work, I definitely feel grounded in my North Carolina roots, and I know now that much of that ethos carries me through my work.
Roots are so important! Not just metaphorically—although that shit is definitely true—but literally, as well. I’m always trying to find inspiration in the ways plants suck up water, tether themselves, are buried in dirt, as a resistant strategy.