Queer Femmes Respond – With a Golden Shovel, Part 2!

Last week, I told you about the book of poetry by Nikki Grimes called One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, where she uses a poetic form called the Golden Shovel to respond to poems by Harlem Renaissance poets. I knew immediately that I wanted to try this form, and that I wanted to respond to a queer poet. I chose the transcendent poem, “Homo Will Not Inherit” by Mark Doty, and here is my attempt.

Deep gratitude to Nikki Grimes and Mark Doty, whose inspiration and love-filled work help me to carry on!

No Homos

Driving together to the Sunday Peace and Serenity AFG meeting, the last one before lockdown, and you know I’ve

Been saying the Serenity Prayer over and over since the weeks of chemo. “Have you seen

your mom lately?” my butch has just asked when, as though sending its message wreathed in righteous flames,

 

A car in the next lane pulls ahead of us, we two dykes in our suburu, and out of the morning flicker

urgent words on a hand-lettered sign in the back window: NO HOMOS! We are stuck in our lane, can’t get around

this reality, this gut punch, right here in the Republic of Cambridge where the

 

raw face of hate stuns us and remind us: at any moment, we can fall off the edge

right into the enormity of some deeply held belief, one that comforts and speaks of

redemption for the believer, promises, what? That when my butch and I have been negated, the

 

complex threads of our queer lives unraveled, gone the abomination of our queer bodies;

after that contamination has been blasted to the hell where they know it belongs, down will rain pentecostal

delirium and at last, rewarded, the driver of our neighboring car and all her fellows will be hosannaed, lifted up; evidence

 

irrefutable and holy of all that is right and true? What does she know or our inhabitation

in sacred circles of recovery or how our queer ancestors gather round us with their blessings and

their witness of our radiance and our glory? How can she know I

 

learned to pray well after my 50th year, that I sit in the presence of what is, that I have

turned inwards to learn to love my queer femme self that I may be of service in the world? Where has she been

during all this healing time but sequestered from her own dear soul, possessed

 

by voices who mean her no good? There is no way there will ever be no. homos, and the

wounding we feel, as we drive on, carry on, does not deny us the presence of god

but rather brings us deeper, closer, brings me into the sadness, the adoration, the song of myself.

using a stanza in Mark Doty’s “Homo Will Not Inherit” (I missed one word, “of”!)

I’ ve seen flame flicker around the edges of the body,
pentecostal, evidence of inhabitation.
And I have been possessed of the god myself,

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I undergo treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 17, 2020 at 11:51 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Queer Femmes Respond – With a Golden Shovel!!

For my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, we just read One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes. It’s an absolutely beautiful book, where she dialogues with poets like Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson using a form called the Golden Shovel, which she describes thus:

…take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…then you write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words.

And about writing the Golden Shovel poems in her book, she says,

We live in a time when life is hard for many people. Yet there is reason to hope and to dig deep for the strength hidden inside of us. That is the message I take from Hughes’s poem (“Mother to Son”), and from all the other poems and poets included in this collection. That is also the message I explore in my own poems, inspired by these wonderful wordsmiths of the Harlem Renaissance.

I loved reading this book, and am lifted up and inspired by Grimes’s respect, love, and skill. Deep gratitude!!

This morning, I walked the dog, wearing my mask – uncomfortable – and feeling cut off from life. Anxious and grieving, I got home in not such a great mood. As I was looking at One Last Word sitting on my desk, I realized that I could reach out to a queer mentor or ancestor for hope and relief, just as Grimes did to her mentors and ancestors. Below is the Mark Doty poem I chose to dialogue with. Next week, when it’s gone through some more revisions, I’ll post my Golden Shovel poem.

Reading Doty’s poem again and then responding with my own words was an emotional experience. I wept. I felt better. I didn’t feel so hopeless or alone anymore. I felt held up by Doty, by all the queer writers who came before me and who are here with me now.

May you, too, be surrounded with queer love today and all the days.

Homo Will Not Inherit – by Mark Doty

Downtown anywhere and between the roil
of bathhouse steam — up there the linens of joy
and shame must be laundered again and again,

all night — downtown anywhere
and between the column of feathering steam
unknotting itself thirty feet above the avenue’ s

shimmered azaleas of gasoline,
between the steam and the ruin
of the Cinema Paree (marquee advertising

its own milky vacancy, broken showcases sealed,
ticketbooth a hostage wrapped in tape
and black plastic, captive in this zone

of blackfronted bars and bookstores
where there’ s nothing to read
but longing’ s repetitive texts,

where desire’ s unpoliced, or nearly so)
someone’ s posted a xeroxed headshot
of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the edges

as though photographed through a greasy lens,
and inked beside him, in marker strokes:
HOMO WILL NOT INHERIT. Repent & be saved.

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit: the margins
which have always been mine, downtown after hours
when there’ s nothing left to buy,

the dreaming shops turned in on themselves,
seamless, intent on the perfection of display,
the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:

edges no one wants, no one’ s watching. Though
the borders of this shadow-zone (mirror and dream
of the shattered streets around it) are chartered

by the police, and they are required,
some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,
permission’ s descending hour, early winter darkness

pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city’ s
ledgered and locked, but the secret city’ s boundless;
from which do these tumbling towers arise?

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit: steam,
and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,
fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.

I’ ve seen flame flicker around the edges of the body,
pentecostal, evidence of inhabitation.
And I have been possessed of the god myself,

I have been the temporary apparition
salving another, I have been his visitation, I say it
without arrogance, I have been an angel

for minutes at a time, and I have for hours
believed — without judgement, without condemnation —
that in each body, however obscured or recast,

is the divine body — common, habitable —
the way in a field of sunflowers
you can see every bloom’ s

the multiple expression
of a single shining idea,
which is the face hammered into joy.

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit:
stupidity, erasure, exile
inside the chalked lines of the police,

who must resemble what they punish,
the exile you require of me,
you who’ s posted this invitation

to a heaven nobody wants.
You who must be patrolled,
who adore constraint, I’ ll tell you

what I’ ll inherit, not your pallid temple
but a real palace, the anticipated
and actual memory, the moment flooded

by skin and the knowledge of it,
the gesture and its description
— do I need to say it? —

the flesh and the word. And I’ ll tell you,
you who can’ t wait to abandon your body,
what you want me to, maybe something

like you’ ve imagined, a dirty story:
Years ago, in the baths,
a man walked into the steam,

the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,
solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen —
and after he invited me to his room,

nudging his key toward me,
as if perhaps I spoke another tongue
and required the plainest of gestures,

after we’ d been, you understand,
worshipping a while in his church,
he said to me, I’ m going to punish your mouth.

I can’ t tell you what that did to me.
My shame was redeemed then;
I won’ t need to burn in the afterlife.

It wasn’ t that he hurt me,
more than that: the spirit’ s transactions
are enacted now, here — no one needs

your eternity. This failing city’ s
radiant as any we’ ll ever know,
paved with oily rainbow, charred gates

jeweled with tags, swoops of letters
over letters, indecipherable as anything
written by desire. I’ m not ashamed

to love Babylon’ s scrawl. How could I be?
It’ s written on my face as much as on
these walls. This city’ s inescapable,

gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I undergo treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes – “The Embrace”

Today, with George H. W. Bush’s 94-year old body lying in state in Washington, a man who will be remembered for how little he did during the AIDS epidemic, let’s send blessings to lovers and friends lost to AIDS with Mark Doty’s exquisite poem.

The Embrace

by Mark Doty

You weren’t well or really ill yet either,

just a little tired, your handsomeness

tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought

to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

 

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.

I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.

You’d been out – at work maybe? –

having a good day, almost energetic.

 

We seemed to be moving from some old house

where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things

in disarray: that was the story of my dream,

but even asleep I was shocked out of narrative

 

by your face, the physical fact of your face:

inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.

Why so difficult, remembering the actual look

of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

 

so when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,

your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth

and clarity of you – warm brown tea – we held

each other for the time the dream allowed.

 

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you

once more, plainly, so I could rest against you

without thinking this happiness lessened anything,

without thinking you were alive again.

Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was fabulous, kind, and wise and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)

 

 

Published in: on December 3, 2018 at 4:28 PM  Leave a Comment  
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