I was costumed in a white tiger stripped bodysuit when I found out
I’d been accepted into the graduate creative writing program at the University
of British Columbia. The bodysuit was one size too small
and my labia majora squeezed out from either side of the gusset
whenever I sat down.
I sat with the other sluts, most of whom I loved like stopped clock
around a vinyl topped card table inside a corrugated steel barn
in Huntsville, Alabama. Our hosts brought warm tamales
wrapped in tinfoil and homemade moonshine.
From the moonshine
I expected what I expect of every spirit
stronger than seventy proof. I expected a methanol spice akin to grappa
and I yearned for the zippered mountain road between Sulmona and Pacentro
along which I once vomited in the passenger side footwell of an Alfa Romeo.
The Italian word for vomit is vomito. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but vomito sounds so cute.
Cute enough to name a small pet.
Moonshine flint behind my ears. My cell phone lit with a 604 area code.
The admissions secretary’s voice was bright and high
despite her calling from four thousand plus kilometres away.
She said “I’m so happy for you”
and “your acceptance letter is in the mail”
and “you should apply for a scholarship.”
The secretary knew my livelihood was pussy tap.
It’s likely the entire selections committee knew.
One can only write so many poems about men’s billfolds.
Our MC, Rose Anna, announced my big news to the audience. Their clanging
applause surprised me. It shouldn’t have because a whore that goes to collage is adorable.
Live-nude-crook turned hit-the-books is a narrative string
any fella can feel good about tucking a fiver into.
The rough decked stage caught my stiletto. The sound of my knees
pounding plywood was barely audible against the sonic boom of burlesque.
And besides what’s another bruise?
What’s a bruise? What’s a bruise? What’s a blue moon bruise
to do but pull young blood to and fro like the tide? What’s a bruise
but a testament to the sharp art of surrendering to place and time?
And how I surrendered to that stage. Quit the clamor
of spectator expectancy, the scream-pitch ringing in the round and instead
bowed down to the ageless filth of glitter and leaked fluid. Oh, hallowed ground
oh striptease stage, I prayed to spirits of every hustler who turned rock ballads
into rent, turned grind into gold. Face-downed belly-rolled until I met god
or a staph infection. Same difference.
This is definitely nostalgia talking. Don’t let me (and my propensity
for glorification) fool you. The truth
is I uprighted myself
and finished my routine
just like any other night.
I sometimes wonder, though do not care in the slightest, if pity
was the reason I was accepted into the creative writing program
at the University of British Columbia.
An anagram for “creative writing” is “tragic interview”
The one concrete detail I recall about the mother, who after the show
presented me with her virgin teenage son, was her pearls. Nacreous
is the adjective that describes the specific lustre of a pearl.
Her pearls had flawless nacre. Not like the poor flaking strand
passed down to me by my Nonna.
And we were in Alabama.
The mother in pearls was interested in buying sex for her teenage son.
“He has to become a man before going off to college.”
She was certain it was his virginity that hindered him
from the kingdom and the power of predestined manhood.
What she was unsure of was how much I should be paid for my service.
I would have to veer into fantasy to continue.
There’s nothing I remember about the teenage son.
To write what little appears on this page, I’ve superimposed the Geek
from the 1984 film Sixteen Candles and alternatively
Brian from The Breakfast Club.
A John Hughes-constructed outcast crying
over thwarted masculinity and a tenuous ability
to subjugate young women’s bodies.
I grew up with movies that taught me the meek
shall inherit the prom. Or, according to John Hughes
the Geek shall inherit access to a blackout-drunk cheerleader.
But life rarely mimics a Hollywood ending and sex work isn’t going anywhere.
I took my pussy tap money and went to Pacentro for the 553rd Corsa degli Zingari.
In the village dialect Zingari describes he who is barefoot.
Barefoot young men walk the mule tracks up Mount Marrone
past malnourished stray dogs that haunt the village cemetery, past
their ancestors resting in the high walls
past cicadas keening in the warped heat. Higher still, past
stone huts where shepherds have slept since time immemorial
past drags of scorched secondo dopoguerra earth, past
brown bear and antelope tracks, past prayer caves, past
consecrated bedrock, past unmarked graves. For the past
five and a half centuries barefoot young men have waited at the top
of Marrone rock for starting bell to echo through Peligna Valley.
This ringing bell made me cry for reasons I still do not understand.
I lined up with the other spectators to watch barefoot young men race
to the finish line. Bloody footprints on the church floor: a rite of passage.
Those who reached the Virgin became good men, heroes
spread in a dusty huddle before the altar. The Virgin of Loreto (or the Virgin
in this particular church) was pale blue, gold and haloed
in the kind of electric lights that reminded me
of a golden age of Hollywood dressing room.
And because I’ve seen every Fellini film,
I too knelt before Her and prayed.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of what I’ve seen and what I know
and now that I’ve refashioned this memory into a poem I choose not to show myself
praying the rosary, psalms or any grace I learned as a girl.
I prayed “Please, I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’ll do anything, please
Ho paura. Paura lasciami. Please. Unafraid. Please.”
You (literally you) are reading queer and desperate poetry, and so
I already love you like a stopped clock, but if you’re wondering whether or not
I took that Alabamian mother’s money to fuck her virgin son then you too better
kneel down and pray.
The other sluts in dropped me and my bag full of small bills and animal
print lingerie off at O’Hare airport in Chicago. They travelled on to Milwaukee
maybe onto Minneapolis, and eventually into lonesome sphere
of memory. (These days, if I can’t find an old friend through google
I assume they are dead.) I flew back to Vancouver to attend the University
of British Columbia, where more than one professor warned me
not to confuse creative writing with therapy.
- 111: BABYwith S Deo & L Ferney 110: POP!with Z Frost & B Jessen 109: NO THEME 12with C Maling & N Rhook 108: DEDICATIONwith L Patterson & L Garcia-Dolnik 107: LIMINALwith B Li 106: OPENwith C Lowe & J Langdon 105: NO THEME 11with E Grills & E Stewart 104: KINwith E Shiosaki 103: AMBLEwith E Gomez and S Gory 102: GAMEwith R Green and J Maxwell 101: NO THEME 10with J Kinsella and J Leanne 100: BROWNFACE with W S Dunn 99: SINGAPOREwith J Ip and A Pang 97 & 98: PROPAGANDAwith M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones