What can you give to me? That I haven’t already created? That I haven’t carved out for myself?
I think endlessly of possibilities to form, to shape. My childhood obsession with becoming a puppeteer. Later, rolling clay between my fingers was a progression and also a frustration. My ideas did not always play out in miniature. Trying to create a Gumby-like world, or at least one with strings. The tape was visible, my hands visible. I wanted to be an expert at the details, folding clothing crisply, pinching the clay between my thumbs cleanly. No edges. No lines, or seams.
And yet: all around me was a world of scatter. The floor: a disarray of toys, tools. Each space I could find on the floor was a victory. Each corner of my bedroom became a memory to play with. Sheets became tangled, childhood became tangled. When did you grow me up? Was it ghost stories from a book I was simultaneously repulsed by and drawn to? Was it the attic above my older brother’s bathroom which nobody ever entered? Unsolved Mysteries marathons playing on TV? Was it my adult father lying next to me, telling me childhood stories?
But this is about identity. The formation, the pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Right? The shaping, the carving, the whittling away. Anything, anything is possible to form. Sometimes the details get blurry. These things I’ve mentioned: they are happenings that were happened to me. But: identity is not passive. Anything can come from the depths. Monster or superhero. The borders can be dirty.
About being held
The passive un-object of anyone
In a long long time.
You gave that to me
Did you know
The thinking of myself as a predicate again
Even if you didn’t mean to
Becoming a subject again is
Easy. I can be
Lurk and seek and slither but
I see things now
In my own limbs like
They are a foreign species
That you could name.
At a young age my older brother showed me his workout routine of pushups and sit ups. I wanted to do as many as he could, muscles forming defined boundaries, and yet seeping out as if there were more possibilities. So I began collecting muscles like rocks. You didn’t need any geographical luxury to find muscle: my brother worked out on a wooden floor. So I could become wealthy. So I could assume the identity of having it all. It takes work and energy, but if you begin collecting muscle at the age of eight, you accumulate a storehouse.
Not everyone values the same systems. Not everyone wants your muscle collection. Your bargaining chips become useless when the identity is denigrated.
I had a lot of hair to give, too. My legs, arms, even my stomach. Little hairs grew like centipede legs, and so I believed: I could travel anywhere. Everywhere I went, I could shed. My hair could be a calling card. I could grow it and leave it. There was another collection to be formed. In the corner of any room, I could be, I could live and grow outside of this house, I could occupy any space.
I could see you, name you, feel you. Without you touching me. Without you having anything from me that could not one day regenerate.
will not hold me between your two arms like a hair in a tweezer let’s
be honest I will
the lips of you the teeth of you I will
an abrasive direction until you wish
made that follicle
The growth of us: of things under soil, or flesh, or lumpy bed covers made to resemble
mashed potatoes in a maddeningly, sickeningly
the woman I will never be, and was never
These are the things you
with pesticides, or a too-rough hand, or a statement, simple:
your lips are as lumpy as the mashed potatoes you have never even dreamed of
peeling from the
With this, I love you more. I worm up
against your underbelly and
grow my hair
long, microscopic follicles opening and closing like
the blinking woman
Muscles, hair: these are not impervious identity qualities. You can decide to give these things up. You can have them taken from you. A collection, an amalgamation of identity-driven components – these are not fixed.
When I realized that the loss of love could be cured by not eating, it was a formation of a new self. Muscles gave way to bone, and for this I was thankful. Your legs are so tiny, was something that had never been spoken to me before. Simply by refusing to put things in my mouth, I could become an entirely new person. Hairs began to change, get brittle, fall from the head, grow in strange places like down. I was becoming an entirely new mythical creature.
And then realizing this new self had its limitations. Its perception by another. That I could control what I was formed into, but could not control what others formed of me. People could look through me like the ghost I had become. People could see me as ghost. A haunting they could reject, push away, walk through. My mother could leave me screaming on a street begging for her to buy me more gum with xylitol so I could chew until I purged my body of any trace of a former self, any trace of a body. A body-less body. My mother could leave me because I could be just a voice. You can bury a voice, walk away, pat off the remorse like dust.
Even though I almost died. Even though I was close.
I could re-form. Slowly, harder this time. Not everything could be in my control. The physical was negotiable, to an extent. You could play around, you could go many, many places. Ultimately, the details are dirty. The edges are not clean. The strings are visible.
I will let you
surround yourself in an apocalyptic corner, sticking pins in holes and needles in
Your lips are important to me, the curve of your back is crucial but
there are corners of skin I want you to see and I am
You are lucky to have me here to clean you up,
you say, and
revolt secretly by letting my hairs fall out of follicles gently,
You will wake up days later, surrounded by another woman’s soft elbow, and thin legs. You will feel
her hairless, storm-less
corpse, and press against it, out of a desire to accumulate
love. The aperture of her will never wax or
wane and for that,
you are grateful.
Look: I’m scared, okay?
I want you to grab fistfuls of her and realize you prefer
Under the pillow, your head tossing and turning fitfully, wads of my hair
waiting for your decision.
What if you don’t call? What if you don’t
toss and turn
I’ve cast my best battle, my bravest soldiers have grieved
for you. In
the darkness of your room I can only hope my hairs grip and pull at the foundation of your
covering your brain with thick-set ropes and a prickly, just-above-the-surface
Just the wind.
The moon is loud today.
You will stop just for a second too long as you go to close the window, and for that
you will have let me won.
Not everything is physical. Not everything can be physical. I have to remind myself of that some days. Sometimes I forget what it would feel like to just be. Not the physical presence, not what is filling my body and presenting itself to the world. I forget what it feels like until the time, for example, someone told me in law school, I fell for your brain.
Even when I am lying in bed, trying to relax, I am always hyper aware of the body, its position, its feeling. My body, my position, my feeling. And another’s.
The brain itself occupies time, space, other people’s perceptions. A few years back my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The day he was going in for surgery, I felt more panic than I could understand. Here was my father, extremely intelligent, who still had so much left to do. If stories, banks of knowledge, mathematical equations were somehow lost, I felt like, strangely, I could never forgive myself.
When my younger brother woke up from a coma with massive brain damage, I also thought of ideas of forgiveness. Who was this stranger in front of me, chanting words and re-learning how to walk? Grabbing fistfuls of me like he could lean. I could only offer so much. I thought of one of the last conversations I had with him before he did it. He had walked into the kitchen with a friend. I had just dyed my hair red and was home for the weekend from college.
–Hey, this is my sister…Oh…she dyed her hair. It used to be a much different color.
For some reason, I’ll never forget the way he looked at me like a stranger. My hair had been so familiar to him, and now I had taken that from him. Later, while staring at his emaciated body in the hospital, I wondered if my hair was to blame.
My brother’s brain performed miracles. Doctors said he would never recover. But the formation of an identity is a strong-willed creature. Pushing and pulling, crying with frustration, he learned to walk again. To talk. To write. To love again. His body had never been so skinny before as it had been after months in a hospital bed.
Slowly, he banked his muscles. Slowly, he stored fat. Slowly, my roots grew out to reveal my natural color.
Forgiveness could start with the follicle. Honesty could begin again. A blank canvas to begin again however we want.