Renn Elkins

retrace: a poem in 5 parts

 

i.

last night, in 2012, it was raining and you were outside, 

this morning, 11am 12pm 1pm morning, you sit at the window eyes diverted and try to remember 

when the weather would weather your skin and pierce to whatever 

sits beneath, when the rain would hit the muscle only anymore reachable 

by your testosterone needles, every friday, today friday, yesterday morning friday but 

last night always something else. 

death of the author

every time i try to write poetry, it sounds the same. 

 

procrastinating) fucking with my fingernails and that’s rust not dirt that’s 

from last night, i never minded needles but sometimes i 

still have to get drunk to make myself do the shot and then it 

bleeds bleeds bleeds 

like (not enough of) an exchange 

 

in every mousehole/trashcan/outhouse/pillbottle where i almost glimpse profundity it 

turns out to be another hidden mirror and jesus christ, 

i’ve seen enough of “my” own face i’ve seen 

enough 

already 

 

my favorite scenes to write (genre:fantasy) were ones with daggers (“darksilver”) 

and jewels and mead and gossamer and sacrificial lambs and 

“holy” water and “green” moss and 

CISGENDER men and CISGENDER women i was always 

enchanted by the idea of eating one’s fill. 

 

all art is quite useless but it is so exhausting to think that 

the artist is as well.

500 Words on Pride

Image result for gay pride

First of all, it’s complicated. Second of all, it shouldn’t be.

This year—just like last year, and the year before, and probably several years before that—there has been at least one attempt, proliferated across social media, to host a “straight pride parade.” Most people’s first instinct is to laugh, not necessarily due to the nuanced absurdity of the situation, but because it’s just so incongruous with what we’re used to. “Straight people don’t need pride” is a common sentiment. And that’s true, but not for the reasons that everybody thinks.

Pride—at least, the LGBT pride that we celebrate every June—does not exist in a vacuum. Many people are proud of many facets of their identity: I’m proud to be a good student, proud to be a Minnesotan (seriously, it’s nice up here), proud to be a responsible person whom others can depend upon to get things done. Let’s indulgently refer to these traits as “virtues.” I’m proud of my virtues—as is everyone—because they make me a better person.

And this is where people get confused. Sexuality and gender identity are never virtues. They’re integral parts of our identity, nothing we have to work towards, nothing we actively cultivate. They exist, and that’s all. There’s no reason to be proud of being straight or of being LGBT, because neither of these are accomplishments.

Except that’s not exactly true.

Through no choice of our own, inherent and unchangeable aspects of the LGBT community’s personhood are combatted at every turn. In some parts of the world, this means that our existence is punishable by death. In the most progressive of areas, our right to marry is constantly in question. We are often unable to receive appropriate medical attention, especially if we are transgender. We are denied access to employment, to bathrooms, to interactions with young children. We are censored from TV, books, and music. We are beaten, degraded, robbed, tortured, mocked, raped, and killed simply for being ourselves.

I didn’t choose this. I don’t know a single human who would. I wish that my transfeminine friends could pass through a TSA security check without being flagged for an unexpected object between their legs. I wish that my girlfriend could wear a flannel jacket on the bus to work without being sneered and spat and cussed at. I wish that I could play online games without being called “a faggot who deserves to be lynched” due to my non cis-passing voice.

But these things happen anyway. For the foreseeable future, they will continue to do so. And we’re fighting as hard as we can, but nothing changes overnight.

In the meantime, we have pride. Pride in not only who we are, but in what we’ve done—pride in the virtue of our resilience. Each year, we aren’t using this month to flaunt our sex lives or paint everything rainbow, whatever corporations might have you think. We are using it to celebrate our survival. And since queerness comes with such a tremendous burden in today’s world, celebration of our traits and our achievements are one and the same. Meaning that our identities are, after all, virtues of a sort.

So, sure, be proud of your heterosexuality, if it really matters that much to you. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of having brown eyes—happy with it, sure, but not proud. What I am proud of is myself and all of my LGBT siblings for existing as ourselves, and loving who we love in spite of the threat it poses to us. I’m proud of us for surviving another year. Here’s to many more.

500 Words on Fanfiction

Fanfiction. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Not the semi-literary, novel-length type, either, though that stuff is definitely worth checking out. No, I’m talking about the kind that very few people want to discuss outright. A lot of it is pornographic. Most of it is queer. It ranges in quality from abysmal to pretty damn good. And, as an adult in 2019, I believe that its existence is invaluable.

What I Owe Aladdin

Image result for aladdin disney

August 11th, 2014, I was getting ready to board a plane when I heard that Robin Williams had killed himself. My mom shared the news in hushed tones over our airport dinner; my sister was only six at the time, and none of us wanted to explain to her.

I wished that the news had been kept a secret from me, as well, for just a little longer. Instead, reality sunk into me, layer by layer, as we boarded the airplane. Memories of Aladdin and Jumanji on our old basement television crowded their way past me along with the other passengers. Rewinding VHS tapes, the technicolor plastic cases where I would replace them after every viewing. Our Disney collection — I don’t know what happened to all those old tapes. I hope they aren’t in a landfill. Their covers were so bright that sometimes I would just look at them, try to conceive the world painted in bold lines, a world so much easier and more colorful than the cold gray of the basement where I crouched.

It wasn’t that he was my favorite actor, or even close. I almost think it would have been easier if he was. But this way, I had no excuse for the silent contemplation that my mind and body demanded of me. As I got sandwiched on the plane between two large, loud men, without a single armrest to myself, I felt like an idiot. They tried to talk to me, to joke with me, over and over and over, and I felt scrutinized and hollow and ugly and lost. I didn’t want to cry, but I wanted to be home. I wanted to understand. I wanted to watch Aladdin.

If I owe that movie anything, it has more to do with Jasmine than the Genie. She was — you guessed it — one of my first “girl crushes.” I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but I was obsessed with her and her tiger, her long hair, her thick eyebrows and her little curly-toed slippers. So maybe, that afternoon in 2014, I was lamenting that little bit of my self-knowledge. If not for the thrill of the Genie, perhaps I wouldn’t have watched the movie, wouldn’t have fallen for the princess, wouldn’t be the flaming queer that I am today.

I know things don’t really work that way. But things also aren’t meant to work in a way where the comedic light of so many childhoods can off himself with a rope around the neck on a random August day. The best I can do is try to find solace in the butterfly effect.

It was a hard afternoon. In the least glorified terms possible, I felt like shit. And I don’t think that ever really went away.

 

Farther back, now. Another time — I don’t know the year, but I must have been six, seven, eight. Introversion and social anxiety set in pretty early for me, so I was pretty quiet most of the time. Well, all of the time.

My parents took me camping pretty often. My mom, especially. And there’s this one story she likes to tell, about her and me at a campground — in fact, she mentioned it just last week. It was evening, but the campsites around us were lively enough. The two of us were walking past them, on our way back to our own tent. Well — she was walking. I was parading. I was also singing, and if anyone reading this was in one of those neighboring tents that night, I’d like to offer my sincerest apology; no one should ever be subjected to my atrociously off-key shrieks. But somehow, in that moment, I wasn’t self-conscious at all. “That one bizarre time that your introversion just vanished,” my mom calls it. I think she was baffled at the time, too, by this musical fiend that had suddenly possessed her shy, nervous daughter. But I didn’t have time to be confused by my own actions. I was ecstatic.

The song, of course, was from Aladdin. Which one? The best one: “Prince Ali,” a gloriously theatrical romp through the streets of Agrabah. Aladdin, in disguise, is all at once reinvented, and becomes the focus of what seems like the whole kingdom: pretty girls flounce and swoon, children cheer, shopkeepers stare in wonder. All of them are in awe of Ali, a persona that radiates confidence, wealth, glamor, and — most importantly — masculinity. “Prince Ali, mighty is he, Ali Ababwa! / Strong as ten regular men, definitely,” Williams’s Genie belts. A verse later, a gaggle of starstruck young women join in with a catchy counterpoint: “There’s no question this Ali’s alluring / Never ordinary, never boring / Everything about the man just plain impresses / He’s a winner, a whiz, a wonder / He’s about to pull my heart asunder / And I absolutely love the way he dresses!”

Ali is, in a word, a paragon of the male gender. The Genie has impossibly, wondrously transformed a shaggy “street rat” into a strong, handsome prince who provokes the envy of every other man in Agrabah. Charming, confident, and cocky. Euphoric.

So euphoric, in fact, that he overcomes his skittishness, his well-learned tendency to stay in the shadows. When he is allowed to reinvent himself in the presence of strangers, he absolutely dazzles.

That isn’t to say that I dazzled any of our poor neighboring campers that night. But, God, I felt great. I didn’t connect it to gender at the time. In fact, I still don’t, not really. Because even though being trans is about gender by definition, it’s also so much more. It’s about the understanding and appreciation of oneself as a person, a prince, a protagonist. That night, for the first time, I felt it.

 

When Robin Williams died in 2014, I started seeing the world differently. It was colder, somehow. I didn’t know him and I didn’t even miss him, not exactly. But I think I owed him something that I never got to appreciate while he was still alive. It’s a silly moment to hold so dearly, but I wouldn’t possess confidence like that again until I started introducing myself with a new name and pronouns.

Everything is so much brighter when I can be proud of myself. Sure, I’ll never be a prince. But also, in a way, I think I already am.

 

another neo-sapphic love poem

Image result for pomegranate

pomegranates they all write about

pomegranates and i think it’s fucking stupid i think they yearn for

that clean contrast,

fruit on marble like

blood on grass,

like skin in sea,

the oxymoron in

“angel of death” but

we are all in opposition already,

mythology is redundant,

binarism is flat beside triangulation and

after all, our grandmothers found their way

not by following the sunset

but by tracing the stars.

horror story

trigger warning: mild body horror, violence, mentions of hunger/food

Image result for dark forest

Once the wind enters your ears, it never really leaves. Like a virus, or maybe a parasite, drilling down with its single hollow, conular tooth until it passes through your brain, reaches your eyes, squeaks out through your nose and between your teeth. Remember when we were younger, when we got our first MP3 players and we finally had a soundtrack for our walks to school, or rides home in the rain? Now, my every move thrills with dissonance. As if the wind is not a memory at all, but rather the sound of the present air through my webby, crumbling bones.

It started with us camping off the shore of one of the Great Lakes, I can’t remember which one. I don’t know why we thought it would be romantic. Trying to unzip each of our sleeping bags and line then up together, make a bigger one, but they wouldn’t stay straight and we kept ending up on the lumpy canvas floor, freezing cold and too sweaty in the places where we touched. I couldn’t sleep like that, and even once we gave up and turned our separate ways, it was too loud; my brain wouldn’t turn off. I tried to find music in the raucous waves and the rattle of tree branches, but it was no use.

You fell asleep somehow, and then your snores joined the messy tapestry of noise. My eyes stabbed with exhaustion. I tried to crush my sleeves against my ears, plug them long enough to slip off, but the wind had already found its way inside of me; there was no use trying to block it out.

I don’t know when I first heard her. I don’t think she can be defined by time quite like that. Once the wind wound deep enough, I realized that it had been her voice all along. The shock hit me like the skin of the frozen lake, and I was cold and hollow and grasping at the slippery nylon of the sleeping bag, the teeth of the zipper grating my fingernails.

I couldn’t close my eyes, or she would slip inside the tent. I couldn’t keep them open, or I would see her.

She was shaped like a question mark, semicircular spine and rawhide skin and thick barrel ribs all hiked atop a too-thin pair of legs, some ungodly miracle of gravity. Her arms had too many joints, or else they were bent the wrong way, or both. She smiled when I saw her. Wide, wide, wide smile stretching back to below her soft ears. Her eyes were very small, very red-rimmed in the sunken whiteness of her broad face.

She was hungry. So hungry. I was so hungry.

When you’re that hungry, it isn’t about emptiness. It isn’t even about food. It is about the warm and the cold, and we were in the middle of a snowy forest, and when I looked down I saw that the skin had already turned pale and melted away from my fingers, and I knew that my face was already nearer to hers, and when I looked over at you, soft and sleeping, flush and distant, I was hungrier and hornier than any human had ever been in their life.

We ate you together. Maybe we talked about it beforehand, but I can’t remember how. My teeth were sharper than I knew. She was not so frightening when she was full. Nor was I. You tasted like home, like our favorite restaurant, like the fast food we were going to buy to celebrate the end of our trip. You were red and orange and loud and bright and perfect, the opposite of the snow.

We couldn’t stay, she and I. I rose up and let my spine fold over and it was so, so much better. The snow was hot on my blue-bitten feet. I ran to escape it. Left ashen prints behind. Ran faster and faster. She spoke or sang and I cried or replied.

We gallop, fly. It is too gray to see the stars. The forest rips in our ears and our lungs, and I know now that there is no use trying to drown out the wind. It is so much easier to laugh along.

swan lake revisited

Image result for swan lake

 

i. drowning

when you have lived so long with feathers, it is difficult to remember that you will not always float. that the benign freshwater will grab onto the tendrils of your hair and pull you down towards the murk and the weeds below, the lady of the lake taking you for a creature of the earth and not the skysea. the water is dirty down here, up there; it stings my eyes, and my throat is perforated with sharpsand, handfuls of shredded stone mincing my lungs. sunlight reminds me of something, scuds winklike flashes in all directions, inconsistent as will o’ the wisps. i have flown and i know now that it is no different from sinking. there is not even a reversal. land and sky, i have always been going the same direction, and i know that i am now about to reach the end.

 

ii. odette & odile

— odile?

— yes?

— you could tell your father no.

odile?

— i wish i could.

— there’s nothing to stop you. he would let you go. you might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.

— i know.

— so tell him you won’t. let us be happy.

— i can’t.

— why the hell not?

— because i might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.

 

iii. the curse

him, with those gigantic eyes. a beard that rested only on the very edges of his jaw, thick and distinct. a mouth that curled, dark pit above the upper lip, anger in the teeth but none in the gaze. instead, calculation.

please, no.

him, not ugly, but something worse. he who would be beautiful if he were an animal, but who does not fit right into the lines of a human. he with all the universe’s power in nothing more than a glorified twig. him pointing to her, and changing her world. him disfiguring her into something that is beautiful, something more beautiful than she ever would have been otherwise. him reforging her into something that can fly, but only until the atmosphere or her wings run out.

there is too much woman to be contained in these new hollow bones. no words from a mouth that she doesn’t have. now, she is treasured. now, she is pristine. she is the stuff of tapestries and taxidermy, of feast and folk song, and

she cannot speak.

 

 

iv. the hunt

it’s difficult to say what makes the prince hesitate. he has, after all, only ever been taught that beauty is something to be captured and stoppered up; there is no greater way to honor an animal than by mounting it on his wall. he will tell himself later that he knew all along she wasn’t an animal at all, and he will, of course, be wrong in that assumption, but she will be too tired to correct him.

as it is, in this moment, he pauses. his weapon, the bow/rifle/phone/prod/leer, is almost slippery beneath his sweaty fingertips. he looks at her and he wonders, with his tongue at the edge of his lip, whether he can do something more with her than kill.

 

 

v. the ball

i’ve missed you so much, darling.

and i you.

you must know she is different, you must feel she is different, smell it, tell somehow. she is telling you. she is screaming it. look in her eyes. just once, won’t you look her in the damned eyes?

you’re a good dancer.

my father taught me.

(cannot speak.)

 

 

vi. odette & odile

if you are in love, which is doubtful, it is a love born only of circumstance. it is an alliance of her skin and yours. you like the smell of her hair, prefer to sleep with your stomach to her back, so that you can nuzzle near her neck and not think about her eyes, about how they, through no fault of hers, hold everything from which you have been trying to escape.

 

 

vii. drowning

it occurs to you that men have made you their tragedy yet again, and as you die you are furious.

all is as cyclical as the torrent of lake and sky. upwards. you are moving upwards towards the kelp and the sand and the smooth stones in so many subtle colors.

you are unused to the water on your skin, raw, no feathers to armor you. it is very, very cold. too cold, or perfectly cold, but you have no time to measure whether the fire in your chest is born from pain or relief before it — all of it — is extinguished.