Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

Because this is beautiful:

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup
upon its branching stem-
save that it’s green and wooden-
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you.
We lived long together
a life filled,
if you will,
with flowers. So that
I was cheered
when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
in hell.
Today
I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers
that we both loved,
even to this poor
colorless thing-
I saw it
when I was a child-
little prized among the living
but the dead see,
asking among themselves:
What do I remember
that was shaped
as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
with tears.
Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
though too weak a wash of crimson
colors it
to make it wholly credible.
There is something
something urgent
I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait
while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
And so
with fear in my heart
I drag it out
and keep on talking
for I dare not stop.
Listen while I talk on
against time.
It will not be
for long.
I have forgot
and yet I see clearly enough
something
central to the sky
which ranges round it.
An odor
springs from it!
A sweetest odor!
Honeysuckle! And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
and a whole flood
of sister memories!
Only give me time,
time to recall them
before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
time.
When I was a boy
I kept a book
to which, from time
to time,
I added pressed flowers
until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
The asphodel,
forebodingly,
among them.
I bring you,
reawakened,
a memory of those flowers.
They were sweet
when I pressed them
and retained
something of their sweetness
a long time.
It is a curious odor,
a moral odor,
that brings me
near to you.
The color
was the first to go.
There had come to me
a challenge,
your dear self,
mortal as I was,
the lily’s throat
to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
I thought,
held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
in an apple blossom.
The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
The whole world
became my garden!
But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
and the waves
are wakened.
I have seen it
and so have you
when it puts all flowers
to shame.
Too, there are the starfish
stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
and weeds. We knew that
along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
knew its rose hedges
to the very water’s brink.
There the pink mallow grows
and in their season
strawberries
and there, later,
we went to gather
the wild plum.
I cannot say
that I have gone to hell
for your love
but often
found myself there
in your pursuit.
I do not like it
and wanted to be
in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.
Its guerdon
is a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.
If no one came to try it
the world
would be the loser.
It has been
for you and me
as one who watches a storm
come in over the water.
We have stood
from year to year
before the spectacle of our lives
with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
Lightning
plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
is placid,
blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
It is a flower
that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
We danced,
in our minds,
and read a book together.
You remember?
It was a serious book.
And so books
entered our lives.
The sea! The sea!
Always
when I think of the sea
there comes to mind
the Iliad
and Helen’s public fault
that bred it.
Were it not for that
there would have been
no poem but the world
if we had remembered,
those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,
would have called it simply
murder.
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
sending so many
disinterested
men to their graves
has left its memory
to a race of fools
or heroes
if silence is a virtue.
The sea alone
with its multiplicity
holds any hope.
The storm
has proven abortive
but we remain
after the thoughts it roused
to
re-cement our lives.
It is the mind
the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
Silence can be complex too,
but you do not get far
with silence.
Begin again.
It is like Homer’s
catalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.
I speak in figures,
well enough, the dresses
you wear are figures also,
we could not meet
otherwise. When I speak
of flowers
it is to recall
that at one time
we were young.
All women are not Helen,
I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
My sweet,
you have it also, therefore
I love you
and could not love you otherwise.
Imagine you saw
a field made up of women
all silver-white.
What should you do
but love them?
The storm bursts
or fades! it is not
the end of the world.
Love is something else,
or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
though I knew you as a woman
and never thought otherwise,
until the whole sea
has been taken up
and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else,
a grateful love,
a love of nature, of people,
of animals,
a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
that moved me
and that I saw in you.
I should have known,
though I did not,
that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many ill
who whiff it.
We had our children,
rivals in the general onslaught.
I put them aside
though I cared for them.
as well as any man
could care for his children
according to my lights.
You understand
I had to meet you
after the event
and have still to meet you.
Love
to which you too shall bow
along with me-
a flower
a weakest flower
shall be our trust
and not because
we are too feeble
to do otherwise
but because
at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
therefore to prove
that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
that I could not cry to you
in the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
Hear me out
for I too am concerned
and every man
who wants to die at peace in his bed
besides.

William Carlos Williams

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Vacation

K and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take a mini-break and for the past two days thoroughly enjoyed this large, East Coast city.  I will give you these photographic clues to guess where we went:

Day one:

Hiding in plain sight

How we got around

Nice hat

The home stop

Candlepin pros

Don’t tell me what to do.

We make time for love anywhere

A stroll on the waterfront

And then:

An old agony

Statesmanship

Call the cops, he’s loud and it’s after midnight.

Lunchtime

5$ for a rose, but the prayers are free

The look over a shoulder before the bus out of town

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

11 Weeks Post-Op

I’ve been hella-lazy with the photographed, post-op milestones, but here we are–11 weeks!

At this point, my baby would be just over 1 1/2 inches long and about the size of a fig.  But thank God, I just have top surgery scars, not some disgusting immaculate conception.

Like a hung painting, I’m only crooked when immobile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, my left side is still a bit swollen (it bows out at about nipple height) and I am beginning to accept that this might be some scar tissue.  Or, this might be only 11 weeks into healing.  In any event, this is not my long term, healed chest.

I haven’t done any profile shots in a while, so I thought I would take some today:

RIGHT SIDE:

Additional scars courtesy of my binder and the draining tube. Oh shit! Is that the Virgin Mary hoola-hooping in the background? Why, yes it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEFT SIDE:

Ignore all that shit in the background here–we’re packing to move; you know how that is. Wait a minute, that’s just our over-the-door coat rack and additional floor-supported coat rack.  Shit, it always looks like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scars are puffier the closer they come to my armpits, no doubt because that’s where they get the most stretching.  The bits of the scars that look blurry or smudged are actually much lighter in real life and are healing the best.  In a year I imagine those bits will be almost invisible.

Left side: the sergeant at full attention, a little dry, but healthy and happy to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an effort to exert his manhood, the Sarge has recently sprouted his first hair, a tiny prick of a thing, coming in on the southwest hemisphere (still too diminutive to be spotted in this picture, oh, but trust me, it’s there).

Right side, our little Cody is growing up so fast!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cody was the late bloomer, purple and gross for most of the first few weeks, but look at him now, so pink and symmetrical and sexy!

How do I feel?  I am happy: I am pleased with my body’s progress, and thank it nightly for all the hard work it’s doing.  I have been lax about using the silicone strips, but I do see a difference between the days when I wear them and when I don’t, and K sees it too: the scars are much less raised and much more skin toned when I wear them, and if I don’t wear them my scars are puffier and more red.  I have only an occasional shooting pain where my body is continuing to regenerate tissue and nerves, and have regained full range of motion.  I am still a bit tight when I stretch far overhead, but it’s a pull in the scar tissue I feel, not any pain.  And that pull feels good, like a healthy stretch, not a painful injury.  I need now to be working on my scar tissue massages to loosen that area up, and continue to moisten my nipples, as they still get dry if I don’t put some vitamin e or aloe vera on them at least twice a day.

In closing, a shot of the view from up here:

Untitled 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Poolside in Lincoln Park (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, when I was trudging through the fifth circle of the hell, where the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn “into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe,” (this plight is also known as looking for an apartment in Chicago in August) the only refuge I had from my days’ nightmarish encounters was the comfort I found by staying with an old friend, D.  D was my religion professor at that expensive private school in which I spent my undergrad years*, he also is active in the LGBT community in the form of bassist extraordinaire in a hip post-punk trio.**  He is a champion for all minorities, and one of my personal heroes.  We had fallen out of contact after I went to grad school and he started teaching in NYC, but my Facebook account finally made itself worth having when D friended me there just weeks ago.

So, I was having a shit time the first few days of apartment-hunting, and was pretty stressed about it, when D told me he was going swimming and had an extra pair of trunks. K*** encouraged me to go and so I thought fuck it, I’ll go!  And then I thought, no I couldn’t!  Or, could I?

Hmm.  Well, lemme try on the trunks…they fit.  Also, D is a great person to go try my new chest out with.****  I have a immense respect for D.  He is incredibly intelligent and very compassionate and really stands up for what (and who) he believes in.  I felt I would be safe with him.  When we got to the gym and D signed me in as a guest, it was cracking me up to watch this poor kid at the desk read my ID and register my legal name and gender and all the while D, so naturally, is all “he this” and “Eli that” and it makes perfect sense to him and to me (and I didn’t even have to, for once, go into the long explanation of transgender issues when coming out to D***** as trans) but this desk kid kept trying to steal glances up to me, while being discreet, and it was a great deal of fun to watch someone else squirm for a change.  I don’t mean to be mean-spirited, but she was perplexed and couldn’t quite figure out who she was signing in, her only saving grace being that D and I were the only ones standing there, ergo, I, Eli, the confusing he-she, is the one being signed in.   D also asked for the key to the family changing room because he knew I would be more comfortable there, and well hell, this whole sweet exchange of watching D just treat me like a regular person was nearly enough to choke me up.

Here I was, on the precipice of going topless in public for the first time with my new chest, and more to the point, my new identity, and I felt pretty safe and secure and more confident than I had in recent memory when trying something new and scary.  Dare I say…I felt entitled.

Not this kind of entitled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But rather, the kind of entitled that comes from feeling liberated from marginalization.  I felt entitled to be treated humanely.  I felt I deserved the respect with which I was being treated.  I felt like one of the people, you know, just a regular person going swimming with his buddy.  I felt like I had done nothing wrong by existing.  That kind of entitled: entitled to the space my body needs just to exist.

That day, when D and I were changing into our trunks and he was showing me how to spit into my goggles to keep them from fogging up, I felt like I belonged.  Even with the F on my ID and the lack of a top piece to my swimming suit, I felt like I had just as much right to swim in that pool as everyone else did.  My gender incongruence felt accepted.  No one at the pool gave a shit whether of not I had a top on–they were more interested in their own day at the pool than my wardrobe.  And that is as it should be.

I had a great time: D and I did some laps (I did 7!  7 whole laps!  That’s 300 yards, people.), and talked in-between about stuff, my gender choices, his band, our experiences with the queers and I just fucking relaxed for a change.  The water felt great on my body, and the laps opened up some of the tightness in my chest from the surgery.  I have already found the gym I am joining when I move home, it’s a little further away than I would like, but it has a pool.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*And, it should be noted, was one of those professors that believed in me and encouraged me and was really fucking awesome.

**Trust me, they are way cooler than I make them sound.  I sound like their mom/press agent.

***Remember that graduate degree?  Well, we can’t all afford to be flying here and there looking at apartments, so when the time came to move home, I was chosen as the one to go be the eyes on the ground, as it were, because, as K and I both know in our hearts, I am “the picky one” and God helps us if K were to go home and pick a perfectly fine apartment but one that had a neighbor who played their t.v. a little too loud, or one that had a centipede here or there.  Eli would fucking lose it.  For the length of a lease.  And don’t nobody wanna hear all that shit for months on end, not even Eli.

****Of course, K is the perfect person to go try my new chest out with.  But D is equal parts fearless and logical, and so it was his bravery I was tapping into to give the dude trunks a try.  Actually, in much the same ways K is those things, fearless and logical, and so without her there, D is the perfect person, in this situation, to try out the new chest.  I love them both in different ways for some similar characteristics, I guess is what I am trying to get across here.

*****One of the people in his band is a trans dude, and D has been a part of the queer scene for a very long time, and so this is not his first day on the job, as it were.

Takin’ Off My Water Wings (Part 1 of 2)

Take One: Puffer’s Pond

So, a few weeks ago K, our friend BB, and I went to the local swimmin’ hole here in Western Mass, Puffer’s Pond.

Photo courtesy of the city of Amherst (amherst.gov)

We had planned for a week to go, and then, of course, on the day of, after a full seven days of sun and heat, it clouds up and fakes like it’s gonna rain all day.  So, I figure, we will hang out on the beach* and when it rains we will go do something else.  I didn’t wear my swim trunks, and was utterly unprepared when it actually didn’t rain.  BB and K were prepared, however, so they went for a bit of a swim.  The area there at Puffer’s is really very pretty, actually, there’s a nice rock formation and lots of trees.  I was feeling at ease by myself, relaxin’ on the beach, when I thought, hey, you could take your shirt off, you know, if you wanted.

I looked around…there was a dude swimming with his family (composed of a ladyfriend and a few elementary school aged kids), two lesbians a little older than me sitting on a log about 8 feet behind me and chatting, a retirement-age couple floating around on inner tubes, and a few single adults a little further down the beach, and K and BB swimming quietly away to explore the rock formation a little ways down the pond.  Not exactly the throngs of bodies you might find at home on a similar day at Hollywood Beach, but still, public topless sunbathing…was I ready for it?

Turns out, I was not.

I decided to keep my top on and mope about feeling like there was no place for bodies like mine now that I had decided to have surgery, but not take T.  Even without tits, I still present very much like a female, because, well, I am still in a female body, just a female body without protruding mammary glands.

So on the “beach” that day I felt like a trans sore thumb, not ready to stick my still healing scars out into the real world for observation and judgment.  And that made me mad, it pissed me off that my body, now that I have started to claim it as my own, started to mold it in a way that reflects how I see myself internally, now it would be rejected.  Or so I presumed.   Fact of the matter is, I rejected myself that day: by keeping my top on I never gave the other people on the beach the chance to reject me or (and this is much more likely what would have happened) to not give a shit at all and continue enjoying their day.

Eli sat on the beach and felt sorry for himself that the world doesn’t make space for his kind.  Truth: Eli doesn’t make space for his kind by keeping his top on.  It is not up to some “world” out there to make my life comfortable for me.  It is up to me.  So last week, I got another chance to swim, and I didn’t bitch out.

Next time: Take Two, Poolside in Lincoln Park

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*Beach (in Western Mass): n. a small, hard area of land near a tiny body of water, usually man-made, that might have once been made of sand, but currently feels like matted dirt, on which to put a blanket because you don’t want your towel to touch it.

How Did I Get Here? Where Am I Going?

For college, I went to an expensive private school in the Midwest, because my girlfriend went there, and I got in, and no one advised me on how student loans worked.  All I knew was, I was a poor kid, and I got accepted to a fancy school, and they were giving me half in grants and half in loans and I wanted to be a teacher so I would just pay them back later.*

Dare I say, I had a fantastic time at school: I broke up with the old, shitty, lying girlfriend and got a new one.  I read interesting things and got exposed to exciting ideas.  I was active on campus: my first year there I won the 1st place award the school’s literary journal gave out.  I won honorable mention, too.  The next year I was that magazine’s Poetry Editor.  And the year after I was Editor-in-Cheif.  I was in the English department building more than I was at home.  I was a tutor and TA for more than one professor.  I won lots of other awards, for writing and for being poor.  But best of all, I had some really great professors.  Ones that encouraged me, ones that saw things in me I was afraid to believe in before because I had no outlet for them.

Then I got into grad school.  I realized there I was not a special fucking snowflake.  My first workshop I brought a poem in that the professor claimed was so shitty he “didn’t even know if it was a poem.”  I had no community there.  I had few friends.  I lost my voice, and wrote poems that were funny because I was afraid to be serious.  I am embarrassed by my thesis.  The last punch in the mouth I got there came in the form of a cruel twist of tired symbolism: I got cancer.  When I graduated, I limped home to Chicago, tail between my legs, my self-critic so loud in my ears I have been incapable of writing a single poem for almost 4 years.  Before that, I hadn’t stopped writing poetry for a decade.  When I think about writing poetry, it is acutely painful.  It is like looking a friend in the face after you have inflicted a deep betrayal.  Oh, yeah, and there are no jobs, either.

So I work at a wildly popular grocery store chain, that pays my bills and is the place that I met my current and forever girlfriend.  But I am pretty pissed off at the way school turned out for me.  I owe more money than I will ever pay back in my lifetime and I have a job that I could have gotten without a high school diploma.  I teach adjunct here and there but the longer time goes on the more likely it becomes that I will never get a full-time gig.  And so returning to the scene of the crime every fall just feels more and more like an insult.  I feel used, like I’m the piece on the side that’s not good enough to take home to mom.  Like every December, when the term is up, the college I’m adjuncting for just leaves my stipend on the nightstand and tells me to lock the door when I leave.

So I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore.  I really wanted to be a teacher, a creative writing professor (I have a Masters degree in Fine Arts in Poetry), but those jobs are going to people with lots of books published, with PhDs, and I am not that person.  I’m just good in the classroom, and I get great student evaluations at the end of the term, but I’m not Robert Pinksy.  I’m not a name the school can use to bring in the money, ahem, excuse me, I mean the students.

I have thought of myself as a teacher for a long time now, tied my identity to my occupation in a way that has harmed me.  I am thinking too narrowly about this: I can volunteer and use my talents that way (because, since I am bringing in money, who gives a toss if my students aren’t paying some school shittons to listen to me talk?  And really, the thing I miss most is being in a room talking to people about poetry).  The core problem here is that I am smart and I have talents that are going underutilized.  Essentially, I need an outlet.  One that doesn’t involve putting perishables into a bag while someone talks on their cellphone.

The plan?

I am going to stop wasting my time trying to be accepted into academia.  They clearly don’t want me.  I am going to switch gears–I have some volunteer options in the city I will check out when I move home.  And I am going to dust off the gears in my brain and start working on a little creative memoir project I keep putting off.  And I am going to post little pieces of it here, just to keep myself on track and honest.

Thanks for reading and be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*Of course I knew teachers didn’t make oodles of money, but they wouldn’t charge me a king’s ransom for an education with no job waiting for me on the other end, now would they?

When You’re Done Reading This, Kiss a Loved One

I have not recently blogged about my gender, nor have I thought about it too much.*  I have gone home, and found me and K a place to live.**  I have not taken any pictures of my chest, nor have I been giving it the attention it deserves.

Sometimes, your life occurs without too much fanfare or attention.  And so, my life has continued, unabated.  There are lots of behind-the-scenes things going on, lots of boring, yet stressful and important, changes and decisions have been occurring.  And really, you fine readers deserve better than a play-by-play of me running around Chicago like a maniac trying to lease an apartment (I didn’t want to read all those Craigslist ads, why would I subject you to that level of hell?), or a recount of me making doctors appointments in Chicago, canceling gym memberships in Western Mass, emailing moving companies, or suffering my second summer cold in two months.

I started this blog to be a resource for other people thinking about top surgery, and for my own record of events.  I think I have succeeded as well as I could have hoped for in both of those arenas.  Now, as the blog title suggests, I think the focus will shift and I will write more broadly about, well, my life without tits.  This has proven to be a more difficult task than I imagined.

I have had things to write about (my evolving relationship with academia, my fear of writing, my love of writing, the apology I owe my own writing, and my concerns for the future of this planet are all worthy topics for a personal blog), but I have been ignoring this blog.  I have a history of ignoring writing when I can find something unproductive to distract me from it (Fucking Netflix) and I am not asking any of you to guess at what is wrong with me.  I am sure it is deep-seated, and has something to do with my mother.***

I miss you guys.  I miss Karen and Jacob and Edouard and J.C. and Tam**** and I couldn’t let the shame I feel about not keeping up better with my internet friends keep me away from said friends any longer.  But enough about that.

In three weeks I will be home, in Chicago, and there will be plenty to write about, and I will keep in better touch.  For now, just chalk this absence up to the minutia of my life piling to such an absurd degree that I could either deal with it, or end up on the street.

Let me close this post with a fine youtube video a good friend exposed me to, and be secure in the knowledge that I am back:

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*There are both successful and unsuccessful public topless swimming experiences.  Those I will discuss in a later post.

**It’s actually our old apartment, the one we moved out of when we moved to Western Mass.  Weird, but convenient.  It’s not long term, but it will work for now, for sure.

***A relationship which is another blog-worthy topic.

****And my god so many of you others that I can’t name all of you but I just picked the first few off the top of my head to make the point that I think of you all, and this space, when I am not here and just because I am not blogging doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about blogging.