January Links Roundup: God’s Second Draft

Happy 2023, folks. My resolutions this year are to organize, downsize, and appreciate my resources.

Because even when I was a woman, I didn’t need this many handbags.

Caps for Sale!

R.L. Maizes’ satire piece at Electric Literature, “On the Eighth Day God Attended a Writing Workshop,” imagines giving feedback on Genesis:

Levi, flipping through pages: The beginning was a quite a slog. Does anyone honestly care about the firmament? (Workshop participants shake their heads no.) Maybe just start with the apple incident and give us information about the rest of creation when we need it.

Selena, looking up from her laptop: Is the book supposed to be nonfiction? Because I don’t get how a couple like Adam and Eve who are just starting out can afford to live in Eden when I can’t even make the rent on my Jackson Heights studio.

God: Can I just—

Jason: Sorry, Ya. The Author doesn’t get to talk during the discussion. You’ll have a chance later.

This fantastic erasure-poem from J I Kleinberg in the latest issue of DIAGRAM, “Joining the Academy: A Job-Match Game,” discovers gems in found text. Would you like to attend the “College of better odds” or visit “The Museum of jam”? Perhaps you are qualified to become a “professor of sweaty foot smell” or the “Prefect of Lips”.

Also in DIAGRAM 22.6, this set of illustrations from a 1975 ornithology textbook shows birds multi-tasking by eating a lizard during sex. Their facial expressions suggest they know you’re watching and they enjoy it.

In the Jan/Feb 2023 Harvard Magazine, Nancy Kathryn Walecki profiles happiness researcher Arthur Brooks.

The way Brooks sees it, happiness is a combination of enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. The “four pillars” that support that trifecta are family, faith, friends, and work.

“Faith is anything transcendent that helps you escape the boring sitcom that is your life,” he says. It could be a meditation practice, time in nature, religious faith, or even playing music (he recommends fugues by his favorite composer, Bach). Work, on the other hand, is anything that helps a person sustain herself and her family. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a passion, but it should be something that makes a person feel useful in the world…

Americans have an inalienable right to pursue happiness, Brooks says, but are not always good at the pursuit. Instead of putting their energy toward building their four pillars, they chase the four idols: money, power, pleasure, and the admiration of others. “Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re happy,” Brooks likes to say. “She cares if you reproduce. So, the things we crave are not always the things that are going to make us happy.”

…Most of Brooks’s [Harvard Business School] students have an incorrect definition of happiness when they start his “Leadership and Happiness” class, he says. They tell him happiness is a feeling. “That’s like saying that Thanksgiving dinner is the smell of your turkey. Happy feelings are evidence of happiness, not the whole thing,” he likes to say.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this December article from PsyPost reports that “People with unhappy childhoods are more likely to exhibit a fear of happiness, study finds”.

Aversion to happiness beliefs were stronger among people who were younger, more lonely, and more perfectionist. They were also more common among people who believed in collective happiness, believed in black magic or karma, and recalled an unhappy childhood.

“The results show that people from collectivistic cultures are more likely to show an aversion to happiness than people from individualistic cultures,” Joshanloo told PsyPost. “At the individual level, perfectionistic tendencies, loneliness, a childhood perceived as unhappy, belief in paranormal phenomena, and holding a collectivistic understanding of happiness are positively associated with aversion to happiness.”

Importantly, reporting an unhappy childhood predicted aversion to happiness even after controlling for current loneliness. As Joshanloo explains, “This suggests that traumatic experiences as a child may have a long-lasting impact on the person’s perception of happiness, independently of the individual’s satisfaction with current relationships in adulthood.”..

…“It is worth noting that happiness can be defined in different ways,” the researcher added. “People are far more likely to be averse to emotional definitions of happiness (based on pleasure, fun, and positive feelings) than virtue-based definitions (based on finding meaning in life and fulfillment).”

For myself, I am noticing a connection between my vast amounts of disorganized possessions and my trauma-habit of believing that fulfillment is exclusively located in the future. When you live in a constant state of emergency, pleasure can seem like an unaffordable luxury in the present. The affirmation “I have enough” risks reconciling you to an untenable situation. The line between equanimity and despair is hard to perceive.

Transgender historian Jules Gill-Peterson’s feature “Doctors Who?” in The Baffler (October 2022) finds present-day political lessons in the hidden history of transitioners who bypassed the medical gatekeepers.

Fifty years ago, a small group of women of color boarded a bus in Southern California bound for Tijuana, Mexico. They may or may not have stuck out in the crowd of Americans who crossed the border daily for the cheaper rates on goods and services. Once in Mexico, these women, who had journeyed all the way from San Francisco, walked into a pharmacy, bought out its entire stock of estrogen, and then carefully hid it inside their luggage. Back home, they made straight for the Tenderloin.

These women were trans—poor, many unhoused, and most sex workers who faced unending street harassment from the police, clients, and other Tenderloin residents. They were also the self-appointed doctors of their community. In hotel rooms, shared apartments, and sometimes the back bathrooms of quiet bars, they resold and administered the estrogen to their friends—other trans women who could pay in cash for injections. At the turn of the 1970s, this group of ad hoc smugglers and lay doctors were part of a vast and informal market in hormones that stretched along most of the West Coast…

…As the liberal principles of bodily autonomy and the right to privacy are eviscerated, the history of DIY transition offers one path out of the quagmire of zero-sum legal arguments and toward what might come after, or in the place of, state-sanctioned care.

Gill-Peterson describes how institutional trans health care “was explicitly designed to limit access to transition” to those patients who would pass as cisgender heterosexuals after treatment.

As feminists and trans activists struggle against the liquidation of the right to privacy, digging into the connections between DIY transition and DIY abortion is instructive. Both reject how medicalization and the state collude to restrict people’s autonomy. And DIY history suggests that one of the core lessons of trans feminism is that you can steal your body back from the state—not to hold it as private property, but because the state power that polices and punishes your body, just like the doctors who execute its arbitrary policies, is fundamentally illegitimate. DIY treats legitimacy as arising from the people whose lives are most affected by resources and care, not from the abstract power of the state or medical gatekeepers.

The trans liberation activists of the 1970s who dreamed of free clinics were part of a political movement that wanted to depathologize transition, so it was no longer treated as a mental illness or a medical condition that required diagnosis and supervision from clinicians with no vested interest in trans people’s happiness…

…DIY has envisioned freedom in starkly different terms. Instead of pathologizing people to grant them access to medical resources, or relying on the state’s flimsy blessing, activists imagined community-run clinics where people to whom transition matters most would support one another and distribute the care they needed. In that framework, both abortion and gender transition would be something like resources for personal and collective autonomy—means to a life characterized by abundance, not dramatized medical procedures contingent on bizarre criteria of deservingness.

 

Reiter’s Block Year in Review: 2022

A highly eventful year on the Block!

Made My Bones: My third full-length poetry collection, Made Man, was published in March by Little Red Tree, with cover and interior artwork by friend-of-the-Block Tom W. Taylor a/k/a The Poet Spiel. Solstice Lit Mag calls it “a comitragic, day-glo accented, culture-hopping, snort-inducing, gender-interrogating rollercoaster of a ride.” The American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table says, “A mix of somber moments and charming wit, Reiter’s collection makes space for humor in the maelstrom of navigating gendered experiences.” Made Man was included in Q Spirit’s list of Top LGBTQ Christian Books for 2022 and was the subject of an essay on later-in-life transition by J Brooke at Electric Literature.

Persia Marie says, “The cover feels nice to rub my whiskers against.”

Reading from Made Man at the Brattleboro Literary Festival. Shirt by RSVLTS; suit by Hart Schaffner & Marx; body by Valley Medical Group Endocrinology.

Big Pussy: I turned my home office into a cat AirBnB for my friends’ fur babies when they go on vacation. The shy and regal Persia Marie is the child of artist and writer Jane Morrison. Check out her website for sublime Greek landscapes, caricatures, portraits and more. Ginger rascals Lorca and Rilke belong to author Michael Bondhus and poet/photographer Kevin Hinkle. If you have a reasonably well-behaved cat that you are willing to deliver and pick up in Northampton, get in touch with Uncle Jendi!

Ginny Sack Is Having a 90-Pound Mole Taken Off Her Ass: The impossible has become possible. In March I had a consultation for top surgery. My surgery date is March 23, 2023. As soon as I can lift my arms again, expect this blog to show way too many pictures of my pepperoni nipples.

My Crew: I celebrated my 50th birthday this July by meeting a dear friend in person for the first time. Friend-of-the-Block Richard Jackson, a/k/a the poet “Conway” from my Prison Letters series, visited us with his loving partner Vanity. We were devastated to learn that Van passed away in a motorcycle accident over Thanksgiving weekend.

Nostradamus and Notre Dame: I graduated from Year One of the Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School. Year Two began this past September. My spellcraft is going a lot better, now that I figured out that I was trying to light the incense holder disk instead of the cone.

Waste Management: Why throw anything out when you can glue it together? I made a lot of collage greeting cards this year.

John Ollom and I will be teaching a multimedia workshop at TransHealth Northampton on May 7. We’ll use collage, bodywork, improvised movement, and journaling to guide participants on a journey of gender self-discovery.

You Know Who Had an Arc? Noah: An embarrassment of riches for best books of the year, as I read three novels that would have been #1 on my list, not just for the year, but in general.

Tara Isabella Burton’s sapphic boarding-school novel The World Cannot Give shows idealistic teens getting their crushes all mixed up with their yearnings for transcendence. The author understands, and eventually the protagonist does too, that sincere passions with life-and-death stakes can coexist with a highly performative, aestheticized selfhood. In other words, you might say it’s a Catholic (or Anglican) book, as well as a very queer one, in that ritual and artifice are the container for authenticity rather than its opposite.

Ray Nayler’s The Mountain in the Sea is a hard-science thriller set in a reshaped geopolitical environment, where humankind’s aggressive harvesting of the oceans for protein may have put evolutionary pressure on octopuses to develop a civilization of comparable intelligence as ours. On a deeper level, it’s a dramatization of different philosophies of consciousness, in which the impossibility of truly seeing through another’s eyes becomes an invitation to rekindle empathy and wonder.

GennaRose Nethercott’s Thistlefoot imagines what would happen if Baba Yaga, the witch of Eastern European folklore (and patron saint of this blog), had American Jewish descendants who inherited her chicken-legged hut. The Yaga siblings–a puppeteer with the power to bring objects to life, and a street performer and thief who can uncannily imitate anyone he meets–find themselves charged with the task of laying the ghosts of the pogroms to rest. Don’t miss the chance to see Nethercott perform a puppet show dramatizing sections from her book. Join her mailing list to find out tour dates.

Bro time with Shane at the Big E!

October Links Roundup: Farewell Divas

Happy Spooktober!

At the Naumkeag Pumpkin Show last weekend.

The entertainment world lost two legendary women this month, both of whom continued creating and performing well into old age. Country star Loretta Lynn died last week at age 90. Best known for her hardscrabble childhood anthem “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Lynn also used her music to take a stand against sexism, as in the 1973 hit “Rated X” about the unfair stigma of divorce for women and 1975’s “The Pill” about the liberating power of birth control.

Dame Angela Lansbury, whom we lost yesterday at age 96, was beloved for her role as crime-solving senior citizen Jessica Fletcher on “Murder, She Wrote,” a cozy TV series that our family watched religiously throughout the 1980s and 90s. But did you know she got her start as the maid in the 1944 film “Gaslight,” from which we get the popular term for reality-warping emotional manipulation? Lansbury was equally good at playing villains, winning a Tony Award for creating the role of Mrs. Lovett (seller of the cannibal meat pies) in “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway.

The Jewish Currents newsletter introduced me to the music of Ezra Furman, a mystical, anti-fascist indie rocker who recently released her ninth album, All of Us Flames. Interviewer Jael Goldfine describes it thus:

In the gritty world of the album, underground syndicates of Jews and queer people organize, traveling in gangs, speaking in code, and stockpiling weapons and intelligence while the powers that be are none the wiser. In a series of bluesy Dylanesque battle epics, love stories, and down-and-out road epics, Furman imagines the stories we might tell in the future about “the great transfiguration” that ended our current “brutal static order” and eulogizes those we lost to it.

The way she sings about revolution as inevitable can feel uncomfortable, like wishful thinking. But Furman, who recently completed her first semester of rabbinical school, takes seriously the idea of the messiah, and messianism’s point-blank insistence that the world can and will be improved.

Furman says, “I think I’m doing anti-despair work.” Listen to “Throne” from the album here.

A couple of good poems: At Frontier Poetry, Tyler Raso’s “Emotion Recognition Task” captures how children’s emotions are policed, doubted, and oversimplified by adults who don’t want to feel deeply themselves. At Palette Poetry, Mónica Gomery’s “Occupational Hazards” won the 2022 Sappho Prize. Interspersing fragments of a Talmudic gratitude prayer with troubling images from the news, this piece re-enacts the challenging practice of staying open to the wonders and sorrows of life.

The first Sunday of October is traditionally the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Kittredge Cherry at Q Spirit explores the saint’s gender-bending side:

His extravagant love crossed boundaries. Other Franciscan friars referred to Francis as “Mother” during his lifetime. He encouraged his friars to be mothers to each other when in hermitage together, and used other gender-challenging metaphors to describe the spiritual life.

He spoke of himself as a woman during his very first set of meetings with Pope Innocent III in 1210, when he was seeking permission to found a religious order.  “I am that poor woman who in God’s mercy is loved and honored.  God has begotten legitimate children through me,” Francis explained.  The Pope was impressed by this gender-shifting argument and gave Francis his blessing to establish the new Franciscan order.

He experienced a vision of an all-female Trinity, who in turn saluted him as “Lady Poverty,” a title that he welcomed. Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order. She had a queer dream of drinking sweet milk from the breast of Francis. Clare consistently communicated that she sought to imitate Jesus, while Francis compared himself to Mary.

September Links Roundup: Cthulhu at Costco

You just never know what you’ll find at Adam’s favorite superstore. I suppose Lovecraft’s Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young needs those jumbo-sized cans of tomato sauce to feed all the kids.

A bit late with the link-o-rama this month because I’ve begun Year Two of the Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School. This year I’ll be learning spell-crafting, altar-building, how not to kill my houseplants, and possibly an answer to the question “Is it cheating on your marriage to have sex with a god?”

Talented essayist Grace LeClair, a fellow regular in the Tarot writing workshops I’ve attended since 2015, pushed the boundaries of 1960s propriety when she challenged Barnard College’s outdated rules against cohabitation and its curfews for female students. The Columbia Spectator interviewed her recently about her undergraduate activism, which made her a target of the tabloids in New York City. The all-women’s college folded on its feminist principles because of pushback from wealthy pearl-clutching alumnae. Grace, then known as Linda, courageously stuck to her message that her campaign was not about sexual license but empowerment and equality–the very reasons she’d chosen a women’s college in the first place.

A less sympathetic tale of activism comes to us from–where else?–Texas. NBC News and ProPublica reported last month on a contentious school board meeting in the North Texas town of Granbury:

For months, the woman in the clip had been demanding that the Granbury Independent School District ban from its libraries dozens of books that contained descriptions of sex or LGBTQ themes — books that she believed could be damaging to the hearts and minds of students. Unsatisfied after a district committee that she served on voted to remove only a handful of titles, the woman filed a police report in May accusing school employees of providing pornography to children, triggering a criminal investigation by Hood County.

Now, in the video that Weston found online, she was telling the school board that a local Christian pastor, rather than librarians, should decide which books should be allowed on public school shelves. “He would never steer you wrong,” she said.

The clip ended with the woman striding away from the lectern, and the audience showering her with applause.

Weston, 28, said his heart was racing as he watched and rewatched the video — and not only because he opposes censorship. He’d instantly recognized the speaker.

It was his mother, Monica Brown.

The same woman, he said, who’d removed pages from science books when he was a child to keep him and his siblings from seeing illustrations of male and female anatomy. The woman who’d always warned that reading the wrong books or watching the wrong movies could open the door to sinful temptation. And the one, he said, who’d effectively cut him off from his family four years ago after he came out as gay.

I love erasure poetry because it flips censorship on its head. Words and lines are blocked out, not so much to silence the source text, but to make it speak a hidden message, or to talk back to its oppressive assumptions. When he was in prison, my pen pal “Conway” used to make powerful erasures out of disciplinary memos. Poet Jennifer K. Sweeney has a series of such “effacements” posted in the online journal Gasher, using collage and erasure to break open the constraints of a 1950s etiquette manual.

An insightful New York Times video series by James Robinson about living with disability profiled Paul Kram, who has prosopagnosia (face-blindness). As someone with a less severe version of this condition, I found his experience relatable. At one point the video shows faces turned upside-down, making them harder to recognize. This disorganization of data is similar to how facial information enters a face-blind person’s brain. Along those lines, I had a dream the other night where someone got my pronouns wrong, and I replied, “It’s okay, I can’t recognize people I already know, so I can see how certain things just don’t stick in your mind, either!”

Slippery identities and slanted stories are the theme of Kij Johnson’s “Five Sphinxes and 56 Answers” in the latest issue of the experimental lit mag DIAGRAM. The award-winning fantasy writer braids a Midwestern girl’s coming-of-age story with variations on the Oedipus myth, exploring the intergenerational misunderstandings and enforced silences of women throughout the ages.

You have come to accept that she is who she is because of her own confusing and critical mother, and the cycle goes back through forever it seems: women unhinging their pelvises to bear other women and then getting started on the hard work of dying, back and back and back, mothers and daughters and mothers of monsters.
Mixed messages, riddles you can’t solve. You stand at the entrance to a great city, the world. Your mother waits astride the rock that bars your way. The first riddle ends in your adulthood; it is unlikely she will be alive for you in your three-legged stage, though perhaps she is counting on you being there for hers.
The second riddle is existential, and there is no answer. Night and Day. Living ’til night or waking up in the morning is always a matter of faith. In the end, both women die.
Your mother is also Hera, angry and vengeful and punishing the wrong people.
You mother is also what you have tried hard not to grow up to be. Have you succeeded? Could she have done better? Have you?
There are other versions of this story, as well.

Also in DIAGRAM, Tyler Raso’s “Personality Index” cleverly reads as both a numerical questionnaire and, if you ignore the numbered part, a poem composed of the phrases in the left column. I do love me some psych-test satire.

Sanah Ahsan’s column in The Guardian, “I’m a psychologist–and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health,” unpacks why I often find psych checklists reductionist and insulting.

If a plant were wilting we wouldn’t diagnose it with “wilting-plant-syndrome” – we would change its conditions. Yet when humans are suffering under unliveable conditions, we’re told something is wrong with us, and expected to keep pushing through. To keep working and producing, without acknowledging our hurt.

In efforts to destigmatise mental distress, “mental illness” is framed as an “illness like any other” – rooted in supposedly flawed brain chemistry. In reality, recent research concluded that depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain. Ironically, suggesting we have a broken brain for life increases stigma and disempowerment. What’s most devastating about this myth is that the problem and the solution are positioned in the person, distracting us from the environments that cause our distress.

Individual therapy is brilliant for lots of people, and antidepressants can help some people cope. But I worry that a purely medicalised, individualised understanding of mental health puts plasters over big gaping wounds, without addressing the source of violence. They encourage us to adapt to systems, thereby protecting the status quo.

Da’Shaun L. Harrison’s book Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness (North Atlantic Books, 2021), which I’m currently reading, makes a similar point with respect to body-positivity. When standards of beauty and health are deliberately constructed to exclude your type of body and subjugate your type of person, you can’t self-esteem your way out of the material disadvantages this creates. More thoughts to come once I’ve finished this radical, brilliant book.

Over at The Philosopher, Olúfémi O. Táíwò’s piece “Being-in-the-Room Privilege: Elite Capture and Epistemic Deference” critiques the simplistic deployment of “standpoint epistemology” to turn the minority member of an elite group into a spokesperson for even less privileged people in his demographic. For instance, the Black professor probably knows more about racial discrimination than his white colleagues, but the factors he has in common with them, such as social class and education, may outweigh the differences. But these spaces tend to operate as though handing the Black professor the microphone is the beginning and end of incorporating truly diverse perspectives. Meanwhile, they don’t notice the other ways their group is homogeneous and unrepresentative.

From a societal standpoint, the “most affected” by the social injustices we associate with politically important identities like gender, class, race, and nationality are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated, underemployed, or part of the 44 percent of the world’s population without internet access – and thus both left out of the rooms of power and largely ignored by the people in the rooms of power. Individuals who make it past the various social selection pressures that filter out those social identities associated with these negative outcomes are most likely to be in the room. That is, they are most likely to be in the room precisely because of ways in which they are systematically different from (and thus potentially unrepresentative of) the very people they are then asked to represent in the room.

This “being-in-the-room” privilege, relative to other members of his demographic, doesn’t discount all the ways that this Black professor may also be disrespected within the room. Standpoint epistemology–deferring to marginalized people as experts on their own experience–can be a corrective “morally consequential practice…of giving attention and respect.” It’s just not the only thing we need to do. Otherwise you get the all-too-familiar political echo chamber of liberal academia, where arguments over symbolic deference take up way more energy than constructive material change. We need to build coalitions across our different kinds of vulnerability, rather than compete for attention by comparing our traumas, he concludes.

I honestly think there’d be a lot more support for affirmative action, reparations, etc. if we took these suggestions and moved away from an attention-scarcity economy.

Finally, enjoy some groundbreaking African photography in this 2020 article from The Guardian, profiling Ekow Eshun’s Africa State of Mind. Adam and I enjoyed seeing queer South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s striking black-and-white self-portraits at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum this past February.

Poetry by David Kherdian: “The First Problem and the Last”

Poet and memoir writer David Kherdian is the author of numerous books about Armenian-Americans and working-class life in the Midwest. His most recent poetry collection is Blackbirds Over Aurora, an account of an Oregon community based on the mystical teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. He has kindly allowed me to publish one of his newest poems below.

THE FIRST PROBLEM AND THE LAST

I would like to think we end
here to start over again there,
or else continue again from here
where we have landed,
naked, alone, to learn for ourself
what is expected of us here now.
Nothing bedevils me more
than not knowing what’s next.
Can it be that this futile life
is without a sequel,
could anything be worse then ending
without knowing what comes after.

What we want to know above all is:
If death is the answer to life,
what was the question we failed to ask
before it became too late, as it is now,
here / now, always the same conclusion
with nothing said about The After.
How do we approach the end
without knowing either the question
or the answer, and is it enough to say
at the end I lived Fully.

July Links Roundup: Live Poets Society

Readers know I have mixed feelings about the “always already” trans narrative, but it does say something that my favorite movies as a teenager were “Some Like It Hot” (musicians fleeing the Mafia have to cross-dress to hide in a women’s dance troupe) and “Dead Poets Society” (boarding-school boys read poetry to each other in a cave).

Last month, my husband, who’d never seen the latter film, suggested that we stream it for date night. It was just as beautiful as I remembered. Against our current backdrop of right-wing attacks on school curricula and libraries, the message of literature versus repression hit even closer to home than in 1989. I could also see clearly what I had not understood when I was the same age as the characters–the movie’s only-barely-subtextual queerness. I yearned for this same tenderness between men, which included homoeroticism but went beyond it.

Fortunately, now there’s Google. I went looking for “dead poets society gay” and found, among other things, Adelynn Anderson’s “‘Chased by Walt Whitman’: Or, Why Did Neil Perry Kill Himself?”, a 2020 article at Medium. She makes a persuasive case that “wanting to be an actor” was 1980s-speak for the main character’s real confession to his repressive parents, which he would ultimately rather die than say aloud. The maverick professor played by Robin Williams frequently references Walt Whitman, that Daddy of gay poets, as their role model for an authentic life. Anderson explains why Neil’s struggle has to be coded rather than overt: “Part of the issue is because movies created at this time were still feeling the repercussions of the Hays Code, a code of ‘moral conduct’ for films introduced in the 1930s. It outlawed, among other things, the display or mention of non-heterosexual characters.”

Poet Diana Goetsch is very much alive and getting well-deserved acclaim for her new memoir, This Body I Wore (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2022), reviewed last month at Autostraddle by Melissa Faliveno. I had the pleasure of hearing her read from it at a Charis Books & More online event. Goetsch had been teaching English and publishing well-regarded books under her former name, while expressing her hidden self in New York City’s cross-dressing social clubs in the 1980s and 90s. She came out as trans at age 50. Faliveno’s essay reflects on queer temporality and late-in-life discoveries:

“There is simply no knowing a thing if it is self-secret,” Goetsch writes, “perhaps because that thing refuses to know itself in your presence. It is like a valley, spread out before you, hiding in plain sight.”

…Queer people are constantly resisting straight time. We often live in direct opposition to it, refusing or unable to buy in, forging our own, often nonlinear, paths. We don’t get married, or we don’t have kids, or we don’t buy houses — those markers that, to the straight world, make us more adult. We exist, instead, in queer time.

Even if we do want some of those things — like marriage (assuming queer folks can still do that in the future), a house, a family — it can take a lot longer to get there, not least because we often spend more time figuring out who we are, interrogating those structures and exploring what we want. But even in queer spaces, there’s pressure to do things a certain way. To come out, for instance, as soon as possible. The problem is that, for a lot of people, it’s not possible. For some people, it’s not safe. For others, we don’t have the models that reflect us, the language that fits. We define and redefine ourselves as we go…

…In queer spaces, we spend so much time urging people to come out. And don’t get me wrong; I believe that coming out, extracting ourselves from the shame that people and institutions place upon us and living our lives as authentically as possible is important — not least in this era of “Don’t say gay” bills and constant threats to queer and trans lives. Speaking our truth can in fact save us. But that pressure can also undermine an individual’s sense of time and space and safety, the acknowledgement that some things take a while.

At the Ploughshares blog, Jessica Hines’ essay “Queer Desire and the Myth of Iphis” looks at how medieval writers questioned social roles by retelling an ancient Greek story of a gender-switching princess. Chaucer’s contemporary John Gower, for instance, commended the myth as a role model for courageous devotion. The socially transformative power of queerness, which made the church and the state afraid, can also make lovers brave.

Iphis’ story is one of magical transformation. Assigned female at birth, Iphis is raised as a boy by their mother, Telethusa, due to their father’s decision that all female children will be killed in infancy. All goes well until Iphis becomes engaged to a young woman, Ianthe. Ianthe and Iphis long for each other and deeply desire marriage. Iphis and Telethusa keep delaying the marriage, however, because they fear that it will expose Iphis’s secret. Iphis laments loving Ianthe, seeing it as, in Valerie Traub’s terms, amor impossibilis—an impossible love. Iphis lacks a phallus and thinks this indicates that they do not have the physical means to satisfy their desire (this detail gets me every time—if only Iphis had had access to sex positive sex ed!). And so, Iphis worries that even as they will get what they most desire through marriage—Ianthe as a wife—Iphis will not be able to “complete” that love and will ultimately risk exposure and humiliation. In the end, the goddess Isis intervenes, and Iphis transforms into a man (perhaps biologically, perhaps socially—Ovid’s original isn’t entirely clear). Iphis and Ianthe live happily ever after…

…Gower’s story of Iphis occurs as part of a much larger work, a poem called the Confessio Amantis, in which a failing lover, Amans, gets advice from his priest, the allegorical figure Genius. Genius tells the story of Iphis in the section of the poem about the sin of sloth. Amans confesses that slothfulness, particularly in the form of pusillamité, cowardice, has frustrated his efforts as a lover. Genius tells Iphis’s story as a counternarrative, a story of how great courage can win love. Iphis and Ianthe, with their willingness to throw themselves into Some Thing—some desire, some practice, some love—that was all unknown to them, are an example of the kind of courage that can help someone reach great love.

I don’t want to oversell what’s happening here. Gower isn’t out marching in the medieval equivalent of a Pride parade. But there is something shockingly moving in the fact that Gower brands this expression of desire as a cure for cowardice. It frames the willingness to exist in the epistemological uncertainty constructed by unknown desire as a type of courage. It suggests that the willingness to move into the unknown spaces of desire and bodily union is powerful and transformative. That there is something to be desired and worthy of imitation—something that cowardly lovers should learn from—in the dwelling in obscurity, in the unknown spaces, of sex and desire.

I wish I didn’t have to repeat myself that throwing trans people under the bus will not save democracy, but mainstream media is enamored with this idea that Democrats would have the bandwidth for real social change if only they didn’t have to worry about the pronoun police. At the social justice news outlet Truthout, journalist Kelly Hayes talked with ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio last month about why attacks on trans rights are an integral part of the fascist strategy to control everyone’s sexuality, healthcare, and family formation. Scapegoating misunderstood minorities is also a convenient pressure-release valve for the trauma of life under authoritarianism. Hayes observes:

Cultivating a disregard for suffering is going to be fundamental to any capitalist system, as we move forward in this era of drastic inequity and catastrophe. But for the Republicans, the goal is not simply to cultivate an indifference to extreme and routine acts of violence against targeted groups, but also, to satisfy an enthusiasm for that violence…

…As we saw under the Trump administration, a government can fail to deliver on nearly all of its promises, but still enjoy the celebration of a fascist movement if the state offers up violence that its followers experience as redemptive.

The GOP does not plan on doing anything to make anyone’s life better, and it’s not really even pretending to offer any plans that would do that, but it is promising white people, cis men, and cis women who feel threatened by trans women, a form of social retribution.

Strangio concurs, and connects “gender-critical” feminism to racism:

[W]hite women in particular have been central to mechanisms of white supremacy in the sort of structural political sense, even when cast as sort of outside of typical power structures. Sort of there’s this long history of white womanhood being situated as that which needs protecting, which builds some of the most violent mechanisms of state power, and we can sort of trace that through the entire structural formation of the United States as a nation state, where you have protecting white women and this being used in the service of mass violence against Indigenous communities, against enslaved communities, and to perpetuate lynchings, to fuel mass incarceration, to propagate wars globally…

…And in the context of anti-trans bills, this is very much part of the continuation of that legacy wherein you have in particular a lot of cis white girls and their white parents, in particular their white mothers, sort of evoking this idea that their daughters are being threatened by this monstrous other that needs to be controlled and removed and the state needs to step in as protector.

Later in the interview, Strangio takes aim at the argument that gender identity is a frivolous “culture war” issue distracting us from real material concerns:

I have truly never understood the culture war discourse as anything other than some sort of media narrative to minimize and sort of invisibilize structural power. Everything and nothing are culture wars all at once. We are constantly having fights over yet sort of who can live and die. That is the nature of politics. And that is inextricable from all of the things that we might understand to be culture and cultural norms.

And so every conversation about gun control or foreign policy or taxation or housing, I mean, those are culture wars. It’s a conversation about who is centered in our understanding of our ideological and cultural norms in this country.

Honestly it reminds me of the irritating progressive Christian platitude that “what matters is not what you believe, but what you do”–as if there could be any action without a belief behind it.

Speaking of Christianity, I was struck by the originality and boldness of these Easter weekend reflections from philosopher Adam Kotsko’s blog, which obviously I am catching up on several months after the fact. In his post for Good Friday, “The Cross: That’s How They Get You”, Kotsko remembers praying the rosary during the end of his Catholic phase and deciding that it no longer felt wholesome and redemptive to meditate on Christ’s martyrdom:

People talk about the power of “making martyrs,” but martyrs are very easily recruited by the powers that be, to shore up their own legitimacy. And within the first generation of Christians, even as they were living under Roman persecution, the Christians themselves were helping out with that process. You can find the outlines of an anti-imperial account of the cross in the synoptics, especially Mark, but even in Mark you already see the beginning of the effort to deflect culpability from the Romans to the Jews.

I’d propose that the real effect of the cross imagery in history has been more akin to the imagery of the fetus in pro-life circles (which obviously overlap heavily with Christian circles) — a fantasy of victimhood that incites fantasies of revenge. The cross has incited more pogroms than revolutions, it seems, and when it has inspired revolutions, Christians have been among its greatest opponents. Among more well-meaning Christians, the cross seems to underwrite a kind of magical thinking about redemptive suffering, as though being beaten up by the police and arrested will somehow in itself produce social change. It turns the performance of state terror into a performance for the state, which will somehow shame it into doing the right thing. The very sign of a social order that is irredeemable — the fact that it publicly tortures people to death in order to terrorize populations into submission — becomes a sure method for helping the powers and principalities to find their best selves.

I’d argue this is why Christian writers and churches are so much more enamored of abuser-redemption stories than supporting survivors’ resistance. Kotsko’s post on Holy Saturday calls out the guilt-trip underneath the message of free salvation:

So God becomes man in Jesus Christ, God submits to the humiliation of birth as a helpless infant, God experiences the ignorance and insecurity and fear that make up a human life, God contrives to antagonize the legal authorities until he can count on being publicly tortured to death to fulfill the demand of — God. God dies on the cross to satisfy God’s demand for punishment, to calm God’s wrath. God dies on the cross to save us from God — hallelujah!

…And after the delirious, incredulous joy of this bizarre moment, the next section reveals the truth: God’s payment of our debt of sin was not true forgiveness, not a clearing of the books, but a consolidation loan. He died for you, can’t you live for him? God is willing to offer you for forgiveness, and all he asks in return is your very life, your very soul. God saves us from God by binding us ever more closely to God, indebting us more profoundly to the one who sacrificed himself for us.

That’s love, right? That’s what love looks like: sacrificing yourself, so that you can emotionally blackmail the loved one. That’s what love looks like: giving up everything, so that the beloved can never leave. That’s what love looks like: playing the carrot of forgiveness off against the stick of the old regime, the supposed “Old Testament God” whose threat and demand remains the only background against which this heroic self-sacrifice can even remotely make sense. That’s love — love for the debtor who will always only be debtor, love for the debtor who now carries not just a debt of sin but the burden of having somehow caused the death of God. That’s love.

If that’s the only way God knows how to love, then I don’t want God’s love. If that’s what the death of God on the cross is meant to accomplish, then maybe we’d be better off if God stayed dead.

There is a minority tradition in the West — running from Hegel and Nietzsche up to Altizer and Žižek (and maybe, I’d dare to suggest, by way of Bonhoeffer) — that claims that that is precisely how we should interpret the cross. God dies, permanently and irrevocably, leaving us alone to figure out for ourselves how we want to live our life together.

New Reviews for “Made Man” and a “Two Natures” Book Talk Video

Last month I had the pleasure of co-hosting a Zoom book talk with Canadian novelist Jessica Pegis, “Divine Non-Duality and the Queer Body”. We read excerpts from my gay male coming-of-age novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016) and her new book The God Painter (Stone Table Books, 2021) and explored their common themes of exile, divine love, and spiritual and sexual integration. The God Painter is a work of Catholic-infused speculative fiction in the tradition of Mary Doria Russell and Ray Bradbury. Intersex aliens rescue humanity from our destroyed planet, but are they angels, demons, or something outside our limited categories altogether? Watch the 80-minute video on the Winning Writers YouTube channel:

Poet and critic Michael McKeown Bondhus wrote a wonderful review of my new poetry book, Made Man (Little Red Tree, 2022), for Full Stop Magazine this month. I have this novelty greeting card on my office shelf where one 1950s lady exclaims to another, “Sometimes I wish someone who understands me would tell me what I mean!” Michael has done just that…and saved me the labor of explaining myself to cis people quite so much. The review captures the specificity of gender transition but also its continuity with the dynamism of human life (however much we try to arrest its progress with laws and dogmas). We are not, after all, foreign objects or monsters compared to the rest of you.

As much as people claim to loathe change, it is also understood to be an elemental part of existence. The need to change one’s body, then, can be read as another manifestation of this universal impulse. Therefore, Made Man becomes an examination and celebration of change writ broadly along with all its magickal implications.

…Is Made Man’s goal, at least in part, to simultaneously muddy and clarify gender? Desire seems simple — person A wants person B — yet it is full of contradictions and taboos. Racist uncles are clearcut assholes, yet their worldviews are rooted in a version of reality they have absorbed from outside sources, including Russian bots. Gender, as Reiter and many others suggest, is both a social construction and an intimate part of the self. It can appear to be reducible to labels like trans man and genderqueer, yet those labels carry different meanings from person to person. By highlighting ambiguity and algorithms in some of their poems, Reiter finds another, less direct way to address the messiness of gender and compares it to the messiness of so many other parts of our lives.

Goodreads reviewer Transgender Bookworm rates Made Man 5 stars, saying:

Poet Jendi Reiter has written a beautiful and inventive collection of poems that explore gender and the pain of existing beyond society’s rigid binary in a new and exciting way. Tackling subjects both serious and lighthearted Reiter explores the way our absurdly gendered world informs our understanding of each other and the world at large. I found myself chuckling on one page and then gripping my seat in anger the next.

Enjoy this sample poem. Or don’t. I don’t care.

 

Prettyboy in Pink

This generation of lavender-haired pronouns only knows Molly Ringwald as hot Archie’s small-town mom on “Riverdale”. They play the torso drinking game as russet-top KJ Apa square-jaws his way from high school wrestling showers to prison cagefight to skinny-dip in the lake of girls beside the maple sugar factory. Who knew there was so much wealth in syrup? Like his nipples stretched immobile over muscle, mother Mary/Molly is contractually slated to appear in every episode, offering pants-suit credibility to his scheme to rescue the malt shop from mafiosi.

But we assigned-X’ers will forever stan Molly’s bricolage of girlhood, pretty in pink slicing and stitching the bridesmaid shells of teen tulle into a skin she could survive in. Lovestruck Duckie was too much a sister to her, with his manic pompadour and emotional hands. She required the prep-school prince’s genes for her supreme tailoring experiment. When Archie’s done running through his day’s foolish script, those maple-golden eyes go blank. It’s her body now, her finest dress.

The Reactionary Pull of Sacred Texts

I left Christianity because…

…the people who took its mystical, supernatural, and personal transformation aspects most seriously are the people currently turning our country into a fascist theocracy.

…the paradigm of redemptive sacrifice of the innocent was counterproductive to my healing as a child abuse survivor.

…I couldn’t keep fighting for space for my bodily autonomy and human rights in a text that wasn’t designed to include me.

The latter reason is especially salient for me because of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which would not only overturn Roe v. Wade but also threatens all the modern precedents founded on a constitutional right to privacy in sexual and family life. As Jonathan Capehart writes in the Washington Post, “Alito’s draft ruling on abortion is a warning to LGBTQ Americans”:

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Alito writes. “That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’” This country has a lot of rights not deeply rooted. For instance, the nation is 245 years old, but racial integration is just 57 years old. Marriage equality is nearly seven…

…Alito rips the Roe ruling because “it held that the abortion right, which is not mentioned in the Constitution, is part of a right to privacy, which is also not mentioned.” And Casey, he sneers, is grounded “solely on the theory that the right to obtain an abortion is part of the ‘liberty’ protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.” Theory?

Then Alito casts aspersions on the cases the court used in its Casey ruling to justify that liberty “theory.” Among them are Loving v. Virginia (legalized interracial marriage) and Griswold v. Connecticut (guaranteed access to contraception). He also hammers away at the “theory” by taking aim at post-Casey decisions such as Lawrence v. Texas (decriminalized consensual sex between adults) and Obergefell.

Robyn (@hmntre) on Twitter puts it succinctly: “Love the argument that we can’t have rights because we have a deeply rooted history of not having rights.

TechFreedom think tank editor @JasonKuznicki expands on the reactionary implications of tradition-based jurisprudence in this thread. “You know what’s really deeply rooted in history? The absolute rule of a father over all the members of his family… The more we privilege deep roots in history, the more weight we have to give to some terribly illiberal ideas. Rights for white people have deeper roots than rights for black people, and no amount of time can change that.”

The Religious Right’s legal theories and Biblical interpretive method are identical. Notwithstanding the anarcho-communist messages you can easily draw from Jesus’s words and actions in the gospels, the primacy of Scripture in Christianity is structurally reactionary for the same reasons that Constitution-worship produces slow, stingy, and inconsistent recognition of the civil rights of people who aren’t white Christian male citizens. In both cases, empathy and political representation are circumscribed by how much permission you can wring out of a text from an era when you weren’t considered fully human.

I’m not saying we should scrap the Constitution, but that we shouldn’t interpret it as though preserving the past is more important than flourishing in the present.

May Links Roundup: Courting Fascism

I had a whole list of links to recommend this month, and then Politico broke the story today about the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that seems likely to overturn Roe v. Wade. As feminist journalist Jude Doyle lays out in chilling detail in “We Have Entered the ‘Anti-Gender’ Endgame” at Medium, the Court’s proposed radical rollback of the right to privacy would jeopardize all of the LGBTQ civil rights and reproductive healthcare protections we’ve relied upon in the past 50 years:

We are not going back to the way things were before legal abortion. We are going somewhere much worse.

After Roe is overturned, abortion will become illegal in all or most circumstances in 21 states. The “right to privacy” on which Roe hinges was established in an earlier case,Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right to contraception; Alito specifically names Griswold as a faulty ruling, and it will almost certainly be overturned as well, making birth control illegal. This might not immediately inspire panic — why not just go to a safe state to get your abortion or your IUD? — but the states that pass abortion bans will also pass travel bans. If you leave home pregnant and come back otherwise, that itself will be illegal…

Griswold also formed the basis of Obergefell v. Hodges (the right to marry someone of the same gender) and Lawrence v. Texas (the right to have queer sex, ever, at all, without being criminalized). If there is no “right to privacy” and no sovereign right to control one’s healthcare decisions, then bans on HRT and gender-affirming surgery for adults are within the realm of realistic possibility; anti-trans advocates like Abigail Shrier have been obsessively framing transmasculine transitions in particular as attacks on the “fertility” of “young women,” and anti-choice legislation will likely sharpen the attacks on transition care across the board.

We need to make these connections now, because our enemies are already making them. Alito is overturning Roe, not just on the basis that the decision was faulty, but because any “unenumerated right” — that is to say, a right that can be safely assumed on the basis of the Constitution, but which is not specifically named within it — must be “grounded in U.S. history and tradition” in order to be valid. Gay marriage, gay sex, youth transition, any transition, interracial marriage, domestic partnership without marriage, abortion. contraception, or simply not being forcibly sterilized and/or detransitioned by the state — none of this is safe. None of this is “traditional.” All of it is on the line.

I don’t have any brilliant political advice except: Solidarity. Harvey Milk understood this when he built coalitions between labor unions and gay-rights activists. A lot of us have fallen into a traumatized pattern where we resent other groups’ struggles for drawing attention away from our own; this is often the root of lesbian-feminist qualms about transgender issues, for instance. We can’t allow ourselves to be split apart this way anymore.

Along those lines, Jewish Currents ran a thought-provoking essay by Eli Rubin called “The Soul of the Worker”, rediscovering a 1940s Chabad author’s fiction lamenting the cultural opposition between Jewish observance and modern socialism. Marx’s anti-religious attitude isn’t the only possible path for the Left to take. There are interesting parallels here to American Christians’ fears that secularism and liberalism go hand in hand, such that progressive policies are perceived as an attack on faith. Rubin explains:

[C]ontemporary Chabadniks are likely to associate socialism with their inherited memories of Soviet persecution. Thousands can recount stories of grandparents and great-grandparents who were shot or sent to the Gulags for practicing and perpetuating their Jewish way of life… Given this background, it is understandable that contemporary Chabadniks often respond to any invocation of socialism with suspicion, or even fear. This reflex is part of a broader matrix of factors that skews political inclinations among Hasidic Jews to the right, so that when it comes to the ballot they tend to be more aligned with political elites than with working people whose interests might appear much closer to their own.

My alma mater is making both symbolic and material changes to reckon with the exploitative sources of its wealth. Lydialyle Gibson describes a new report on “Harvard’s Slave Legacy” in our alumni magazine.

The report—deeply researched and heavily footnoted, the culmination of a years-long effort—lays out the findings and recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, formed in 2019 by President Lawrence S. Bacow, to study the University’s entanglements with slavery and its enduring consequences. (The reportrecommendations, and other primary materials can be found on the project’s website, also unveiled today.) Those entanglements with slavery were in some cases very direct: the committee found records of at least 79 people who were enslaved by Harvard presidents, overseers, and faculty and staff members before the practice was outlawed in Massachusetts in 1783—many more than had been previously known. (Two of their tombstones stand in the Old Burying Ground across from Harvard Yard: a woman named Jane who was enslaved by Harvard steward Andrew Bordman—who owned at least eight people—and a woman named Cicely, enslaved by University tutor, fellow, and treasurer William Brattle.) In other cases, the links were financial or intellectual; the University benefited enormously from the slave trade, for example, through investments and donations, and Harvard scholars promoted racist ideas that underpinned slavery and other racial hierarchies.

We Northerners like to think of slavery as a Southern institution, but the ugly truth is that our elite universities, businesses, and cultural treasures were also built on wealth from these atrocities:

One of the strongest connections the 130-page report draws is between the University’s early growth and prosperity and the slave trade, first in the Caribbean and later in the American South. The colonial era’s economic alliance with the sugar islands of the West Indies—trading New England food, fuel, and lumber for Caribbean tobacco, coffee, and sugar produced by enslaved Africans (or for slaves themselves)—“effectively made Boston a slave society,” according to historian Wendy Warren, quoted in the report. That description included Harvard: “For roughly a century, Harvard had operated as a lender,” the report states, “and derived a substantial portion of its income from investments that included loans to Caribbean sugar planters, rum distillers, and plantation suppliers. After 1830, the University shifted its investments into cotton manufacturing, before diversifying its portfolio to include real estate and railroad stocks—all industries that were, in this era, dependent on the labor of enslaved people and the expropriation of land.”

In addition to renaming buildings and so forth, Harvard says it’ll invest actual money in supporting Black and Indigenous communities that are impacted by slavery and colonialism. It’s hoped that they will also return human remains and photographs of slaves from their science and anthropology collections to the descendants of the people involved.

Do you need something positive to keep you alive despite all this bad news? You should be watching “Our Flag Means Death” on HBO, a pirate rom-com series where everyone is queer and that’s not even an issue. It’s really a show about two middle-aged men who tenderly, ridiculously, bravely start to overcome the toxic masculinity that teaches us that affection is for sissies. Check out this interview with creator David Jenkins at The Verge, and this appreciation essay from Maya Gittleman at Tor.com, “Act of Grace: Masculinity, Monstrosity, and Queer Catharsis in Our Flag Means Death. (There are some spoilers, so watch the show first.)

Then check out Sam Herschel Wein’s funny and pointed poem at Waxwing Literary Magazine, “I’m tired of the gays, bring me a Grade A Faggot”:

…if I had a jockstrap for every jockstrap
that didn’t know how to properly love
a body. I’m giving up on the gays because
they’re too interested in just being men,
in just shoving in and bonk bonk bonk
like I’m not even there beneath them.
delight in me.

Two Poems from “The Chessmaster’s Daughter” by Barbara Regenspan

Barbara Regenspan is a poet, scholar, and opinion writer who has taught leadership in social justice-focused education at Colgate University. Her books include Haunting and the Educational Imagination. Now, her debut full-length poetry collection, The Chessmaster’s Daughter, is available from Cayuga Lake Books. This collection combines lyricism and philosophical inquiry, meditating on the tensions between appreciation of the present moment and responsibility for the burdens of history. Regenspan appreciates the complexity of her Jewish immigrant legacy: its silent traumas, restless search for truth, and ancient rituals of renewal. In a familiar trajectory for progressive American Jews, she also turns to Buddhist mindfulness and nature-centric practices to counterbalance the intellectual ferment of her ancestral religion.

Barbara says, “I am a strong supporter of the local Tompkins County Workers’ Center (they are among the original national fighters for a living wage) and I have offered the book as a fundraiser.” Donate $13 or more to this upstate New York labor advocacy group, and they will send you a copy of The Chessmaster’s Daughter.

She kindly shares these poems below.

Little Animal Lessons

The day after Ruth’s fatal fall
a squirrel found its way into an
upstairs waste basket,

apparently unfazed when David
released it to the outside sill.

Then a toad preceded our steps on
the path to the market, committed to
the journey on the dry concrete,

avoiding the lush summer growth to
the right and left,

demanding from us a walking meditation
under its peculiar green leadership.

I’ve known this before:
The smaller living things, not
your usual friends, acting out,
commanding:

“Slow down, heed
the closures,
the new possibilities.”

****

Argue for Life

Try to leave your life without dying.
It’s impossible; you were always
a detective anyway and must find
the crime the suspect did not commit.
You’ll be given away by wind chimes
left on the porch,
whose commitment to a furious
system leaves a trail of resonance.
The pain you need to escape has
its own residue, because the separation of
you from everybody else that you almost
believed in is defied by the difficulty leaving.
Stay here with me in this house on the canal
where the lovers we’ve hardly seen walk
by and look in the window, or touring groups
ignore us to take in the sights—approaching the
gorge trail, the path of depth and turns.