Friday, October 19, 2012

Poem: A Legend of Usual Cruelties: infinity, redwoods, folly

Those are redwoods, to the left, massive, humbling redwoods.

Since the poem below was published in a review named after deft and learned genius, Katherine of Alexandria, may I inform you she is among those who chose Christianity over paganism (that being anything not Christian), thereby irking Maximus who called on heavyweight scholars and philosophers to argue her back to sanity. Tables were turned, as happens in tales of Christianity, and scholar after scholar & co. was convinced by Katherine's shining arguments to, themselves, convert. Things got iffy--mandatory for a saint in the making.

She lived and was martyred in the 4th Century. Like Saint Katherine College and Saint Katherine Review (which published "A Legend with Usual Cruelties") she is part of the Greek Orthodox tradition, in which she is celebrated for silencing the "arrogance of the ungodly." Oh how we need her now. 

Re: Saint Katherine Review. Scott Cairns is editor; Claire Bateman,  poetry editor; Kathleen Norris, prose editor; Caroline Langston Jarboe, fiction editor. Founded in 2011 at Saint Katherine College in oaky Encinitas, in California's subtly leafy southern portions.

 A Legend with Usual Cruelties

A thousand-year Redwood—
one ring encircling the other—
concentrically outdoing in circumference—
protecting—what grew before.
Dimensions beyond the obvious are
science, fiction, legend an adolescent will wrap her
mind around concentrically—
that there could be
replicas of her, unaware of her or wrapping
a parallel mind around a possibility of replication.
So legend replicates legend. Thus,
you are legend despite merely requisite
dimensions and flyaway hair with its layers
of disobedience and gleam.
You are a legend with usual cruelties.
You are a legend because one day you are kind
and don't laugh at Sarah Sarai saying
struggle could end if only.
You're a legend because you picked up a leaf,
a red leaf, and tried to figure, its spine now brittle like
your grandmother and thin but beautiful
how it grew on that tree and after a season
of impudent green, turned color,
like the sky will, every night, and
fluttered to brown hard earth.
They are talking of you even
now in a dimension transecting folly,
of your queasy appreciation of the gift.
So, beloved, you can sleep, and rest,
assured you inspire in more than one world.
Sarah Sarai. Saint Katherine Review, Volume 2, Number 2, 2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Binders of Women--on polygamous compounds--sanctioned statutory rape

Oh my God! I just remembered Big Love, the HBO series about a polygamous Mormon family hiding in plain sight.

The papa, played by Bill Paxton, is from a polygamous compound ruled by a tyrannical "father" (Harry Dean Stanton). There are, in fact, binders of women. Girls coming of age are  cataloged in a 3-ring notebook, through which the funky, ugly, nasty, male polygamists paw.  In exchange for political favors, or simply because it is their due, they choose wives and more wives (sister wives). Sanctioned, accepted statutory rape.

Yes, Big Love is a TV show, but this is a bit of a coincidence, me thinks. That reference to "binders of women" morphs from awkward to creepy to sinister.

Romney's father was born a year after my father. My background memories from my grandfather are the motherland of Russia, blended mysticism of the Caucasus Mountains, and the Cossacks being not so nice to Jews. On my mother's side: farming, Sweden, hardship, humor, good Lutheran propriety.  All that is part of me, as polygamy and cynicism toward women are part of Mitt.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fiction: CURTAINS: After her death, a girl tells of her "human white" sister & her "human black" brother-in-law

She's younger than the narrator, but similar.

by Sarah Sarai
published in the inaugural issue of
Belletrist Coterie, 2012

      So you might have heard in 1962 Fidel Castro let Nikita Khrushchev store missiles on the island of Cuba which isn't all that far from the U.S.A. which I am in more of a position to know than you are. Other stuff happened that year like John Glenn going around one of the planets, earth or moon or sun, I've never been sure which even though, again, I can see more than you. And those people back when James Meredith decided to enroll at the University of Mississippi, I remember their faces, like dried apple cores going moldy, from t.v. I was twelve. I'm thirteen now because I'll always be thirteen because I died in 1963 because my bike flipped because I barreled down the hill, loop-de-looped and landed in a ditch. The hot asphalt guy helping the ditch-digging guy didn't hear the steamroller guy shout. The hot asphalt guy isn't up here yet and I've done everything I can for him (which isn't much of anything but it is something) because he was really sorry about the whole thing.
      I could tell you what it's like up here when you Downed start talking to us Upped, asking favors, trying to bargain, and like that, but if I tell too much I might get in trouble, like I did in sixth grade when I told the boys about menstruation (I have two older sisters, man). My folks didn't care but the girls in my class were euuuuy and tsk tsk-y. My ma got her girls using tampons right away, is what I shared is what older sister #1 told me.
     The hot asphalt guy's name is Brian. He's Catholic. The Name is good about respecting everyone's stupidity, Catholics', Protestants', Jews', Muslims', Hindus' and so on. As long as you don't do anything that is dried-apple-core ugly you don't have to worry. I don't know where the dried apple cores are in finality. Of personal experience where you are, I only knew not-perfect family stuff like Ma slamming doors because of something Pop did or Pop getting red as wrapping paper when she ran at him with a kitchen knife. Family stuff like what I'm gonna tell you.
      So yeah I Upped, which is what all of death is for most everyone, a rising, and it has nothing to do with what you are told it has to do with because like I said we have Muslims and Hindus and Samoans here. You get invisible and somehow, there you are, in a pneumatic tube like they used at a department store downtown L.A. when Mom paid for my clothes. There is place for the Downed, as I said before, the moldy apple cores. I'm not supposed to see it, but I might, sometime. I know how to get around rules, some.
      I want to talk about my brother-in-law who I didn't get to know much but it was a big thing him and my sister marrying. My sister had run away to Chicago from L.A. She was eighteen. In my family her leaving was a scandal because although she told my parents before she left, and got a friend to drive her to Greyhound, it was still considered rash and rude. My other sister was valedictorian in high school and went to a fancy college. You can figure out why my sister who ran away, ran away. The valedictorian sister is twelve years older than me and still with you all, and so is the running-away sister, who is eight years older than me.
      One of the last things
I heard before I Upped was from my best friend Allison's grandma who was cooking a soup with ox bones and potatoes and an apple thrown in to sweeten up the kale and collards. "Stop by tomorrow and we'll fatten you up," she said. I don't have a body now so too late for that, but it wasn't like I was skinny.
      My brother-in-law was a black man. I suppose you don't need me to tell you he was a man because that is what brothers-in-law are, like brothers are though I never had one. Sisters are women which both of mine had become when I was down there even though I was a girl which was kind of weird, like being an only child, only not being an only child. Well it wasn't that weird but I said "kind of weird" and it was kind of weird.
      We started out in New York State so I know what storms are like. I have to mention this because I Upped in the San Fernando Valley where we moved to when we moved to California. The sky would suck itself in over the Long Island Sound when we lived in New York State and close its eyes and wait like the biggest brat on the block trying to fake you about while she hides and hopes you walk by so she can whop you with something like dried pussy willow branch or water from the hose or just scare you by jumping out.
      That's what the house in Encino felt like when my sister called my parents to tell them about her husband, which he was, because she'd married him in Chicago after she ran away to that city and got a job at the phone company—where they allowed her to wear only three pieces of jewelry at a time because, I don't know why. We got people coming up here with twenty pieces of jewelry all over them so I guess the phone company changed its policy but three-pieces-a-jewelry was standard when my sister married a black man.
      So there is the white of envelopes. I liked envelopes because birthday cards with five dollar bills came in envelopes and at your party you might get a card that had paper dolls as part of it all in a white envelope, plus clouds, when not being sucked into the sky, are white but my sister was not that kind of white. She was human white.
      And there is a particular cave, the Nancy Jane Tavern in New Mexico, we stopped at when we drove from New York State to California. For a minute the tour guide let us see how dark dark can be and it is black dark black. Also the gown my sister who was a valedictorian at her high school wore was black and it was not any other color. You haven't met Sunday our cat who died when he was twenty-one years old (yeah, I'm talking about you, kitty) but she was black and I know you have seen cats who are black so you know what black looks like and my sister's husband was not that kind of black. He was human black.
      He had more more voice than my pop did. I remember that. I remember thinking, he has more voice than Pop or Ma and trying to figure out why and not knowing. Pa once said opera singer ladies had to be fat to have those voices and that he liked those voices but my brother-in-law wasn't fat and didn't have an opera lady voice. I told my oldest sister the valedictorian about him having more voice when she called from the East Coast where she was going to college. She told me to shut up so I did.
      Oh, I was telling you about after the phone call from my sister who married a black man. Well, the feeling in our house was like outdoors before a storm, kind of gloomy and tense but exciting. I didn't know what was happening. Pop was a good regular pop who liked to drink liquors he kept under the sink next to the Ajax. He had good buddies who also drank liquors. I remember going to their houses. Their liquors were on shelves and one of them had his liquors in a cabinet with glass doors. So fancy.
      My sister who was human white and her husband who was human black moved to L.A. because it was easier to be human white and black married in Los Angeles than in Chicago. They lived on Vermont Avenue while I was still hanging out on earth and that is not in the San Fernando Valley because if you are black even human black you did not live in the San Fernando Valley. My parents didn't live there because they were human white but because that's where they found the tract house. They did their best.
      Ma was the religious one and I went to a Protestant Sunday School though I mainly remember that it was either me or the blonde girl next to me threw up one time. Pop was Jewish and human white.
      I don't know if I liked my brother-in-law. I met him only twice. He's still with you so I'll figure it out later when he Ups. The time on a watch or a clock doesn't mean a thing but I still have to wait to meet my nieces and nephews, my sister's and his kids who I loved even before they were born and they've never met me. It is good to have something to look forward to. When I was alive I wanted to meet Cleopatra and Emma Goldman. You'd think I had, now that we're three Upped females, but so far, no go.
      My brother-in-law got a job at what he did. The car repair shop was in the San Fernando Valley but they lived on Vermont Avenue so it was a good thing he worked at a car repair place so he could fix his car if it needed it because he drove a lot back and forth a lot.
      I loved the car radio and the music from it which my sister played before she moved to Chicago. She wouldn't let me touch the knob. She liked Elvis before she moved to Chicago and said she wondered how she could let Elvis know she really understood him and would be really nice to him and let him talk to her about anything, and that she understood so much that the other kind of girls could never understand because they were easy with life and happy-pretty. I pretended to look like Cleopatra with my Halloween wig and walking the Egyptian way. Maybe I liked Emma Goldman because I looked more like her than I looked like Cleopatra although my sister who got married didn't look like Emma or Cleopatra and she didn't look like one of the happy-pretty girls.
      I think my grandma pulled up beets in Sweden. I think my other grandma pulled up beets in Russia.
      My brother-in-law had been in the Army and gone to France and Germany when the U.S. was not at war but he started in Virginia where his pop had a farm. He was like my sister because his brothers and sisters, of which he had more than we did, were honor roll types and teachers. He ran away to the Army. I can tell you for a fact that up here like souls find like souls and that is what I see all the time, although I haven't seen Emma Goldman, but I have all the time in the world and believe you me that's a lot of time. She might be one of the people who created the world up here with her nice ideas about the “disorder of things” and how it's all “illumined by the spiritual light of Anarchism.” This world is nicer than the one you live in except I still haven't met my nieces and nephews who I love.
      I'm not wishing they leave the earth. I can wait.
      So okay, back to the afternoon we met my brother-in-law. Pop had drunk a bottle of liquors but it wasn't full when he started, so he really drank a glass or two and he added ice to his drink. Oh. He and Ma fed us this line about how we were all equal, everyone on Earth was equal and we were all children-of-The Name. It's true and all, but pretty obvious, like telling a kid, Don't barrel down a hill on your bike, which they never said.
        I might or might not have to end this story. Who cares about the phone call from my sister who ran away (though she didn't run away)? Sunday the cat cares. Yay, Sunday! Let's move on to when we met my brother-in-law. They came to visit us and I hadn't seen my sister the eighteen-year-old runaway for a year so she wasn't eighteen any more. My oldest sister was on the East Coast, as I have mentioned.
      My pop pulled the curtains closed and said something about the neighbors. He looked scared like I think he looked when he was my age, but Un-Upped, in New York City and the Irish kids were coming to beat him up. Ma's ma didn't want her to marry a person who was a yid but when she found out he liked liquors she approved and he could be really funny, besides.
       I'm a little pink in the cheeks about Pa pulling the curtain when my brother-in-law who was human black came to visit. Embarrassed is what I mean as you already know. But Pa's face never got like a dried apple-core-face and there is more to the story. When my brother-in-law was in the living room for a few minutes, drinking liquors with my pa, my pa pulled open the curtain, all the way back. My sister was in the kitchen talking lots and lots with my ma so neither of them saw the sun shining through the glass or the neighbor across the street mowing his lawn or his kid Herbie throwing a Frisbee to his puppy.
        I see planets and stars and real deal wonders you dream of, or see photographs and t.v. shows of, and things you can't even imagine, but I sorta miss seeing things like the sun shining through the window and my pa and my brother-in-law laughing about something or other and me pretending to be a big pitcher of lemonade with little ears shaped like handles which I was better at than I was at bicycling. Pretending. Listening to your pa and your brother-in-law who is human black is okay. Watching people live and get better was almost as good as living up here, though this place will be more fun when I can meet my nieces and nephews. I already love them.
by Sarah Sarai, published in the inaugural issue of Belletrist Coterie, 2012. All rights reserved. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Use It." A Transexual Tale.

Originally titled "Jordan Jones, Then and Now," "'Use it.'" was published in 1992 in West, a journal edited at Hampshire College.

Use it.”

by Sarah Sarai
When Jordan is a boy, his father signs him up for Scouting. “Be good for you, son.” Jordan asks why and his pop bops him one on the head, then pours out a tall whiskey. Hunkers into his chair.
Fellowship, companionship. It’s good to be like everyone else.”
Jordan tries.
I eat wimps for breakfast,” Scoutmaster Frank snarls. The stumpy man’s shoulders move up his neck with stealth as one eyebrow lifts like a Black Hawk on a mission. “You a wimp, son?”
In an early wet summer the troop is camping in the mountains. All eight Scouts huddle around the fire, and listen to wood crackle like an old radio in a garage. They’ve dragged through wet mud all day. Hoping to prevent mildew growth, Jordan sets his boots by the fire.
Eat it.” Jordan must look startled because Scoutmaster tears at one of Jordan’s boots with meaty hands, snorting as the toe guard loosens. He hacks away with his reg knife and displays the crusty leather like it’s a freshly slain fox. Jordan chews a small chunk of shoe and more meekly throws up. The following day, wearing sneakers, he leads the troop along rocks and twisty trails, to show he’s no weakling.
Maybe,” the leader spits, “you’re not a wimp, kid.” He levels his gaze to Jordan’s darting eyes. “Time will tell.” Jordan doesn’t reveal that his favorite part of camping is wishing on every bright star in the dark mountain sky to make him a girl.
He quits scouting. “Mom, it’s just no way to have fun.” He and his mother are standing in their small service porch, Mom at the ironing board, Jordan folding terry cloth towels. The windows’ limp green curtains flutter like a trapped canary as the steam iron clunks along. Mom responds variously and with a pause between each comment.
1. “Good for you, Jordan.” She whacks at an inset shoulder.
2. “That was a stupid thing to do.” Mom slops brandy into her morning coffee, and taking slight care to avoid making creases, slings Jordan’s father’s shirt onto a wire hanger.
3. She unplugs the iron; plugs it in again; looks around as if for a clue to her next move. “What’d you say?”
Jordan’s parents are light on child-rearing theories. Parenting as a concept or philosophy would strain the native inevitability of their approach: eat drink read have a kid see the kid reads. His parents are not en-people. En-people have en-kids. Empowered enabled entitled. His father, like an N-reactor, however, is unpredictable. He expresses pleasure at the demise of Scoutdom in the family.
Bunch of militarists. Stay home. Read a book. Learn to smoke. That’s what a boy should do. Learn to smoke.” He gives his startled son fifty cents for his first pack of cigarettes and returns to Huck Finn after refreshing his drink.
So Jordan smokes and plays with dolls and secretly dresses this way and that. He volunteers as prop master in the school plays and is also dummy for the hemming and fitting of the leading lady’s clothes. Wearing dresses with ruffled skirts and fitted bodices makes him feel normal. Then and now he is the same height and weight as the school prima donna. Then and now: 5-3, 130, black hair with waves like a pond on a sweet breezy day.
High school is the pits and that’s enough of that. Everything happens after he graduates. Instead of going to college, which he assumes will be an extension of the discomforts of high school, Jordan is a clerk in the main library downtown. Now all along he accepts his virility as a fait accompli and one of nature’s cruel flukes, yet feels wrong and empty. He figures there must be something in the world that can make him happy.
He meets Heidi. She’s an auditor for the City and comes to the library to examine financial ledgers. “I don’t really like to read,” she explains, tucking a blonde wisp behind her glasses. She pauses at his desk to ask if there’s a snack bar and as if she were at least a little chagrined by her nonintellectual admission—which he later realizes she isn’t—nervously bites her bottom lip, thin but painted, and reveals shallow dimples on either cheek.
So what good are books?” He slips out his marker from volume four of Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga, suddenly finding all families, unhappy or happy, to be merely worrisome. He decides then and there that Heidi’s attitude, which keeps her safe from fiction’s heady twists, is the right one to have. He directs her to a coffee shop a block away and offers to meet her for lunch.
Heidi is five years older than he is and everything he isn’t: tall, slim, blonde, mathematical, remote and female. He falls: splat into love.
About the same time as he meets Heidi and in what feels like a parallel but distant galaxy, he becomes incensed, like he’s a chafing dish with an eternal flame as sterno. A tan skinny woman in turquoise sweats and loose strings of gold chains comes into the library and asks for the works of Shirley MacLaine. “Lady, look on the astral shelves,” he snaps, punching a blank piece of paper in the automatic date stamp. She’s confused. “You’re stupid, you know that?”
When a bug-eyed mother of two loud brats demands he remove Lord of the Flies, he rips out the flyleaves from three copies of the book she’s carrying and crams them into her cold sweaty hand. The deciding incident occurs in the elevator heading up to the fourth floor. Some athletic coach-type presses the third-floor button, in search of cowboy paperbacks Jordan figures, flipping the coach-type the bird followed up with a resonant raspberry. The head librarian, Mrs. Applebalm, insists Jordan get help.
After a few phone calls and referrals followed by more phone calls and a screening interview so that he can be more incisively screened and referred, he begins seeing a therapist and attending group. Everyone in the non-geometric circle talks about their parents and he takes the hint, revealing more than he thought he knew or remembered.
I don’t think they listened to me very closely.” He looks at the members of group, sitting on folding chairs in the dumpy room with People and Psychology Today on the Formica coffee tables.
He tells about the Fall day his parents drove to the desert to practice archery. Pop and Mom noisily unloaded the car; slung on quivers. The red rocks watched them without comment. “Stay close to me, Jordan,” his father cautioned. He screwed the cap back on his flask and aimed his thirty-weight bow straight up. “Galileo didn’t think of this one,” he boasts, shooting a steel-tipped arrow into the clear desert air.
Watch out, Pop,” Jordan warned, weakly tugging at his father’s arm.
Son, have I ever steered you wrong?”
They shaded their eyes and watched transfixed as the arrow shot straight up in a seeming attempt to outrun natural laws, give up, accede to the inevitable and shot straight down, landing one foot from where they stood. Only its striped feathers were visible above the desert earth.
Jordan’s mother came running. “Oh my God,” she shouted at Pop, “you could have been killed.” She slugged Jordan on the arm. “You’re supposed to take better care of your father. This is your fault. Why aren’t you like other boys?”
What are you talking about? The kid’s a bum. You a bum, Jordan?” Jordan shrugged and tried without success to unearth the buried arrow. Pop bopped him one on the head. “Let’s eat,” he said. “So are there sandwiches or not?”
What’s the rush?” Mom stretched and smiled as sweetly as Eve awakening into another morning in paradise, maybe her last. She stared at Jordan as if trying to remember who he was and reached for Pop’s flask.
Jordan’s therapy group hears the family narrative. His sharing is even more intensely tracked when he joins an anonymous fellowship. “I think Heidi’s not like my family. I think Heidi does care,” he explains. His throat hurts. “I think she does listen.” Folks look concerned, their eyes flickering compassion and warning. “She does,” he insists, pushing on his Adam’s apple. She’s not a woman to love too much.
Well, they do have some good times. She’s a birder, a fact which inspires him to buy several field guides. Heidi the auditor says he shouldn’t be so extravagant.
I thought you liked birds,” he protests. “Heidi, your interests are my interests.”
Jordan, there’s no need to spend money.” They are speaking on the phone, but he can imagine the stern line of her lip, ending in a dimple like an indentation in sand. He traces hearts and their initials in the margins of a guide to feeder birds.
One time they drive a bit on a Saturday morning and park his beater of a car by an open field. “That’s a Robin redbreast, Jordan. You know them.” Heidi hands him her thrift-shop binoculars. He adjusts for myopia then locates: a fingerprint, an abandoned Chrysler and, finally, a simple winged creature, a Turtus migratorius, etc. etc., as Heidi explains.
More, more,” he says, enthused by her erudition. Heidi bashfully lowers her eyelids and suggests they drive further up the road. They hold hands when they arrive at the next spot. Rain has begun to spatter her window and the trees and sturdy grasses hide the birds from their view. “I love you, Heidi. I want to be just like you.”
He invites her to a party that night, a fellow library clerk has become engaged to her high school beau, now an English teacher, but Heidi says she’s had enough for one day, not that she’s had enough of Jordan, but that she’s tired. By the time he drops her off, she’s nodding blankly as he gabs on. He describes his parents; his reluctant masculinity; career dreams; the big changes he feels imminent within.
I had fun.” Heidi clutches the door handle, her knuckles white as a pigeons’ breast, “and I think we should do this again and I’m glad you’re around because you’re good for me.” He asks what she means and she says that he makes her contact her own emotions and dreams, which she understands is important to do.
Jordan is in heaven. Someone wants him to be as he is, talkative and questing. They go birding two more times and Heidi opens to him like the door to her soul is an not only an automatic one, but has a back-up generator for emergencies, or so he believes. “Sometimes I’m scared,” she confides. When he asks her of what, she furrows her brow and squints as if she sees a new aerial species on a far tree. She talks about staying with the City for another ten years and then moving to private industry. Cutting expenditures is a lifelong goal. His goals are also grand but not so specific. He’s begun taking college classes and thinks about being therapist some day.
Could you change, Jordan?” she asks as they eat her peanut butter and margarine sandwiches on day-old bread. It absorbs the tastes better, she maintains.
Not always be so emotional?” She shakes out the baggies and tucks them in her purse.
He buys a string of pearls, and calls her that evening. They chat then she says she’s tired and hangs up. He calls back and she hangs up. He calls back again. She doesn’t answer. The next morning she’s happy to talk.
I’m sorry,” he says.
Don’t be silly. I just unplugged the phone. I’m as happy as a clam.”
He’s grateful she still wants to see him the next weekend. When they’re together, Heidi tries on his pearls, but says the strand is too long for her. She holds them up to Jordan’s face and quickly lowers them.
A few weeks later, they discuss commitment. She swivels those cool green eyes to his teary blue eyes and says, “I have none.”
He argues that he can change.
All couples form habits and follow patterns and this is theirs: his calling and getting hung up on several times; his panicking; driving to her place, begging to be let in, being let in, sweet closeness, and then fighting about the style of that closeness.
He wears his first string of pearls to work. Whether or not the pearls’ luster set off his cherry cheeks and blue eyes is not the issue, he now knows. He is still a biological man, feeling like a woman, in a relationship with someone whom, these days, he wouldn’t even choose to be friends with.
His therapist notices his pearls. He acknowledges they’re more than just a fashion statement. He wants the accessories that go along with his accessories—like a bustline. His therapist also broaches the fact that he claims to be in love with a human who only causes him pain. He skirts the possibility. When that same issue of his loving an inappropriate human comes up in his groups he is more honest.
I’m terrified of being alone.”
After the pearls come the lace collar, patiently tatted in 1899 by a Philadelphia Quaker. He still owns it, it’s quite lovely. Then he shaves the hair from his chest, arms and legs. He recalls that day well, because he shaves the hair, then phones Heidi with the news.
That’s okay, Jordan,” she assures him. “That’s not why I don’t want you.”
But do you love me?”
I don’t care to talk about that.”
Will you go out with me Friday?”
If you insist.”
And next Friday?”
Don’t hassle me.”
Can I come over?”
She hangs up. He calls back. No answer. He drives to her house. “Let me in.” She opens the door, takes a hammer and begins to whack at him. He gets a fleshwound. She bops him one on the head with her fist. He falls to his knees, kisses her lap and stares at her with adoration.
A woman likes being looks at like that,” she admits. “It makes a woman feel good.”

His transsexual support group hears as much about Heidi as they have about what it’s been like to live on hormones, and go through four operations. They’ve been great. His emotional peers are those who know the impact of the pull of one body for another body; it’s as strong as gravity as described by Newton, as distance between two masses. This pull is the impact of his type of love for Heidi. His peers help him disentangle himself from the shame of the pull. They point out that Heidi is stuck.
They remind him of the time he asked Heidi if she’d get counseling with him. She refused, saying, “My boyfriend in high school tried therapy, and it changed him.” She has a recurring dream which he doesn’t divulge: “I’m in a stream, and a big group of loud people are having fun over in the distance on the shore and I’m wearing all my clothes, including my wool coat, and hugging my knees and can’t get myself to move.”
While he and Heidi are still going together and still fighting, she finds someone else, and that’s that. Anyone who has ever loved, or been loved, or had a friend who’s loved or been loved, or even sat next to someone on a bus or plane or train, someone who’s loved or been loved; anyone who’s ever read any of the greats, near-greats, or purveyors of sleaze and trash, or seen an opera, soap, mini-series, or movie; or followed the lives of the stars as recorded in the tabloids, knows that story, so he’s free to continue with his.
Except that soon after Heidi starts seeing the man, Jordan wakes up in such internal agony that he decides suicide is okay, that this stuff about sin is a notion, a held belief, and that if it doesn’t fit he doesn’t have to heed it. He looks up guns in the yellow pages and tears out the half-page listing stores where he can buy a revolver or something. He is going to shoot Heidi and then himself. He phones to tell her.
Are you serious?”
I’m not sure. I think so.”
Leave me alone. And go ahead shoot yourself.” She hangs up.
He jumps in his car and sideswipes a VW on his way over. She screams he’s sick when he bangs on the door. She calls the police. He isn’t arrested, just asked to leave. His transsexual transition group meets at his apartment. Folks help him en-vision a new way of filling himself, without Heidi. “How do you want to feel about your life? What do you see yourself being and doing?”
He wants to feel calm, positive, and fearless. He sees himself as female.
Repeat affirmations,” folks say.
I am powerful,” he declares. “I am serene,” he coos. “I am woman.”
Go for it,” friends cheer.
He does.
He dresses as he feels is natural, in skirts, shirtwaists and graceful slacks. He tries heels but decides flats are fine for this woman, although he does like the look of a shaved leg. He arranges his waves into a shapely coif, buys a flattering shade of lipstick, five eye shadows (creams and glitters), and a motorcycle jacket from the Goodwill, experimenting with what it means to be female.

He goes to a gender-identification clinic back east where he’s tested extensively, and is in therapy for five years. He has a boyfriend for three of those five years but the boyfriend isn’t ready for a lifetime partnership.
It’s not that you were once a man,” Brad says, gripping Jordan’s soft hands. “It’s that I need to keep myself open to experience. And how can I be sure you’re the person to spend all of my life with?”
All the while he’s opening up as a woman Jordan’s opening up his humanity. He can’t help but feel that being a woman serves as a metaphor for being a peacemaker. “But I know my violence and need to hurt Heidi wasn’t in me because I’m a man.” He offers this information to his group, along with more tales of poor modeling during childhood years. At one time in his life, he had no idea that aggression and nastiness weren’t standard operating procedure. “Jordan, there are other ways to be in this world.” Alternative behaviors are described and discussed. They aren’t fluid or natural to him, but he gives them a shot.

He’s been partner in a group practice for five years. Feeling guilty at drawing on his life experiences, he listens to his old friend Mrs. Applebalm, when she advises, “Use it.”
I couldn’t have behaved otherwise back then,” he shares with his client. He fiddles with the leaves on his potted ivy. “And you’re doing the best you can do every minute.”
You don’t make me feel like I’m sick, like other therapists do.” His client’s blush warms his heart. He doesn’t know if he’s changed the world one bit. But having cushioned his need to hurt and be hurt is, if not the end of ire, a continuation of all that his body, with its moving and very interchangeable parts, has told him all his life. And if it’s true, and he knows it is, that some people find him an aberration, a distortion of nature or some divine plan, all he can say is, “Think again.” 
by Sarah Sarai.  "'Use it.'" was published as "Jordan Jones, Then and Now," in West, Hampshire College, 1992.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rexroth..."The doom of versifying —"

A gorgeous passage, a smidgen--relative to the over 200 pages of Rexroth's flow...the beginning of poem, The Dragon and the Unicorn. I scouted Rexroth and tra-la found a body, if you will, of links at the Bureau of Public Secrets. It's a great source.

And to tempt you, here is a philosophic teaser from the following excerpt, promising more than philosophy:

As one time is / Measured against the other, both / Are considered to lie in a / Neutral medium of serial / Instants, or against a linear / Background of dots in series.

“And what is love?” said Pilate,
And washed his hands.

                                  All night long
The white snow falls on the white
Peaks through the quiet darkness.
The overland express train
Drives through the night, through the snow.
In the morning the land slopes
To the Atlantic, the sky
Is thicker, Spring stirs, smelling
Like old wet wood, new life speaks
In pale green fringes of marsh
Marigolds on the edges
Of the mountain snow drifts. Spring
Is only a faint green haze
On the high plains, only haze
And the fences that disappear
Over the horizon, and the
Rails, and the telegraph
Poles and the pale singing wires
Going on and on forever.

All things are made new by fire.
The plow in the furrow, Burns
Or Buddha, the first call to
Vocation, the severed worms,
The shattered mouse nest, the seed
Dripping from the bloody sword.
The sleepers chuckle under
The wheels, mocking the heartbeat.

We think of time as serial
And atomic, the expression
By mechanical means of a
Philosophical notion,
Regular divisibility
With a least common divisor
Of motion by motion, so
Many ticks to a century.
Such a thing does not exist.
Actually, the concept
Of time arose from the weaving
Together of the great organic
Cycles of the universe,
Sunrise and sunset, the moon
Waxing and waning, the changing
Stars and seasons, the climbing
And declining sun in heaven,
The round of sowing and harvest,
And the life and death of man.

The doom of versifying —
Orpheus was torn to pieces
By the vindictiveness of
Women or struck down by the
Jealousy of heaven.
The doom of the testicles —
Chiron’s masculinity
Was so intense that all his
Children were adopted and
Later destroyed by the gods.

The deed done, Orestes draws
His steel penis like a snake
From its hole. The sun and moon
In Capricorn, Electra,
The little she-goat, bleats and squirms,
Her brother between her thighs,
From whose wounds pour forth both blood
And water, the wine of whose
Maidenhead turns to water
Of baptism, the fiery
Mixture of being and not being,
The artist is his own mother.

Chicago, the train plunges through
A vast dome of electric gloom.
Cold wind, deepening dark, miles
Of railroad lights, 22nd
And Wentworth. The old Chinese
Restaurants now tourist joints.
Gooey Sam where we once roared
And taught the waiters to say
Fellow Worker, is now plush.
As the dark deepens I walk
Out Wentworth, grit under my feet.
The smell of frying potatoes
Seeps through the dirty windows.
The old red light district is
Mostly torn down, vacant lots
Line the railroad tracks. I know
What Marvell meant by desarts
Of vast eternitie. Man
Gets daily sicker and his
Ugliness knots his bowels.
On the site of several
Splendid historical brothels
Stands the production plant of
Time-Luce Incorporated.
Die Ausrottung der Besten.

Do not cut a hole in the
Side of a boat to mark the
Place where your sword dropped and sank.

In experience each present
Time includes its past and as the
Future appears it is included
In it. Only when we come to
Compare the time of one group of
Facts with another do we have
To imagine a common factor,
The instant. As one time is
Measured against the other, both
Are considered to lie in a
Neutral medium of serial
Instants, or against a linear
Background of dots in series.
With hardly any exceptions
The great philosophers have held
That this kind of time is unreal.

Women of easy virtue,
Nanda and Syata, came
To Buddha before the first
Enlightenment. Ambipali,
A whore richer than princes,
Before the last Nirvana.
Jesus was born in Rachel’s tomb,
John’s Salome his midwife.

A freshman theme, “It is the
Contention of this paper
That the contemporary world
Is fundamentally corrupt.”
by Kenneth Rexroth, more information at the Bureau of Public Secrets

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wallace Stevens. "Farewell to Florida" in my Chakras.

Elise Stevens & child (Holly?)
I answered a call to read Wallace Stevens' "Farewell to Florida" out loud, and a good choice it was, an exemplary way to positively reward my recent push to say Yes! to opportunity.

It was Bob Quatrone who put out the call. An established (as they say) poet in the New York open mic scene, with no small level of erudition when it comes to poetry and poets, Bob curates the Four Horsemen reading at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village.

He was specific in asking for a reader for this poem. I didn't remember having read it. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. My edition of Stevens' poems crumbled with age last year and I still haven't replaced it.

"Farewell to Florida" isn't necessarily elegaic, though it is, Bob told me, written after Stevens wife died.  What made this such a wonderful poem to read out loud several times before the reading--on the subway platform, while walking crosstown on Bleecker, while on my building's stoop--was its subtlety. Which is subtle. On first read it is, as Harold Bloom has written, Shelleyan and Spenser-like (paraphrase), and that slight formality, that almost clever rhyming surprised me, and not happily.

Cleverness is something to be fought, in poetry.  Any poet worth her lines is enormously clever. Clever is easy, a cheap trick. It was the rhyming that seemed too easy, although I don't encounter rhyme much in poetry I read, unless it is slight as a functional braincell in a Tea Partier's brain. So when I read, "Her mind had bound me round. The palms were hot / As if I lived in ashen ground, as if / The leaves in which the wind kept up its sound. . . " I wasn't won over.

Dissection isn't the necessary ticket to embrace, it turns out.  (Read that sentence both ways.)  The poem itself, in its being, won me over, the poem in my head, heard through the mic, off subway walls and track. The poem feeling its way through my body, blood, organs, weaving through chakras, from sexual to celestial and back again.  The silk of it, the tongue-teasing rhythms like the swaying palms Stevens has written of. I suggest you read this poem out loud several times, and tell me if you agree. Also tell me what you think Stevens means by "I am free." Don't be glib.

Farewell To Florida

Go on, high ship, since now, upon the shore,
The snake has left its skin upon the floor.
Key West sank downward under massive clouds
And silvers and greens spread over the sea. The moon
Is at the mast-head and the past is dead.
Her mind will never speak to me again.
I am free. High above the mast the moon
Rides clear of her mind and the waves make a refrain
Of this: that the snake has shed its skin upon
The floor. Go on through the darkness. The waves fly back

Her mind had bound me round. The palms were hot
As if I lived in ashen ground, as if
The leaves in which the wind kept up its sound
From my North of cold whistled in a sepulchral South,
Her South of pine and coral and coraline sea,
Her home, not mine, in the ever-freshened Keys,
Her days, her oceanic nights, calling
For music, for whisperings from the reefs.
How content I shall be in the North to which I sail
And to feel sure and to forget the bleaching sand ...

I hated the weathery yawl from which the pools
Disclosed the sea floor and the wilderness
Of waving weeds. I hated the vivid blooms
Curled over the shadowless hut, the rust and bones,
The trees likes bones and the leaves half sand, half sun.
To stand here on the deck in the dark and say
Farewell and to know that that land is forever gone
And that she will not follow in any word
Or look, nor ever again in thought, except
That I loved her once ... Farewell. Go on, high ship.

My North is leafless and lies in a wintry slime
Both of men and clouds, a slime of men in crowds.
The men are moving as the water moves,
This darkened water cloven by sullen swells
Against your sides, then shoving and slithering,
The darkness shattered, turbulent with foam.
To be free again, to return to the violent mind
That is their mind, these men, and that will bind
Me round, carry me, misty deck, carry me
To the cold, go on, high ship, go on, plunge on.
by (1879-1955) Wallace Stevens