Q and A With Life Songs Author Audrey MC

I’ve just finished reading Life Songs: A Genderqueer Memoir, by author and local karaoke superstar Audrey MC. Audrey and I bag groceries together at a shared day gig, and she first introduced herself to me as queer by asking where I get my hormones. She was new to Chicago, and I was a complete dope. I had no idea she was trans. I gave her Howard Brown’s contact info and she had to tell me later, in plain English, that she was trans. I am an idiot. But lucky for me, Audrey is patient. Through conversation over cutting cardboard boxes in half, she told me she was also a writer, and so I was excited to read a book written by a friend. Audrey’s story starts with that familiar adolescent refrain, “what’s wrong with me?” and as she matures, it becomes clear to her that this isn’t just another case of commonplace insecurity or teenage trepidation.

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Life Songs has the structure of a mixtape: each chapter is linked to a particular song or musician and the theme of that chapter is echoed in the music. The connection between the chapter’s theme to the chapter’s song is strongest in her early memories. I found myself grinning quite a lot at the descriptions of Audrey’s childhoood as a boisterous kid in Texas. Her early childhood is filled with some memorable and touching pre-pubescent moments, and I found myself cheering her on as she gives an impromptu “drag” performance in her family living room and, in another chapter, professes her love at the roller rink.

The details are sometimes glossed over as Audrey ages into her young adulthood, and as a reader I was left wanting more specifics on more than one page. But Life Songs is an important text in that it makes known another voice from outside the gender binary with moments every queer kid can identify. No matter where your orientation or identity lies on the spectrum, there are moments in Life Songs that ring genuine, and the music has the capacity to make her story universal. On the surface Audrey’s message is clear: know thyself. But the process to get to that realization proves to be a complicated matter.

I wrote an email to Audrey about her book and she was very gracious to answer some of my questions:

ER: In Life Songs you detail how certain songs have been emblematic during different time periods in your life. What place does music hold in your life currently? How has your relationship with it changed over the years?

AMC: Well, one thing I’ve come to realize is that people come and go, friendships ebb [with the] tide, loves blossom and wither, but music’s always there and is probably, when all’s said and done, the one true love of my life. And that’s the case today just as always. Maybe even more so now because I’m embarking on a new career trajectory which will make music and audio steeped in everything I do. And that makes me quite happy!

ER: What’s the status on that concept album you mention toward the end of Life Songs?

AMC: The concept album […] is still in my head. Things like that never go away. It’s been on my mind even more lately with my Karina’s Fingers electropop project ramping up. I’ll be recording an album over the next year, but it still remains to be seen if the original concept will be intact or expanded upon. Since the love story is sprinkled with politics, I may be able to say what I need to say. We’ll see how it plays out…

ER: You’re based in Chicago now, and in Life Songs it is referenced as this mysterious place, a destination that has held its sway over you ever since chapter one’s Leroy Brown. Now that you live here, do you have a (so far) favorite musical memory of Chicago?

AMC: Believe it or not, Chicago is still this strangely mysterious place to me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever truly “get it,” and that’s okay with me. It feels so vastly different than my New York experience– New York, a city in which I felt right away that I belonged. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable in Chicago, with my New York homesickness creeping up on me so often that I can’t think of a week over the past year when I wasn’t contemplating my return home to Brooklyn. That’s changed though since meeting a new muse. Her friendship and inspiration has led me to want to stay in Chicago another year and embark on a career in music and audio. My favorite music memory here is when she and I decided to have an all night dance party in my living room– just the two of us. We danced for hours and it ended up ranking up there as one of the highlights of my life.

ER: The term genderqueer makes an appearance in your subtitle: how has the label “genderqueer” enriched or hindered your sense of self?

The genderqueer label is quite liberating actually. I don’t know, I’ve really embraced living in the middle ground. That outsider sense of “other” I always felt growing up really empowers me now and makes me feel special. One of the comments my father made about my book was how proud he was of me for having such a strong sense of self. That meant a lot to me because I felt like I went through a lot of turmoil to get to a place where I could embrace who I truly am. When I get “sir-ed” followed usually by a “ma’am… oh gosh I’m sorry,” which occasionally happens, it used to make me cringe, but now, I smile with a shrug and say, “Ah it’s okay, I’m a bit of both.” And we both smile and carry on. It’s like, if I don’t make a big deal about it, it makes it not a big deal. And when it’s not a big deal, it gets accepted much more easily. And that’s what I really want. I want us to get to a place where gender presentation is just accepted. Period. And it’s no big deal. It’s just people being people. I mean, wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in?

ER: The detail in Life Songs about your parents giving you a heart pendant with your new birthstone in it is very touching. Can you write more about your coming out process to them, and their process of coming to know Audrey?

Yeah, my parents have been awesome. Like, seriously amazing. The coming out process– well, I’m super emotional and I knew I couldn’t have a conversation with them ’cause I would’ve ended up crying the whole time. So, I wrote them a coming-out letter. My dad surprised me as always. He just kinda shrugged it off and embraced it with a “you’re an adult; you gotta do what you gotta do.” Haha! He did have trouble with pronouns for a long time, but whatever. It was just out of habit and not any type of slight. My mom was the one who had a little more trouble with it, but turned it more inward. She worried more like she did something wrong while she was pregnant and different stuff like that. But that was all short-lived. My sister helped a lot in that arena because she remembered a lot of incidents from my childhood and adolescence, some of which I wrote about in the book, and reminded my mom about them to shed some light. My relationship with my parents actually got closer after I came out, too. I don’t know– I guess I just felt more like I could be myself and not hide behind the same old façade I had been. That was quite liberating and it brought us closer. I also think it was easy for them, too, because I was still attracted to women. So, the only things changing for them were my name, appearance, and pronouns. So, suddenly they just had this super cool lesbian daughter. And I mean, who wouldn’t want that? AMIRIGHT?!?

Author photo by Maria Hummel.

Author photo by Maria Hummel.

ER: There are so many character who make appearances throughout Life Songs, Alice and Hailey being chief among them: do you still keep in touch?

AMC: Alice and Hailey are still very present and positive parts of my life. Alice and I are less in touch now that we’re in different cities, but still touch base every week or so. She and her brother came to visit me in Chicago in April and we had a wonderful time. Alice and I are both in transitional moments in our lives, so it will be nice to be there for each other as we continue to embark on our next adventures. Hailey and I are probably closer now than we ever have been– it’s a friendship that continues to grow and deepen. She, too, is in a transitional point in her life, so it’s nice to be there for her as she sets forth on her next journey.

ER: You remark that your sexual orientation has shifted slightly: can you describe what that shift has been like for you?

I’m not sure if my sexual orientation has shifted or if my mind has opened. I recognize that I find a very specific type of guy attractive. But, as I’ve said to my friends before, I’d be attracted to 99 women before I’m attracted to one man. And Sufjan Stevens is that one man. Kidding! Um… no but seriously, I’m in love with Sufjan Stevens. Besides that, though, yeah, it’s just an opening up of my attitude more than anything else. It’s liberating to recognize that I might meet some guy (named Sufjan or not) and we may get along super well and have the same type of quick bonding simpatico I’ve usually felt only with women. And I may very possibly start to have desires towards him. And I’m okay with that. At this point in my life, I don’t want to box myself in with any preconceived notions about who I am or what I am. I’m just me. And I’m queer as shit.

Author photo by Maria Hummel.

Author photo by Maria Hummel.

ER: What are your current queer politics?

AMC: My move to Chicago has seen my politics recede a little bit more to the background. I mean, Brooklyn is just so queer and so political that anything after that would be a step down. But, my Brooklyn experience has left me with this strong sense of wanting to push away anything even closely resembling the hetero- or homonormative realms. I don’t know if my politics, generally, would be considered “queer,” because I’m a dreamer after all. I have these vastly grand ideals that extend way beyond queer politics and get more into the realm of socialism and populism and anti-capitalism. This music project that I’m about to embark on– I have such a yearning to make a difference. To do something that makes people think and want to actually do something instead of just post about it on social media.

ER: In the closing pages you define yourself as a dreamer, can you write a little about how you see that part of yourself inform your day-to-day routine?

Wow, I wish I knew where this romantic, dreamer side of me came from. I think it’s just the way the stars were aligned when I came into this world. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of big things, or a better world, or romanticized situations. As I’ve grown older, it’s taken on new facets and extended to politics, as well. I could never be a politician because I’m far too romantic and idealist, with such strong socialist and populist leanings. Kind of a hippie in that sense, I guess. I get teary-eyed and a lump in my throat if I think about people coming together and helping each other out. I care so very much about making the world a better place for everyone and it sometimes feels overwhelming because what can one person really do? If I could find a reality where my dreams could live, then I think I’d have found utopia. But in this particular reality, in my day-to-day, I’ve worked hard at removing all stressors from my life; I steer clear of drama magnets; and I avoid situations in which I have to justify my actions.

Thanks for your time, Audrey!

I’m Taking Europe With Me

We all share this: an adolescence, music, an aching heart.  And it all gets tangled together, the memories, the feelings, the textures and desires.  You’re listening to an album in your bedroom, or watching a concert from the back of the hall and you want it to last forever.  And it does: you make a song of your own, or a poem, or a baby.  Something has its genesis out of the love you feel in those moments.  You can’t un-hear that, can’t un-feel it and so it gets mutated over time, a song is associated with a lover’s rejection, or the feel of their hand in yours.  You in a group of your friends in the dark and under the lights and the opening riff is plucked slowly, teasingly, ripples of recognition turn into applause, turn into whistles and cheering–we all know this one.

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Who was your favorite band when you were 18?  How did you come across that first song?  See them live?  Stand in line for a ticket?  Cut school the day the new record came out?  Turn the lights out and listen to the old stuff on headphones in your bedroom and notice new things in the background?  Have a crush on the singer?   The drummer?  Wait in the cold for hours just to watch them walk to the bus after a sold out show?  Made mix tapes of their b-sides, learned to play acoustic versions of the singles?  Imagine what you would say if they noticed you, said hello?

For me it was Veruca Salt.  I was just out of high school. They broke my heart when, at the height of their popularity, they disbanded.  Rumor had it, some dude, not even musical differences.  I wanted them to be better than that.  I held music on a pedestal and somehow thought it was unrelated to love.  How innocent.  But against all odds, we got a do-over.

20 years after the release of their first album in 1994, they got back together, said their sorrys (their emergence was announced with the line, “hatches buried, axes exhumed”), and the new singles sound like the old singles: sweet, pleading harmonies over heavy guitars.  Their songs, not so much the radio friendly singles, but surely the bulk of their music, build like an orgasm: you don’t know how good it is until it’s over, then you just want it again and again.

It gave me a strange giddiness to listen to the old stuff: to put on my headphones and hear Twinstar for the first time in a long time, and the afternoon before seeing them live for the first time in 15 years, I wanted to cheer and cry and could barely contain myself on the train.  I looked out the window as Nina and Louise harmonized the I’m stuck in my ways bit and thanked God for the Chicago River.

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That night, My friends and I waited out back by the bus for a few hours and eventually, one by one, Jim and Steve, then Nina and finally Louise came out.  I didn’t know what to say.  Or rather, what I wanted to say I didn’t want to say in the praise chorus of fans echoing in the parking lot.  So I waited a little more and did what I’m best at–I wrote them a letter to be delivered at the Chicago show:

Dear Veruca Salt,

I was late to the party with you guys.

In 1994 I was listening to Ice Cube and Cypress Hill and other mainstream, foul-mouthed rappers. It wasn’t until my buddy Reuben (with whom I was at your show tonight, and your Milwaukee show on Thursday) made me a mix tape with Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, The Breeders, and yes, Seether. Who the fuck is this? I remember thinking right after the opening Ow! and a split second later, by the time the drums kicked in, I was hooked.

I’ve since lost that tape, but my friendship with Reuben and my twenties were both branded by pop-rock music: I grew out of the angry rap I listened to for most of my childhood and it was during this late introduction to 90’s alt rock that I got my first girlfriend, got my heart broken, bought a guitar, wrote some shitty songs, and worked in a record store. Reuben and I worked the same gig at different shops, we spent our early twenties bonding by getting high and going to free shows thanks to the comp tickets from the record labels. We were going to two or three shows a week, anything we could get our hands on tickets for, and I thank God I had that growing-up experience. We just wanted to hear music and talk about music and play music. I know you know that feeling.

We saw Stone Temple Pilots at Rosemont Horizon, We saw Korn at the Aragon—weeks later we saw Ani there too. We saw you guys at the Riv’ in ’97 and four days later Green Day at the same venue. Tori at Arie Crown and every winter it was time for Twisted Christmas at Rosemont and every summer Jamboree at World Music Theater. We saw Foo Fighters at the Riv’ one year on the fourth of July and I will never forget standing on the Red Line platform at Lawrence and watching the fireworks. That display was an explosive, sky-wide embodiment of my youth. I know you know that feeling.

No Doubt at the Metro. Fuck, we saw everyone at the Metro: Mr. Bungle and Soul Asylum, G Love and Special Sauce. I saw the Smashing Pumpkins’ original line-up (minus D’arcy; Auf Der Maur played in her stead) do their last show at the Metro and when Billy plucked the first notes of Mayonnaise my eyes began to well up. But I wasn’t emotional because something was over; but rather because I was teetering on that high wire between euphoria and nostalgia and it brought me to tears. I was missing that moment, in that moment. I know you know that feeling.

The ticket stubs from those shows are light sensitive, of course, because Ticketmaster didn’t want us xeroxing them and getting our buddies in for free. And so years later, even as they sit quietly preserved in a closed photo album, they are fading away. When I open that album now and again, it feels like that first break-up, the sting of watching something you love leave without any power to stop it.

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In my mid-twenties, I quit the retail business and went to college: I wanted to be a writer. My first year at college I was so broke I had to sell most of my cds to pay rent. But I read Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath and Harper Lee and was nourished in a different way from what food could give. And my life was changed again.  I couldn’t hold onto the 500+ cd collection that I had built up, but I had been changed by that music, by that time in my life, and I am so thankful I can access those emotions just by thinking about my finger on a wet car windowsill on the way home from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—the first concert I ever went to with my dad.

When people attack my profession, and ask me, what good is writing for? What good is a liberal arts education? What a waste of money, all those cds…I tell them: math might make a mathematician, but the arts make citizens. I am a thinking human with feelings because of all those cds, all those concerts. And because of that education I can take those emotions and make something out of them: I can make art. And that’s what changes the world–not calculations, and not bombs.

My first year of grad school my guitar was pawned for the electric bill. Seven years earlier I had named that Washburn acoustic Nina. Six years ago I bought another one, and I can still play Karma Police with my eyes closed. It’s rusty, but it’s there for the prying open. The new guitar, a sweet acoustic Art & Louthrie, is named Louise. Things sometimes change, some stay the same.

This is a rambling kind of love letter, one in which I wanted to tell you a little about the life of one of your fans, I wanted to give you a chance to see me in the crowd. I wanted to tell you how much your music means to me without listing out all the songs I love and dissecting them, scrutinizing the lyrics and twisting the albums to fit my life, my agenda. The lasting lesson I got from grad school is this: art should be respected, and allowed to live its own life. And so I love your music, and respect it, and it was part of the genesis I went through in my twenties, and here I am a 36 year old man, and I am a better person for having had Veruca Salt in my life.

To be specific, for just a moment, I will say this:
When you played that Tower Record show in ’97, right before the release of Eight Arms, I stood in line for hours in the cold, with hundreds of your other fans. I was infatuated with Nina, her sickly sweet voice, and that extended “me-ee” at the end of “Leave me” in the last line of Volcano Girls has left an indelible print on my heart. I got to the front of the line that day, stood before you guys and told Nina, “There are certain pieces of heaven on this Earth and you are one of them.” I was just sick with fear, what would she think? What would she say? Would I get thrown out or laughed at? I don’t know that you even heard me and oh God, a corny and rehearsed line for sure, but at the time I thought it was what I felt. What was that good for? It was the first time I looked a woman in the eye and told her what she meant to me. I was changed. I was made a braver person for it. I was emboldened by that act, and I remember it fondly.  Nina, you helped make a man of me. And Veruca Salt’s music has continued to help turn the cogs of my heart.

Tell me, how do we go about our lives while there are old ladies looking at paintings and dogs hanging their heads out car windows, songs being written by Veruca Salt and not just drop to our knees under the weight of the beauty of it all?

Surely because beauty is weightless.

Warmly,
Your Pal Eli

I hear most nights on this tour, Veruca Salt close the show with 25, the same track they closed shows with so many years ago.  Jim gets up and leaves his drums, then Steve puts his bass down and walks off as well.  Nina and Louise are left with themselves and their Gibson SGs and continue playing.  Nina talks about this ritual here,

“It’s pretty intense playing the song ’25,’ which is the last song on ‘American Thighs’…Back then, the song was about what happened when I was 25 — I was 26 when I wrote it. Now, it’s taken on this incredible meaning for me. When I was 25, all of this was happening: It was about what happened when I formed a band. I always got emotional singing that song, and now I really do. It’s nostalgic and bittersweet. This whole thing is fascinating from a personal standpoint. So many lessons have been learned, with time healing all wounds, the feeling of life being very long, so things you thought could never happen can happen.”

Don’t we know it.

On the blogs and message boards and FB fan pages some version of this image keeps popping up:

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This pic I took at the Milwaukee show.  Just Nina and Louise, two girls who started a band.  I’m reminded of the line at the end of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, the bit about how we all die, but in the middle of so much misery and sadness we find, “an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined.”  Veruca Salt’s music gives me those hours.  But so does poetry, and the Lake, and my wife.  I want this joy to last forever.  Most people would say impossible.  Nothing last forever.  I would say bullshit.  When they played I’m Taking Europe with Me in Milwaukee I thought of Susan Howe‘s The Europe of Trusts.  And so I have this new memory now, of being at a Veruca Salt concert and thinking about Susan Howe.  The life of art, of joy, of happiness, is defined by its ability to connect to other pieces of art, of joy, of happiness.  And it is through those connections that we make meaning out of our own lives, ya know?

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Under Construction: So Long (For Now)

Friends, I have long been neglecting this blog, and my writing at large, for fair reasons (I got married, went to Italy for three weeks). But I am home now, and feel recharged and ready to recommit to this blog.  The original intent of this blog was to make some space to chronicle my transition from female to male, to search for a trans community while trying to understand my own trans identity, and to that end, this blog has been highly successful. I have written for two years, and made many a friends here. But I want more from this space, as I am more than a trans person.  I am a writer, and this space should be able to serve the dual purpose of creative and autobiographical writing.  Additionally, those two things overlap, quite frequently, and so I want to blur the line here between my creative and autobiographical endeavors. To that end, I have taken the initiative to purchase a domain, and so from here on out this place will be http://www.mylifewithouttits.com, please update your bookmarks to reflect this minor switch.  Also, I am going to preform some long overdue spring cleaning, and therefore this blog will be made private (in a day or two, to give folks time to see this message) until I’ve got this ship in tip-top shape. It won’t be long, but this is so long (for now.)

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Buongiorno!

Friends!

What a long absence I’ve had from you.  I have thought about you from time to time, and now I return with an update.

These last few months have been busy, busy with submitting rejected chapbook submissions (Three in all!  So many pages of forgettable poetry!  I’ll regale you with a poem at the end of this post if you’re good!) and wedding planning.  I’ll let you guess which of those activities was more fun…ok, here’s a hint: planning the wedding also entails planning the honeymoon, which is three weeks in Italy.

Bam!

Italy!

K and I have been having a great time booking places to stay (some time in Rome, some in Florence, some in Cinque Terre) and, with the help of Duolingo, practicing a little Italian in hopes of currying favor with the locals.

So, if you want to tell someone the man eats an apple, give him this: l’uomo mangia un mela and my love!

But don’t let all these exclamation marks fool you, it’s not been all fun and games.  Life is hard and depressing if you look at it that way, and over these cold and dark months it’s been easier to look at it like that than any other way.

My birthday passed through these parts last week, coupled with an injury that has kept me out of the gym for two months (well, an injury that has kept me from running, but my apathy kept me completely out of the gym) and I’m feeling pretty bad about myself.  Today I went back to the gym for the first time since, oh, October? And of course I’m not back to square one, but I’m pretty sad about my state.  So I called myself all kinds of names on the way home, remembering to be shitty about not going to the gym, and about being a weird trans thing, about being a traitor to my writing practice, yeah, I really let all the old jabs out of the bag.  Once home, during the shower I just wanted to lay down in the tub and take a nap.

Instead I dried off and laid on the couch and looked out the window and sighed for a little while.

Then I started to think about the difference between acceptance and giving up.  The last few months, while I was out of the gym, I tried to convince myself what I was doing was a good thing, that accepting my body for how it was, for eating more sweets and skipping yoga was mentally healthy.  But of course it’s not: I was giving up.  And now I find myself in this body, not a bad one, but not one I like.

So I figured that acceptance is going to the gym two or three times a week, every week, instead of going 5 times, making it 3 times, and giving up because I didn’t go 7.  Acceptance is about always trying, but not berating myself if I don’t succeed every time.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying, trying to be a better writer, a fitter person, but there are limitations to every body.  So I am currently trying to enjoy the things about myself that I am happy about (I am actually a pretty good writer, and actually have a pretty nice body) without giving up on a writing practice (even if my practice only happens once a week, and sometimes it’s in the form of reading rather than writing) or a health regime (even if that regime means going to the gym 3 times a week, and having a couple cookies at lunch).

So that’s that.  But I am curious, friends, do you have some insight in to how you balance between reaching your goals and accepting yourself?

Oh, I am past due on an anniversary on T video update, but it’s coming soon.

But, for now I leave you with:

Jupiter

Grandpa’s rough hand turns the ignition to break the quiet darkness of early morning.
Up on a chair I squint into the dark frame of the kitchen window but can’t see him
Shift in the stiff driver’s seat.  The sound of a door snapping shut,
The quick spark of his lighter, the car in reverse at 4 am
Tell me things about his life I won’t understand until after his death.
Only years later did I learn of the mallet he kept under his bed
In case his son came at him in his sleep.
He feared waking to the sensation of fingers gripped
Around his neck, his own hands but younger and out of control,
Acting on crazed impulse or auditory hallucination.
In that house, our lives depended on the distance we kept from them.
Every night ended with ice cubes clinked against an otherwise empty tumbler:
A depleted god’s thunder clap.
The screen door opening after a night at the V.F.W., another clap.
Count the seconds between flash and boom.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

After Seeing Dan Savage Last Night

K and I went to Lincoln Hall last night to see Dan Savage talk about his new book, American Savage.

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I know lots of queers, and especially trans folks, who have a problem with Dan Savage.  Myself, I’m a fan.  I’ve read his column since the “Hey Faggot” days, and although I might not always agree with him, I’m sure glad he’s on my side.  And yes, even as a trans person, I do believe he’s on my side.

I don’t like turning my back on allies for discrepancies with my ideologies.  And he is an ally, a powerful one, to the queer community.  And he reminded me of something last night: I have a right to my own opinions, my own voice.  In fact, using my own true voice is the only way to be brave and honest in this world.

As I was searching through my old posts last night, looking for drafts to expand upon, I realized, especially in my (very) old posts, I sound like a scared little bitch.

What I mean is, I was so afraid of offending the invisible online trans community I sound like I’m holding a goddamn tea party when I’m talking about being trans.  My tone is so unoffensive, well, I find it offensive.  I find it offensive because it is unauthentic.  And so my tone, along with the content, is something I will be looking forward to altering as I revise older posts and send them off to be considered by different audiences.  I understand why I sounded so scared: I was scared, scared of identifying as trans, scared of what that meant for my life.  But I’m not scared anymore, so it’s time to take the interesting ideas I had back then and give them a little support, a little confidence, a good brushing off and squinting at.

After his speaking engagement, Dan stuck around and signed books for us.  When I met him, I introduced myself, identified myself as a trans guy, and gave him the url to this here blog.  I invited him to drop by and see what this guy is up to.  Who knows if he will; he does have like a bazillion fans, but I was proud of myself for looking Dan Savage in the eye, shaking his hand, and telling him I’m trans, I’m a writer, and I have a blog of worth.  And, it was my first act of writerly self-promotion.  Rad.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

 

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