Alienate

They don’t tell you there are fewer stars
in some places than others.
The city frightens them
with the threat of their obsoleting, and they hide to save
their light. There are fewer stars in places where personhood
is loudest.

They don’t tell you alienation is spelled
in unfamiliar constellations. Astronomic signposts dip
out of sight, occluded by some dark enormity
as the jet crew slides the planet
between you and your homeland lights.

You lack context and it shows.

Streetlights here are a strange colour, stirred and filtered
through pigment washes of aged grime, graffiti, someone’s
mistake, someone’s
purse, the rats–records of changing walkways, a sky
they mirror and defy.

You have been told there are so many lights in every city
that they are visible from space stations–even the highways, traceable
with one’s finger against orbital glass. You envy astronauts because
through those interstitial windows, they might still glimpse
familiarity.

Standing deep in the city’s gullet, you clumsily
triangulate the route
of your signal beacon home.

A subway ceiling intercepts it, humming its reply.

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Themself

The day I learnt self
was once spelled selbaz I realised my lexicon was full
of fickle male lyrebirds, stealing
chainsaw refrains and shutter clicks for their mates
and that warships are she’s because
they’re grand and ineffable
and let’s admit it, because captains are men and men
linguistically deserve their women, even though ships
have no genitals
nor lips to protest it.

And in class we’re told that they
is too potent to be wielded by a person alone
because sacrosanct subject-verb
agreement doesn’t care for pronominal liberty of self
and you’re either he or she or error
and errors make people uncomfortable

And then we are taught to squirm
when such errors are made.

Because my card says F
and my body lies, she, she, she
spelled somehow from G A T C
and they answer, she, she, she, she
as if words in libraries could orchestrate the building of cities
as if Alexandria were a weapons hold
as if I were a ship.

Are you a girl or a boy? asks a pair of bright
pink lips. “I am a girl
a girl,” I parrot
“and I like dolls
because of my karyotype”

And I’m standing in sneakers and self-hatred
at the washroom door as I slide into a she
because I have not been able to bring myself
to wear a dress
to wear my double X
for a decade

and I’m just a liar
liar
lyrebird
speaking stolen words
but the one that lays the eggs
without his pharyngeal virtuosity.

Coming of age

When I was thirteen years old, I began to feel the bird inside me. Crammed inside a pelvis too small for its wings, it was trying to unfold. It burbled something, hoarsely, a parody of birdsong, as I stared and pretended not to hear.

I was inside a tepid factory of scratching pens and clattering clocks, chalkboards bearing evidence of war, scuffed desk corners remembering the brutality of children’s nails. I was sprawled across my operating table, the fan blades slitting gashes in each thought.

We were all waiting for something in the heat.

“Destroy the establishment,” rasped my little bird in me, while I stared at chalk marks on deep green.

The room was boiling the sweat out of my skin and the howling fans could not hold out against the heat. Sweat stained the seats of chairs. Sweat smudged pencil marks. I could feel the groaning metal, could feel the windows straining inward.

And we were all waiting for something in the heat.

The pen nibs went scratch, scratch, scratch, like birds clawing at the windowpanes of my brain, drawing the coastal flyways they would never explore.

“They’re all sick,” said mine, gaining a semblance of a voice though it was still choked. “They are sick, in this infirmary, so bring them salvation.”

My heart boomed, blood shooting through the arteries in my ears. The teacher’s chalk began to scrape: S, O, C, I, E, T, Y, and then the white stick jammed against the black and with a bright snap the upper end went spinning through the air, stabbing the monitress in the cheek.

“I’m—” He picked the oppressive thing from the groove in her desk. “—sorry.” His brow knitted behind his glasses as his eyes met the monitress’ unprotesting silence. The trees were cracking in the heat.

By now I felt a small thrumming stir where my bird had clawed its way through my gut into my chest. It was gasping, starved of air by the whir of fans beating the heat away.

“Destroy yourself,” it said then, levering at the pencil-spire that jutted into my spinal cord.

So I did.

I watched myself ascend into the higher air, volcanic heat lashing at my lids. I began to crush my pencils in my hands. I felt their splinters bury themselves in my fingers.

“Stop that.”

I watched eyes glisten.

The bird drove me, desk by colossal desk, as I split each prison and freed the hissing, beating creature inside. The heat burst through my blood. I watched the teacher try to spread his claws but his skull was too tight and his tiger had long taken to cowering inside its cage. And the class listened to no ringmaster.

In the thick of flying sheets I heard my bird, and it was barely breathing, but its throat filled with air every time I snapped a ruler as if breaking a murderer’s neck.

“Stop right there,” the tiger mewled. I kicked him to his knees and drove a pen against his chin, grinning.

My bird had climbed onto my tongue. “You’ll pay,” it snarled.

You’ll answer to the principal,” answered the teacher while my pen drew incision lines on his neck.

Then the little tiger found just enough strength in itself to fling me, chirping, to the tiles. He had his chalk again and he had wrenched his phone from inside his pocket, and I was lying in the remains of shattered desk legs and pen nibs torn from sockets.

By then the classroom was empty and I felt my bloodied hands uncurl, all chafed, as the bird fled me and began to destroy the school.

Radio: 不明

a vapour voice percolates through
the static hailstorm in the mouth
of the radio: snatches of
news from a frosty wherever-abroad,
of clawing deep freeze, cracking ice, all the things
these smoke-capped shingles, on which
the summer is crusting,
and the sultry throb of cicadas boiling
from the hearts of trees
cannot begin to understand

Breaking water

I breach, a whale
in the shallow of the womb
breathing, a ball of cells that once
in all its broadness
dropped anchor in its bloody berth

and burst with a wail
from the hollow of this wound
breaking from my well at once
in all my smallness
seeping ichor in the flood of birth.

Woman

When they slit her abdomen open and excavated her womb, they found it was connected to two small organs the size of nuts. They took the entire structure—the womb, the pendulous appendages and the sacred passageway into her—and placed it on the surgical table, and there enshrined in blood, veins visible through a translucent veneer of skin, it seemed to glow.

They smiled and named it womanhood, they joked when they measured her cervix, there is little erotic about an organ isolated from its owner but they knew nothing of that small half-pound of flesh but pleasure. They dissected it to discover its linings and folds. They slit the fertile field so blood spilled across its furrows. A waste.

Someone was rough with her, said one, have you seen how it has stretched? Like your wife’s, quipped another, or that girl you had on the roadside last week. Cheap. A finger in mucus and blood, he pleasured the organ though it didn’t respond. Then sketched her vagina, jealously hiding its beauty with each stroke of his pen.