5.10 / October 2010

When I Was Bi(nary)

listen to this poem

I contrasted nicely with unary,
ternary, quarternary, and so on.
In this way, I functioned hypothetically

and trouble-free as a pair of   bosons,
which, we know, will happily occupy
one quantum state, unlike two fermions.

Explosive, I fissioned and coded. My
planetary bodies orbited themselves
like a bi-asteroid, a bi-star (blue/white),

bi-nomials, and two cute daughter cells
that grew up opposite each other
and occasionally met in the middle

like lips. Sometimes I was a multiplier
in a two-based number system, enjoying
the way my human fingers desired

nothing more than the gratifying
mathematics of acey-deucey, ac/
dc, options flowing, always showing

off—like a superheroine or a tree.
For fun, I smote the rap of wishy-washy
and plucked the euphoric luck of binary.

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life

listen to this essay
from Queering Desire: Queer Poets’ Aesthetic Libidos

April 8, 2010, AWP Denver

At age thirty, newly divorced and waking up to the fact that I had a body, I wrote a graphically sexual poem called “Lois Lane” about the boyfriend who helped release me from my Stepford twenties. I kept writing poems about my so-called normal straight life until I turned thirty-nine and met a woman who turned me into a full-blown lesbian in the front seat of my old Honda in Brooklyn New York during the theme song from Dirty Dancing. I’d officially entered my own queer life of desire and I’ve been wrestling with my libido ever since, both in and out of poems, writing it all down because I think my head will explode if I don’t. Thus, I queer the world.

I love the verb “to queer.” I love that I can “queer” something—a relationship, a restaurant, a poem, my father’s funeral, the planet, my classroom, just by being there. Is that true? I like to think it is. That I bring the possibility of a new flavor into a roomful of people all eating strawberries, which is presumptuous of me, I know, gorging on Nutella. But they all appear to be riding the same quarter horse when I prance in on my green zebra. They sure look at me funny.

Queering desire for me is about bigger and fluid and messy, although those of us who love messy find it beautiful. I wrestle with desire (and therefore libido) now for the same reason I’ve always wrestled with it—it’s so big and fluid and messy—it doesn’t fit in the drawer I was taught to fold it into. It bulges like a blob when I try to poke it. It hits me in the back of the head. It whips me around.

My poems have gone from neatly enjambed beings that are actually recognizable poems—to big messy collages that no one, even I, can wrap her whole mind around. Sometimes they grow into prose—a memoir or a story—and then I recognize them again. Ah, I say. Whew. I’m normal. They fit. But that in between thing—that transliminal, boundaryless, unnamed thing, that stretchy, messy, unpredictable thing—I’m not sure what to call that, and I hope the umbrella of poetry will continue to embrace it because poetry is where humans break bonds and rules and records—that thing, I believe, can only be called queer.

It’s fun, because, like a convert, I’m so happy to be wrestling on the queer side of libido instead of the straight side that even the tricky stuff has been a pleasure. Stuff like trying to figure out exactly who should I and who do I desire and who, out of that motley crew of possibilities, I’m actually going to get naked with. And am I going to allow a poem to spill over and over until it has no genre whatsoever? A many-eyed thing with no parents or country?

My first mentor told me: “Poetry is about compression, Maureen,” and that worked for me until I tongue-kissed a woman. Then poetry was about galloping and sloshing through mud and rolling down hills and flying my own jet. I certainly do not speak for anyone but myself and I have no answers today, only more questions, like: Are queers the only ones who write queer? Or: Are we simply reloving Whitman? Or: Is there such a thing as queering yin and yang? Or: Is yin already queer? And what will happen if we write whatever we want and don’t call it anything and don’t call ourselves anything and we all just do what we want all the time without hurting anyone, of course, well, not intentionally, at least, and no one knows what to call us and everything we write gets wider and wider and we sleep with any number of people of different genders and genres and our writing gets fuller and our desires are met and grow again and now we are so full of music that our poems never even reach paper and   someone asks us because they just can’t believe we could be so queer–who the hell are you–what will we say then?

Note: Thanks to Jericho Brown, David Groff, Ely Shipley, and Stacey Waite, poets extraordinaire, and to our big beautiful leader, Jim Elledge.