this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

tallow

i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

in all the wrong places. i’d shave my head

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

in these lines. the marble and the marrow. instead i’ll shave

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

Queer Poetry and the Aesthetics of Failure

I am just finishing up a rather long poem/collection-of-poems. I feel really exposed with these poems but not so much because I am naked or vulnerably honest or “in” them in any unusual way but rather because they are incomplete—rather a meditation on incompleteness. In this way I feel it’s my most queer work. Just as the social powers that be project an image of incompleteness onto the queer family (as “lacking” mother or father, fulfillment, etc) so too I feel these poems as an embracing of incompleteness or failure. Which is why it has been SO HARD to edit for me. It’s like editing a giant premature ejaculation.

Premature. That’s really what I hope these poems to be—when I finally upload them—like the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck but de-centered. Elided. In other words TOTALLY NOT the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck at all. Premature. Incomplete. Queer. Failure. But it’s this sort of “failure” that needs voicing—narratives which not only deconstruct the supposed completeness of say the hetero-monogamous family unit but that revel in the “incompleteness” of queer sexual and asexual lives and narratives. The problem isn’t “prematurity” but a projected hegemonic “maturity”—the complete, grand, heterosexual, patriarchal fuck.

By writing narratives of (sexual) failure or incompleteness this not only radicalizes these narratives by occupying and commandeering public discourse on (sexual) normativity but also in turn liberates the oppression the oppressors have built about themselves. Queer narratives “queer” heterosexuality. Anyone who is attracted to diverse gender expressions knows the shit that you get when dating someone society deems as “appropriate”—if a queer man and woman end up in say a marriage-relationship they are constructed as “appropriate,” that is their individuality is appropriated towards the furtherance of a compulsory heterosexuality. Society defines not just queer lives as “other,” but also straightens queer lives into sameness. Sadly the queer community can even join in the shaming of such a couple as a “betrayal,” i.e., a failure of being “queer” according to this or that community’s definition of queerness.

This of course misses the entire beauty of queering shit up. It’s all about allowing people to equally make their own decisions and express their own desires without massive systemic compulsion. There is no way to “fail” properly. That’s why it’s failure. And that’s really the uncomfortability with this/these poem(s). It’s like naming my closet, the contours of hetero-hegemony, and yet stepping out of those contours by naming them as incomplete—and being okay with that. I hope when I finally upload it, it proves to be as much of a failure as I think it is.

you are naked

you are naked

 

as a matter of course. even

your anchorage is a

levitation. below, the foothold,

 

a metonymy, something the world

spit up. everything

you hold is an implication really, a

 

line, some condensation on an edge

of the real. did i fail

to mention it’s raining. sometimes

 

it hits so hard it’s the rain

that’s penitent. the

trees were so wet then we wrung

 

them out right onto the carpet. we

dug our feet

deep inside. the coolness.

 

the bits of it sticking to lip

and tongue.

when you wrapped around

 

from behind and held tight till

I was blue, the

window burst, and with your ears

 

falling to the ground, I couldn’t help

but cry till you

whispered stop stop please it’s

 

february the blossoms are in

bloom your palms

are much too cold for this

New Poem and Disclosure

Readers!

Forgive my lack of posting. I’ve wrapped up grad apps (the rejection letters should begin coming in) and been editing a rather long (collection of?) poem(s), all while of course working and just having moved to a new place. So. Been busy but far from unbearably so.

Given the edit edit editing I took a small break to toss this poem out–which is nothing really at all like the poem(s) I’m editing. I hope you enjoy it though and have all been having much love and peaches and hugs and flowers and oh such loveliness.

 

 

what the net leaves behind

 

 

Maybe it begins with a rustling—

you in your top hat and me

 

smaller, beside, your grand

father’s racquet in my hand. He

 

played a game so well, turning

to walk away, you’d cry. What of

 

the pieces of photo of him in the

cabinet, under last night’s toothbrush

 

and paste? Sometimes it’s developing

that’s backwards: and there’s a burning.

 

I do not want this bowl of cherries.

I did not ask for your glass eye. Some

 

day I’ll stuff these crayons down my

throat, lick the bowl, shit a rainbow.

a Rant on Gender, Privilege, Floral Skinny Jeans, and Things

Gender, despite being constructed, permeates my whole being. I identify as a man. When I go to the store I am presented as, socialized as, received as, pressured into being, and communicate as a man. I use a men’s restroom. I speak as a man and people hear me as a man. Even when by myself and looking in the mirror I am confronted with the residues and traces of my masculinity—yes, gender is external, a social system that continues along with or without me, but it implicates me and I imply it. Although I do not believe there is anything biologically essential about how we as a society have presented and composed gender, there is something essential as regards my personhood—I am a man, and what I do and where I go and who is there engrafts, extends, or deflates this.

This means that all the privileges men have are mine with or without my consent. Masculinity extends beyond me and no matter how I personally treat women I reap its plunders of war—those plunders afforded by systemic pay inequality, assault, and rape (Susan Brownmiller called rapists men’s “shocktroopers”). Even if I volunteer as support for rape victims, a woman will be hesitant, nervous, or perhaps cross the street if I approach her late at night. I on the other hand wouldn’t feel nervous, certainly wouldn’t cross the street, and possibly be confused or perturbed by her behavior. But this is because I collect powers and privileges about myself simply by nature of my socialization and how I am presented.

Of course there are dissonances. When I walk into the grocery store wearing jewelry, a woman’s top, and tight floral skinny jeans, an obvious dissonance between the role-as-a-man I am supposed to be performing and the performance I am giving becomes obvious. This gap is traumatic for some people (often, but not always, other men). Whether they take offense at the audacity to question gender-roles and binaries or it reveals guilt they share at similar unacted upon desires, who knows, but people scapegoat the person who doesn’t fit. It calls things into question, puts words and structures in doubt.

There is a tension here. A tension between people thinking both, at the same time, that gender is wholly essential, entirely biologically given, and wholly accidental, not who they are. The presupposition is that I, by wearing floral skinny jeans et al, am acting out an unnatural desire, something outside the structure, against my nature, therefore not “human,” and yet that they are not “acting” a gender, that their gendered existence (clothing, voice, mannerisms, body, etc) is incidental to their personhood, their humanity. The thought emerges that they are a person beyond any institute (of gender), they are free, but yet anyone outside the gender binary is likewise “outside” the institute and therefore perverted, ecstatic, animal. Because they follow an implicit law, they would like to think they are free—while yet simultaneously accusing those who question it of being an outlaw.

I am no expert in the history of “Natural Law” or virtue ethics or St. Thomas Aquinas or anything, but I am inclined to think that this played no small part. Of course being male, white, and generally privileged seems “accidental” to someone who is white and male—one would have to admit his finitude and complicit participation in systems of power and abuse. And seeing as the history of Western thought is the thought of a white supremacist patriarchy (although a few other distinct lone voices have survived), well, it is unfortunately little surprise that white men are often entirely blind to their privilege. But it is quite clear that they thought being a woman was essential to a woman’s being—thus she was excluded from education, work, religious thought, and nearly all forms of public power. It makes sense, in a very evil way, that ideologies about gender and race and class would emerge alongside and in support of this power—whether they be religious or scientific ideologies (social Darwinism, eugenics, etc).

People with privilege (cis, white, male, upper-class, able, heterosexual, etc etc) are unaware of their privilege and take any questioning of the structures that supply them with this privilege as an insult to the very “natural” structure of things themselves. I include myself here too of course. No matter how many pairs of floral skinny jeans I own I am obviously endowed with privileges and power. I move about so often oblivious to my gender, race, class, et al, that for me too it takes “queer” figures outside my comfortable systems of power to shock me, traumatize me into seeing how deeply and essentially ideology and institutional privilege penetrates and constitutes my being. Gender is not biologically “essential” in some sort of ordained hand-of-god coming down and structuring my being sort of way, but it is essential to who I am: who I’ve been socialized as, how I present myself, and how I am expected to act.

It seems like a lot of people say they “get” that being sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, et al is bad—while simultaneously being oblivious to the privileges these very relations provide. So let’s get one thing straight—my position as a subject is composed, at least in part, by the systems of power I am implicated in. I often do not “feel” male or white or middle-class because I exist in a milieu of ideologies that tell me not to question my position—that the only reason women receive less pay is because they are bad workers, that black men have a higher arrest rate because they are criminals, that the poor are lazy, and all that bullshit. I reap these benefits, even when I don’t want them, because questioning privilege and one’s positionality means acknowledging I participate in a gender, a race, a class. These institutions penetrate deeper into me than I can see and extend farther from me than I can grasp. BE AWARE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE.

draft for a longer poem

it’s funny, last year I fell asleep at eleven

while everyone else welcomed the new year,

and—I thought to myself—that this must mean

something I said and you said you thought

this was funny and even though you didn’t

really mean it was funny I agreed; I told you about

my uncle then and how I like David Lynch and how

scared I am of open windows and you brought up

The Female Eunuch and I said something about

transphobia and we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed our shirts to sit in the

shade and things were so peaceful then in tank-

tops underneath the Californian sun which is

really the same sun everywhere for everyone

on this planet—god, I said, this planet, like that

really means anything anymore after everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

later,fog along the mirror ( and you whispered

something of a new year, twin peak dreamfuck

of him: you must take this he said, and maybe he

too will pass into night—forgotten all implication

and finally be free) but you know you can never

ever everever ever  forgive him no matter who

or what or how the pain, be it like stricture,like

painting by numbers of him on each and every

limb,like his love in spite of his love,like eyes

in the windows of your room,like father’s fist full

of him breathless to your chest,like yourself

remembering and forgetting and remembering

and so on and on until some touch or heat-of-breath

when you wake to see in so many ways unalike her

sadness deep inside this wakeless shithole of a night

 

*                             *                             *

 

“night emissions” are what they called it in the glory days

of 1970s Freudian mumbo jumbo America, this unconscious

selffucking was stranded somewhere on the wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not quite as juvenile as

(or so they would say) female clitoral stimulation, but not quite

the anti-social pathology of full conscious solo male fucking

either—but that’s what I want to do with this night, in the heat

of it, just fuck it right out and fuck you right out and for once

and finally be fucked in two; of course, we could take this to mean

that semen is like nighttime, emitted from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy erection, and

every time dusk rolls around it’s cause some boy had a big

wet one, bringing down both the stars and moon on us all

 

*                             *                             *

 

of course the planet’s going to die someday you said

and of course type-1 diabetics will still have diabetes in

heaven and you said martyrs always wear their scars

like trophies in icons at the Getty so you didn’t see

why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display insertion site

scars and pumps alongside St. Bartholomew and his

heap of flayed flesh and we thought this was beautiful

and that maybe somewhere the world’s flesh might be

hung up to dry on some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world we must’ve

been and what a death we suffered and what a beauty

it all was before heaven so wonderfully dispersed its grace

like so many tiny bombs and the world fell asleep in

angelic wonder and never woke up until the following

year sometime past midnight clear eyed and fresh and

ready to begin again as if for the first time in forever

A Personal Note to my Readers: on Lethargy

It’s one of those days where life seems to be a crisis. This is of course hyperbolic and I suppose what I really mean is life is a state of emergency, or at least that is what I would like to think, because emergency is related to emergence which sounds constructive and creative and nice—at least when alongside the word crisis and its connotation of mid-life crisis and Dante and missed opportunity. Dante of course was given to such feelings of crisis and in turn wrote a three-piece epic poem to a woman he never fucked and chances are was married anyway, but such is the Petrarchan tradition. There is an old box of Emergen-C in my cupboard and I can’t help but think that conceiving of my life as an emergency deludes me into thinking I’m being preventative, formulaic, pro-biotic. Emergency also sounds like urgency and I think—if only for a moment—my desire to be doing something with “my life” is synonymous with actually doing something with “my life.”

But it quickly occurs to me that this is illusory and someone somewhere is reading Sherwood Forest or a/s/l or any number of books of poems I *ought* to be reading. Of course I add them to my aptly titled Amazon wishlist “poesy” and congratulate myself for at some point in the near future reading them. First I must of course read the stack of books surrounding my bed and maybe trudge through Loba or more Heidegger and maybe workshop or read some poems publicly. Suddenly now this feels like a chore, a burden, a beast of burden, an animal, a cow, and I long for animal-urges which I connote with fucking probably because both the animal and fucking are misconstrued as aggressive. I realize now how fully I resonate with Dante—only I can’t write so well.

The correlation between animals and fucking and aggression is longstanding and I don’t really know where it begins but one imagines Adam and Eve and the snake played no small part. The Gospel of Eve was said to be declared heresy because the Gnostics who read it really liked oral sex. I wonder how differently Christianity and it’s relation to fucking and aggression would be if the Gospel of Eve was canonical. Between not including the Gospel of Eve or the Book of Judith we get a pretty clear picture of Protestant America’s view of women. When one thinks of non-human animal-sex and how rarely rape plays a role one should realize how its correlation with aggression is a gross misapplication and it’s really humans who are the aggressive ones.  Really we should equate the “animal” with consensuality, sensitivity, and wisdom. This is after all the traditional Buddhist depiction of the bull.

The bull is serene, powerful, and, to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, keeps all its weapons hid. Of course it still has weapons. Somehow this seems related to America and masculinity and the correlation between men and bulls and women and the cow. Suffice it to say the ice cream brand Skinny Cow manages to be sizist, speciesist, and sexist which is no small feat. I keep a copy of the Tao Te Ching here at work which is where I am now as I type this. I leave it out in the open to be ironic. It makes a lot of claims about “the world” which is something I’ve been trying to refrain from cause, god, I mean, what the hell does that mean, but it’s the Tao so I guess it can get away with shit like that. Religion excuses a lot.

One of the excuses of religion within Protestantism is that masculinity includes aggression, fucking, and a strong work ethic. This may also contribute to my crisis and approach to fucking but who knows. Once I pass through the stage of work ethic, guilt, general horniness and such I tend to emerge into a stage of general lethargy. Perhaps that’s a better word for it: lethargic. I like how it sounds clinical. Also, it sounds like Lethe which aside from Styx is the only river in hell people seem to remember. It’s funny when they can only remember Styx though.

Like Dante too the lethargy usually is followed by climbing a mountain of both learning to respect the self combined with penance. This strikes me as paradoxical which would bother Dante but at any rate we both agree we feel better when at the top of the mountain. Few people make mention of the fact that Dante punishes fat people more than people who really really like sex who are the closest to heaven. Maybe this is why I doubt Paradiso and it’s my least favorite of Dante’s trilogy, but still, I appreciate Dante putting me at the top of the mountain at least. If I had written the Comedy I would’ve put him in limbo.

At any rate I am still making the low and slow climb, heavy robes of guilt upon my shoulders, and muttering crazy things underneath my breath. Inferno strikes me as the most productive phase of writing and contemplation but maybe this is because it’s the phase wherein I think I’m the shit. Purgatorio is humbler but unambitious. It’s a stage appropriate for January and for drinking oneself to sleep. It’s the cure for lethargy really.

“The Female Eunuch” and Constructing Masculinity

I’ve recently been reading Germaine Greer’s feminist classic The Female Eunuch. Although spanning a diverse assortment of ideas and thoughts, the premise of the text is male-domination projects a sexless role onto women, causing girls at a young age to reject their own sexuality, and thus socializing all women as “eunuchs.” In case you’re wondering, yes, this book is steeped in 1970s American Freudian analysis.

Greer makes the assumption, as Freud seems to have, that castration is in any form essentially a shameful act—both on a literal and metaphoric level. This reading of Freud presumes that the phallus is a positive good, that power is inherent, essential, energetic, and that “healthy” men act upon it. Of course Greer argues that men don’t always use it positively in a moral sense, but that having power and “phallic” confidence is nevertheless a psychologically and morally healthy thing.

The problem with this is two-fold. One, it presupposes that anyone with a penis who has it removed is “shameful.” Here Greer lumps in eunuchs (who have a complicated history), castrati, sterile men, and I-shit-you-not trans women and homosexual men (so eloquently referred to as “f*ggots”). Conflating all these very different experiences as one and the same is so obviously offensive, historically errant, and so riddled with homophobia and transphobia I don’t even know where to begin. It further conflates all these diverse phenomena with the socially constructed “feminine ideal,” which is yet again another very separate issue.

Yes, Greer’s critique about phallogocentric psychoanalytic thinking shirking the vagina to a metaphysical absence and clitoral stimulation as adolescent are well made. But one gets the impression that Greer is arguing for two separate nodes of power—the phallus and “cunt” [sic]—rather than confronting the power abuses women have suffered under patriarchal thinking and practice. In other words, rather than critiquing male privilege and how it affects both women and men negatively, she merely projects a vision of a positive female sexuality like men have. And herein lies the contradictory nature of her work. Greer attempts an American masculinity without castrating it, and proposes a phallic-power-positive sexuality for women without patriarchy.

And the second problem I see here is a mirror reflection: she presupposes anyone with power who wants it removed is likewise “shameful.” Greer seems to assume that people have and use power rather than that people are had and used by power-structures. Perhaps Lacan can be of help here. Lacan’s reading of castration was that the moment of castration, rather than removing power or worth or value, reveals an absence that was there all along—the castrated person in question was in fact a “eunuch” already. To translate Lacan into Greer-talk—everyone is already a “eunuch,” sexless, weak, and it is our relationship and social-structures that implicate us with a gender and power. This is perhaps why Greer is so hostile towards trans women throughout the text—because trans issues reveal countless ways in which gender and power are not inherent biologically but inherited socially. Greer cannot seem to imagine someone revoking power, privilege, or a phallus for that matter.

Greer really then is arguing, in my opinion, the wrong thing. Masculinity is an implication, an inference, an accusation given how power relations are and have been mapped out historically. It’s an ideological machine that is created by and in order to fuel the status quo of patriarchal power-relations. Likewise femininity is such an ideological machine too. Neither of these are inherent or biologically essential as Greer herself works out throughout her text. But neither is power inherent. We are all weak and powerless and “sexless” but it is our situation—historically, socially, et al—that implicates us with a gender and power-relations.

If men have seemed to exude more “confidence,” “surety,” “ability,” and “energy” than women it is not neutral, but equally wrapped up in men’s history of dominating, demeaning, abusing, and raping women. As Susan Brownmiller notoriously said, male rapists are the “shock troopers” for all men, creating the power and privilege all men share, whether they want it or not. Perhaps a more positive masculinity would be one with more doubt, one that doesn’t have such “confidence.” After all, it is this “confidence” which has led men to declare the superiority of his race, nation, and religion, over others—and his body over that of women—and his privilege and power have given him ample opportunity to.

Deconstructing patriarchy is not just about a new womanhood, but a new manhood: one that is less sure, less phallic, and just maybe “sexless.” The premise that the “feminine ideal”—lumping in trans women, gay men, and sterile men along the way—is a metaphysical absence and therefore bad is nothing more than shaming and scapegoating victims of patriarchal oppression. Victim-blaming and calling people castrates like it’s the dirtiest word on the playground seems like a poor solution to overcoming gender-violence. I’m inclined rather to think the solution lies in embracing castration—grabbing patriarchy by the balls, and cutting the phallus of oppression right off.

a Fragment

Sick of waking

to find the normal people

gathering bits of it

along the sea—

diving here and there

headlong through salt of

foam and sea-foam

only to know what

of themselves they could

find. As if every

crate were lidless and

every bed unmade by

some sleeping. But all our

shells washed up last night—whited

with the glaze of seaweed and saltpeter.

They promised late week

showers—and later, this afternoon,

calmness, a swell of tide.

And yet, among these stones,

there is not room for us

to break shell, and what

outlet for this heat—

caught on dry wind hurrying

downhill, quietly, toward the basins.

Either way

you piss standing

and we say

 

this is the order

of things. Certain

 

as cigarettes

between our

 

drying fingers.

But peel back

 

and sooner

or later it

 

happens: and

touching—tender,

 

eminent—we

squeeze

 

out the rest.