Moving Insanity


We’re having one of those times. You know, when we look at 20+ places to find a temporary living situation, and the paperwork to Canada keeps getting lost in the mail, and our jobs are the most stressful they’ve been, well, ever, and the people that say they want our furniture continually renege, and we’re throwing away so much stuff it’s like having our life histories stripped away.

Until there we are, looking at each other.

Each morning, we get up, she takes a shower while I either groan, sleep or play with social media. And then we meet in the living room, where we do 10 minutes of yoga stretching, followed by 10 minutes of meditation, followed by a brief share on where we are, and then we just stare into each other’s eyes for 3 solid minutes. I’m not kidding. We call it present time. We make each other the object of our waking meditation. If we zone out, we close our eyes until we can zone back in.

I am hanging onto these times in the morning, when I see my partner, when I feel her beside me, moving her body, groaning about the strains from shoveling, when I listen to her, when I focus only on me. when I say metta.

We keep catching our own insanity. This is what meditation does. And every time one of us catches ourselves taking shit out on the other person, or leaving the sense of teamwork, and comes back in, trust builds back from all the terrible moves culminating in this, the worst move of all, except for the us of us.

I told my partner the other day that I married her so I could watch that bowlegged walk she does for the rest of my life.

We are dropping out of the known into some other thing. We know not what.

I have thrown away so much stuff! So that I feel unburdened and untethered. I have thrown away copies of manuscripts, I have donated books I love, I have given away clothes…sometimes it physically hurt.

Then I look at this person. See her. 30 years, we’ll have on June 8. We watched our wedding video yesterday. We are truly not those people any more. She has a different gender identity. I have a different name. Those 30 year olds were gorgeous. And we are wise, and love with a knowledge of everything it take to love and break, and rebuild, over and over.

I am beginning to admit that I might not change anything, even though I’ve screwed up so badly at times that I myself find it hard to believe.

I let go. Of everything else. But me. And her.

With no idea what’s coming.

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The Gender Thing


As I watched the Oscars…and how could I not watch, wondering how many people would include the new administration in their speeches?…and as I listened to the creators of Moonlight talk about representation, about the need for queer youth of color to see themselves, to know they have a place, I started thinking about straight women, and this gathering in which straight women, all white, all at least middle class, spoke to their common pool of understanding about Hillary Clinton.

Of course, it’s not my common pool, even though I understand the basic liberal thinking.

And I thought, watching the Oscars, as I thought at that gathering, that the truth is that gender non-conforming is at the heart of being queer. That’s why trans people are so radical to the binary straight. That’s what a gathering of straight people often won’t get…I’m standing here, not just different in who I love, but different, essentially, in my stance in the world and my experience of my own gender.

And think, what the straight world needs most to learn IS this non-conformity. The binary leaves men stranded on the island of “I-can-never-be-weak.” It leaves women focused on the male gaze…in ways so deep we can’t even see it ourselves.

I love being queer so much. I love how it saved me, how it set me free, in my very young loneliness, to think my own different thoughts, to struggle through to my own identity, even though it was hard, and troubled….and, of course, hurtful to face prejudice time and again. I have three sisters, and I cannot explain how much deeper the track of our mother’s and father’s lives burrowed into them.

And maybe someone would say that’s not because they’re straight. But that someone would not be me.

To be in this world unencumbered by our own conditioning…or, as the Buddhists say, to witness it, and therefore to release ourselves from its power…

Queer is a way to get there. Gratefully. We don’t just need to represent. We need to teach.

 

 

The No Language Vlog


This vlog could be a response to so many things:

1. The election.
2. The election.
3. My determination to move to Canada because of the election.
4. Realtors coming through our home yesterday and today.
5. Looking at an apartment that is more expensive and half the size of our condo.
6. My stupid coach making me do at least one vlog every week.
7. Me being a type A who has to meet every friggin deadline.
8. The hormones that finally arrived in the mail haven’t kicked in yet.

I Want to Be Peace…or Politics on a Daily Basis


For me, politics in this election started with Bernie Sanders. I was so excited by him! But as I argued with people on Facebook, I started to realize that some people knew a great deal more than I did about the political system and our governing history. I started to realize that I had very strong opinions that were based on only partial knowledge. I was convinced I was right, and I didn’t have all the facts.

This embarrassed me.

Plus, I hate to lose arguments.

More education seemed like a good idea.

But as I read about Hillary Clinton’s voting record, her work internationally with women and children, as I read the horse race who-is-more-likely-to-win stats, as I read, for the first time (I’m embarrassed to say), Noam Chomsky, I started to notice that I was far from the only person who had strong opinions based on far too few facts.

Most people seemed to fall in the camp of I-am-right-though-I-do-not-really-know-my-facts-and-don’t-want-to-learn-them-from-you-unless-you-agree-with-me-about-everything. (Me on a very bad day, I have to admit.)

The rhetoric heated up. Name calling, explicit or implicit. Blogs that told only a small piece of any story. Misinformation. Quotes from the Huffington Post that contradicted other quotes from the Huffington Post. Siting of political web sites. Accusations of voting tampering. Accusations that anyone who believed there had ever been voting tampering was a conspiracy theorist.

It seemed that the hotter the temperature, the less facts mattered. It seemed it was all about who could be more insulting. Courtesy and basic respect fell by the wayside. Swearing and name-calling became a way of winning. Tone! Sometimes, it was humor. Sometimes, just attacks.

My own pseudo Buddhism started ringing in my head, so I tried to understand, to find compassion for all these shouting people. The common denominator was clearly emotion. Rational discourse was rare, and especially rare if people disagreed.

We are all so scared right now. The world seems unsafe. Survival. Opportunity. Care. Safety. How can I protect me and mine?

On my best days, I want to speak to this. I’m not a political theorist. I’m an artist who seeks the center of the human experience, who writes about being an outsider, who writes about loneliness, absurdity and redemption. I believe in social justice, but mostly I believe in the power of kindness. I believe in welcome. I believe in truth and witnessing. I believe there is nothing stronger than love.

I occasionally find these things in FB political discussions if you can believe it…but rarely. I love it when it happens, when I am humble, when I learn, but much more often I’m doing my own version of heating up the fire by posting as many different points of view as possible just to freak people out. Or make them think. (It’s unclear.) This entertains the imp in me, but doesn’t necessarily help anyone. Because people are so scared they can’t listen to anything but that one answer that the emotional voice in their heads says is going to fix this dangerous world.

An answer they’ve found based on…well…emotion. More than anything else, that’s what we do. We call ourselves thinking beings, but we are emotion first. We really are.

This morning my partner showed me a clip of Trump demanding a baby be removed from an auditorium. She crowed with delight at what a jerk he was. I’m looking up at her and I’m like, “Um, I think this is funny.”

I thought it was funny that he talked about loving babies then did this reversal about of course he doesn’t love a baby crying when he’s trying to speak. His communication wasn’t at all skillful, but I understood exactly how he felt (having had my own crying baby experience while performing), and his bluntness made me like him. Of course I don’t want him to be president, but I totally got and get his appeal. His supporters say, “He tells it like it is.” And he does. No filter, no finesse, but there’s an honesty in that. There’s a relief. If you’re pissed off and scared and not thinking.

Here’s my heresy for the day: people here in the liberal Northeast are just as scared and filled with emotion as people in the Heartland. People in the Heartland see themselves in Donald Trump–in his take-no-shit-tell-it-like-it-is attitudes. In his paternalistic promises. I understand his appeal. Of course I don’t want him to be president. That doesn’t mean I can’t see, with compassion, that to which he speaks. I don’t need to look down. I get it right from where I’m sitting.

I watched the DNC because my partner was so into it, and I was genuinely moved by the video about Hillary Clinton. In it, she reminded me of women I’ve met in the last year, all of whom are white, straight and privileged. I understood how they saw themselves in her. She represents them, she is them, and they look at her and see all the sexism they have ever faced. And, let’s get real…Hillary has battled vicious misogyny her entire public life.

I don’t know if I want her to be president. But that’s not the point, is it? I get how women see themselves in her, and since I have lived with misogyny, since I have been a victim of violence against women, since I have been sexually harassed in the workplace when I was very young, I understand the emotion, too. I cried when they did the shattering of the glass ceiling. I cried when Chelsey talked about her pride in her mother.

I have these emotions. But I don’t see myself in Hillary. I’m white and female and a feminist, but I am also strongly queer-identified, have been poor and on food stamps, among other differences. I don’t see myself in white, straight women in general. I feel like an other when I’m around them. Pulse made this incredibly clear. Right or wrong, I don’t think white, upper middle and upper class women have it so bad. Most of them have never worked for my rights as a queer person, and they don’t ask about my life either, so I have a ton of emotion about the barriers between us, barriers I don’t think they see. Hillary flip-flopped on gay marriage like a crazy person. I have EMOTION about this.

I can’t escape my own emotion. I’m human.

We feel way before we think. We feel…and then we think to justify how we feel. I can’t help this more than anyone else can.

But I want to be peace. I’m terrified about the world. If I run, can I run far enough? These are my old questions. But with the shootings, terrorism, economic fears, bigotry, police persecution of African-Americans, laws targeting LGBTQ in the South…somehow we’ve passed business as usual and with climate change there may be nowhere to run to at all.

I want to be peace.

And, old strategy of mine, welcome any time…I want to know. I want to understand. I want to learn everything I can. I believe in education as an answer.

I wish we would stop, consider other points-of-view, before we post, before we speak.

I want to be peace.

I don’t always know how to find peace, though I have studied, though I have, as the Indigo Girls have sung, gone to the temple, the mountain, the ashram, the ocean, the doctor, the poetry, the bodies of women, men and trans people, though I have loved, though I have raged, though I have gone quiet, though I have sung my one and only song, with no idea if anyone would want to listen.

I want to be peace.

Feel and do nothing about feeling.

Think and do nothing about thinking.

Until I am moved by something wiser than passion, fear or anger.

Until I can simply love, listen, hear.

Until my song is compassion, and nothing else.

Priest Kid, a queer mother/daughter novella about Episcopals…early pages


PRIEST KID

By Lyralen Kaye

 Prologue

My mother’s sermons smelled like oranges. Lying in my single bed on Sunday mornings, I woke to the smell that seemed to waft up from the clean white pages in the manila folder she used to carry them to church. A folder she never changed, even then interested in recycling.

I’d go downstairs to where my father leaned his weight onto an actual orange, squeezing juice for me into a glass measuring cup, but it seemed as if the smell lifted us all —my mother in her car, driving alone to the church, my father and I following in his, a half hour later.

The smell placed me next to my father in the second row pew where we always sat, my fingers sliding over the shining wood as I tucked my skirt around my bare legs. Each week I refused the joke books and tic-tac-toe my father offered and instead watched my mother on the raised platform of the chancel, her dark curly hair falling over the Episcopal vestments patterned in gold.

And when she ascended to the pulpit, and began to speak, her words opened around me like tiny packages filled with that bright, sweet scent. Standing in the light of the stained glass, my mother explained the world. She lit up with grace—because she possessed it, the real thing, that dignity, that power—and she’d look down once in a while and meet my eyes, letting me know the biblical quotes and poetry, the small jokes and lessons, were just for me.

And then it was over. A quick hug from her before she went to the line of waiting parishioners if I was lucky. If not, I watched them gather around her. The Sermon on the Mount all over again.

I went back home with my father where he’d watch football or grade papers and I’d go up to my room to read and wait, curled on my single bed, hoping there were no baptisms, no deaths, no marriages, no Bible study classes to keep her from me.

My mother, the love of my life, who I waited for, and received like a blessing, late at night after her visits to prisons, to the dying, to the homeless, and then early in the morning before I left for school and she went to her office at the church.

Not like other mothers.

So determined to do right by everyone.

And I can’t even say she forgot me, ever. She squeezed me in after school and before Eucharist, on evenings when she could leave her responsibilities alone. I don’t think she ever forgot to try.

But still, I waited, hours and hours, maybe that whole first part of my life.

Not for my father, who made me dinners, who tucked me in. But for the parent who always had a list of people for whom she needed to be that shining figure of grace.


Chapter One

 When I head home from Stanford to visit my mother, the vibration in my body turns up, until my cells sing like notes from a 12 string guitar. Too many notes, really. Longing, hope, the prayer that peace will come, that I will be like her, that I won’t, that she’ll tell me what to do, that she’ll listen, for once, without comments or questions.

I could be the subject of my own psych dissertation. Really. Mommy issues. Give me a break.

But I can’t help tracking the way she looks, from that first moment in the airport terminal. Tonight will be no different: I’ll search for her face, try to catch her before she sees me. Will her bones hold the suffering she sees every day, will the skin and muscles pull her face into heaviness? Or will she have been able to set it aside? It’s not whether she’ll light up—she always does—it’s the effort it will cost her. It’s the dimming of her on holidays, or any time the people she serves falter, need, cry. Where do I go, wanting home, if she hasn’t found a way to arrive?

I thought about skipping Easter. I’d already skipped Christmas—not a popular decision—and it seemed easier to miss again. The wish and the hope—I wanted to skip them. Because no one with compassion could bring her one more problem to solve, right? And I had nothing to bring her but the mess I was making of my life.

I bought the plane ticket the week before, my finger hovering over the mouse for a long moment before I clicked. My father demanded to pay and I let him. As I always did. Because then he could do his Dad thing, puffing up a little, getting protective, getting into the my little girl, I’ll do anything for you.

Annoying and sweet.

I twist my too thick hair into a braid before I walk off the plane, down the long tunnel of hallway, over the thin carpet and linoleum, under the fluorescent lights, down to baggage claim, where he waits, hands in his pockets, the familiar blue-button down.

He’s alone. She didn’t even come.

My first published short story, circa 1990: Butch and Beehive


I’ve had reason to go searching through older writing. And yes, this is dated. We’re no longer so closeted (thank whatever/whoever). We’ve embraced all genders. We understand looksism and lifestyle porn, even though we still believe it. I’m just wanting to say hello to the 27 year old Lyralen who wrote this story. I kind of like her. I remember sitting in a writers group in Cambridge, MA, with the half of the group who loved this story fighting with the half who hated it. Volume started to rise. People leaned forward so much they were almost standing. The teacher finally stopped the free-for-all and asked me what I thought. I said, “If it’s causing this much controversy, it’s ready to be published.” The very first place I sent it to was Phoebe. They sent me an acceptance letter that I received on my birthday…the birthday that ended an extremely hard year. As the Grateful Dead said, “Keep on truckin’.”

 

Butch and Beehive

First Published in Phoebe , Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 1990

The hostess always seats them in my station, which makes me wonder if she knows. Every time she leads them through the dining room, I cross my fingers behind my back like a child, hoping for a continuation of this silence, the protection I need no matter how it constricts me.

Beehive and Butch and what the other waitresses call them. They’re sporadic regulars here. Butch is fat and her hair is greasy, her face round a soft with small eyes and mouth that turns down. She wears suit coats and walks with her feet pointed out: she looks like she could fix a car, shoot a good game of pool, laugh loudly from her belly.

Beehive is skinny and she wears polyester pant suits, dangling earrings, and pancake make-up. She must have had terrible acne as a girl: her face is pockmarked and deeply scarred. She has dyed black hair which she wears teased into a bun that reaches six inches above her head. When you look at her you can see an entire history: family, grade school, high school, secretarial jobs.

I believe that in grade school the other children shot spitballs at her and snickered when the teacher called on her for questions whose answers she didn’t know. They hung signs on her back. KICK ME, the sign would say. Some children did kick her. She would turn around with terror sprawled across her birdlike and scrawny face. The abuse was so familiar that it took hours for her to realize that the sign was there. It need not have been.

Later, in high school, when the acne came, she sat home every weekend. No one asked her why she never had dates. She lay on her bed on those nights, trying not to think about her mother’s shame. Perhaps she dreamed of foreign countries, exotic people, reading romances and waiting for an adulthood where such things might happen to her. Then she might forget the sounds of this daily life: the giggles and whispers, the boys barking and calling her a dog. She would wear silks, and layers of chiffon. She would drink champagne, sit on balconies overlooking the ocean, gamble in Monte Carlo. She didn’t know that her body would always reveal her childhood, that her posture would be permanent; the shoulders curved forward over her breasts, the hanging head.

Maybe she has told Butch these stories. When Butch smiles her face is so gentle that I know she would console her lover. I would have protected you, Butch must say. This is true. I believe Butch herself has a story of solitude, a lonely kind of caring for others. She looks tired of being strong. She might have had a father like mine, a man who drank and yelled. She took his blows while her mother and sisters watched. Then she wore a thin veneer of toughness out into a world that would always see it as strength. There she learned that it was a curse to be stronger and smarter than most boys. But she didn’t mind enough to pretend to be different, mostly because she already knew that she liked women best. The problem was getting them to like her. It was a problem that didn’t last long. The few friends she made lasted, drawn an held by the tenderness in the way she listened. Still, she too dreamed. She wished for a way to tell women what she wanted, a way to draw them from their fascination with men. It made her wince when one of her friends would say, “I wish I could talk to him like this.”

But now Butch listens to Beehive. I like to watch them, I like to imagine that the true strength in Butch is her softness. This gives Beehive ease. Sometimes it is enough, when Butch loves her, so that she feels small parts of her history falling aside.

When I first go to their table my voice is soft, and I know that I am trying to let them see that I understand. They are sitting across from each other in the booth they always wait to get, the air between them charged with excitement to be out. Their heads lean forward so they are almost touching, talking so intensely that they barely look up to order their drinks. Butch orders for both of them without taking her eyes from Beehive’s face. I try to move away quickly, but Beehive smiles at me, demurely, like a young girl. Suddenly we are involved in the simple conspiracy of feminine women. I don’t want to smile back. It’s hard that they are so ugly, so stereotyped and visible. When I do smile I am trying to cover the deep and insulting pity I really feel. I wish I wasn’t so sure that Beehive has been with men and that her feelings were like mine.

I think after high school she met a boy in church. At first she was bewildered when he called, and she endured the sudden awkwardness of his gropings, wondering how she could feel so little love, gratitude, so little of anything. Everyone was shocked when she left him, including herself. Almost immediately she had an affair with her boss, a married man who small and balding. He must have been gentle with her, like a teacher. He made few demands, an helped her to move into an apartment. Their affair lasted for many years, until she left the job. After that, he stopped calling. It surprised her that she didn’t mind this. She was already friends with Butch.

What Beehive can’t stand are assumptions. She still works as a secretary: and the people in her office believe that her life is lonely and pitiful. She has no trouble keeping her woman lover a secret. Sometimes she feels rage for this and she thinks of bringing Butch to the yearly Christmas party. She always backs down, and the anger remains…anger that people don’t every come close enough to guess that her life has held both drama and passion; that for her Butch’s small chunky hands have a touch soft enough to draw out her pain and leave her without trembling.

I carry another round of drinks to the table. Every time it’s the same. By the fourth round they will begin to argue. Beehive drinks at least four rum and cokes and she wants more, but Butch wants her to eat to counteract the liquor. Beehive is so thin that one drink must make her head swim.

“You’ve had enough,” Butch says.

“Oh, honey, just one more, then we can order.”

“You’re smashed already,” Butch spits out in disgust. “And you do this every time we go out. Last Thursday at Helen’s you were drunk by the time we’d play two hands of cards.”

“I was not. You think you know everything.”

By this time they have the attention of the tables around them. It’s so familiar, the argument that must repeat itself throughout their life together. I am remembering the argument my parents used to have whenever the family went out to eat. My father would drink manhattans and after a few he’d start putting his arm around the waitress. My mother always voiced her humiliation in code phrases: “Larry, don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink?” “Larry, I want to go home.” The same phrases, leading to the same fight in the car ride home. My mother would sit in the back with the younger children. I would sit in the front seat next to my father, watching the road. I was always ready to tell him when to slow down, when to stop. By the time I was ten I knew all the traffic rules. And now, when my lover and I go to restaurants, we often fight, using the cues we have developed. “What do you mean I’m not being reasonable.” She says to me. “You’re not being reasonable.”

So watching Beehive and Butch, I just can’t stand it and sometimes I even feel strongly enough to walk up to the table on some pretext, knowing my presence may silence them for a few minutes. That’s what I do, carrying a clean ashtray I go over and take my time covering the old one, removing it, putting the clean one back down.

“I’d like another drink,” Beehive says.

I’m caught and I look at Butch, who glares at me.

“Would you like to order your food now also?” I ask.

“Yes,” Butch practically shouts.

“Bring the drink first,” Beehive tells me.

“Maybe I’d better give you a few minutes,” I say. The I rush away so they have no time to answer.

Their fight continues—and it is escalating. Butch has raised her voice and Beehive beings to ssshhh.

“SSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!” says Beehive.

“Don’t shush me,” yells Beehive. “I’ll talk as loud as I fucking want to.”

I stand at the small waitress station near the bar, alone. I don’t want to talk to the other waitresses now. But one walks by, carrying a tray of drinks.

“Dykes,” she mouths. “You’d think they’d at least want to keep it down so no one would notice them.”

I flinch. Bigot, I want to call her, but can’t. She has passed by and I am left with silence, my choice. You’ve never fought with your boyfriend in front of other people, I want to say. But I have no right to these words. Part of me thinks she is right. Butch and Beehive are braver than I am.

Butch is getting out of the booth.

“Then find your own way home,” she yells. It is the parting shot she takes before stomping to the door. This is a technique of fighting I also recognize; the grand exit, a bid for control.

I watch Beehive, seeing the lovers I’ve walked out on, catching the missing scene in a film I’ve seen over and over again. She stares down at her drink for a long time. She cries, the tears leaving oily tracks in her make-up. She sucks the ice cubes, one by one. The next time I got to the table she orders a drink. An another. She drinks there for an hour, maybe more. At some point she looks up and am I struck again by her fine dark eyes that are unmarred by tears and are the color of unlit charcoal.

Beehives eyes are very Latin, probably Spanish. Perhaps she has gone to Spain. She would have gone alone, and it is like a dream, a memory she has never shared. I believe this. I can see her there in the heat, held by the dark-skinned gitanos, the poverty, even the dirt. She went years ago, in her late twenties, and she remembers the music and dreams that she was a flamenco dancer in some past life. Her fingers are long and graceful, like the women who dance, turning their hands. Maybe she feels that yearning in her cigarette-stained fingertips. She certainly looks at them, long and hard, while she waits for her lover to return.

The waitresses here believe that Beehive has no money of her own because when Butch comes back she always pays the tab. Then they leave.

I know that their fight will continue and I think that there are two ways that it can go. On some nights when Butch comes back Beehive looks up an expression of such relief that it becomes love. I imagine on these nights that they go home and Beehive fumbles around the kitchen making dinner, trying to pay for her rescue. Butch is grudging about making up, about forgiveness. She gives Beehive a lecture about her drinking, maybe insists that they both go on the wagon for a time. Beehive agrees, but she is thinking of Spain, bottle of vino tinto, and the wonderful loneliness of the beach in Cadiz.

But sometimes the fight goes another way. When Butch comes back to the restaurant Beehive refuses to look up from the table, and speaks in monosyllables if at all. On these nights Butch stops at McDonald’s on the way home to make sure that Beehive eats. Then she puts her to bed and they promise each other that they’ll stop doing this, hurting each other, fighting in public. They won’t go to that restaurant again for a long time, if ever. They rarely fight at home: it’s something about coming out of the house into a world that stares anyway.

Before they leave Butch always puts a one-dollar bill on the table. The check that Beehive has run up is usually thirty dollars. That pretty much means that these two women cost their waitress at least ten dollars in tips. Everyone hates when they come in. I hate it too, what they remind me of, the playground scenes that hold them prisoner, that they were not attractive enough to outgrow.

One night though, they came in and they didn’t fight. I was proud of them. During the meal Butch looked up at me and smiled. My heart leapt in my chest as if at some kind of accomplishment. They still left only two dollars…and for the first time I wondered why: whether it was ignorance or hostility. I wanted to know if Beehive would ever tell Butch about her dreams of passion, of Spain, of flamenco. I wondered if she would learn, as I had, that it was a dance made for partners who passed each other in slow turns…a dance in which you faced the man, but if your partner was a woman you were supposed to give her your back.

Erasures (for all the women breaking silence since Brock)


Erasures

A short-short story

By Lyralen Kaye

 

Cute. That was how it started. She was adorable, sweet, perfect. Then pretty. Good enough to eat. Round cheeks, blue eyes, dark hair, upturned nose. Strangers held her in their arms. She chortled, gurgled, smiled, played “I’m so big”.

Then she was older. Ten, say.

“You’re so pretty.” Her father’s hand in her hair.

“She’ll break hearts.”

Like that.

*                        *                        *

The world a maze of men’s hands, touching. Hair, face, pinched cheeks, pinched bum, the words: baby fat, who wants to hug a picket fence? The words: come here. Or, go give the nice man a kiss. Or, I don’t know what’s the matter with her today.

*                        *                        *

At twelve, thirteen, and fourteen she has no breasts to speak of. Fried eggs on an ironing board, Band-Aids for a bra, slightly larger than mosquito bites, her chest a constant topic of conversation. She does not stuff. She wishes she were a boy.

But she raises blue eyes to her father’s face and asks: for trips, for money, for friends to sleep over, for lobster dinners out, for that pair of jeans, for another ticket to a concert. He gives the girl whatever she asks for.

*                        *                        *

Pounds lost and gained. Dates unrepeated with boys she does not like. And then suddenly, at eighteen, she is beautiful. Older men follow her with their eyes. Her body is curved, and she wears cotton dresses, sheaths over the slender planes of her body, and, thinking of liberation, no bra. When she walks down the street, there are whistles, catcalls. Sometimes she smiles, sometimes she clenches her fists.

*                        *                        *

At work she is fired twice for refusing to stay after hours. Male teachers give her A’s, then casually mention their private retreats in the mountains, in the desert, by the sea. Her body is cold under their hands. When she climbs on top, she can feel something, hot and heavy as a blow.

*                        *                        *

At twenty-five she sues the boss that puts his hands on her body, settles out of court for enough to call it a win. She wears loose clothes, carries mace, goes to marches, pays her own way, sleeps only with women. But sometimes, when her lover calls her pretty, she turns, her eyes a field of accusation and pain. She drifts beyond all reach; she comes back crying. In the world, she watches how she walks, watches how she smiles, trying to erase cute, erase pretty, change the definition of beautiful.