Rough Draft as Caeneus Abroad
BY VICTORIA C. FLANAGAN
“Grant I might not be a woman: you will have given me everything.” —Caenis to Poseidon, Metamorphoses, Book XII “He did not understand that there is as much liberty and latitude in the interpretation as in the making...” —Montaigne I. I have this theory: everything I’ve written is really an acquisition of language Or acquisition of one language over another. Like when I watch skiers laze down Snoqualmie’s slope like melt, like Kees’s bathers stuck in the wrong season. Or the way a former student writes me to say she’s experienced a traumatic event & my hands stiffen & begin to ache on instinct. How do we make sense of tragedy in writing she asks me over iced coffee, expecting I know. A steamer wand screams into milk, a muffin cools on a blue plate— she was the first neighbor to respond to the father’s yell & she is shaken. The real question: what is the poetic voice in excess of? I am three thousand miles from the place that made me. Now in a place with a windy season, a fire season, brim of the high desert, I can see scorched earth & whitecaps from the same June lookout. That which takes us captive shapes us, too. Out here no Poseidon ever makes good: I'm refused service at the brewery off 3rd in my oversized clothes, an ex says how could you possibly over FaceTime & I have both a your kind & no kin while missionaries find my doorstep twice a week. Who is there, in this place, to grant me release? The dirtfloor arena waits below a bluff, empty fifty weeks a year, and I watch the day sink, thinking, Ravisher, make me anew in the shadow of high mountains, grant me liminal-unthinkable, take this, all of this besides— & that body, released dismissed discarded might just become mine. This same student emailed a while back & signed off in the real world I’d like to think we would have been friends. Naming’s a whole affair, you see— it matters what you celebrate in a thing, too. Name me a god who hasn’t thundered. That one may speak and be heard becomes a demand to speak and be heard. II. My student tells me that a father backed over his daughter with his pickup. She died, chest-split staining the grass black. My student talks about the hush that smothers a block even weeks later. The mind, tethered to the body, officiates our myth-making. Surveillance buffs mythos from physical container— the body is nothing but a marionette. In my head, I’ve got hellhounds on a pack lead strutting down Pine: all transition is violence, erosion, & origin at once—two mirrors facing out from opposite walls—cause & invention. I try to search up the name of the child: accident father death girl Seattle, pickup truck neighborhood accidental death but come up empty. Name me a god who hasn’t plundered. Tragedy & spectacle: these twin puncture wounds. III. Cast out, I begin each day with an invocation for what I’ve lost—passing: Let my captors have the legend if I may keep the sound which marks my life like a bell. The quarter I’d had this student I shaved my head for the first time: homemade undercut, radiation carryover. Two years since the scare of a tumor in my chest, the body bears the mark of every way it’s been: I look tough and tired. This tradition of the Narcissian pool obligates a final reflection— Chase down the name so that we can have power over it, draw the force of the thing right up to us— & so I swallow hard when my student admits she Googled my name, a name which is no longer enough. I cannot tell her that every Thursday for all those weeks, classes let out to the sweep of a weekend, I drove the canyon road south of campus with my lights off, I took every rock-wall turn lastsecond swearing, sometimes, I never touched the wheel at all. IV. Rebel Poseidon, defiler of the genderedbody, wield your sharpest knives. Cut away & remake in the image of that which you fear most. Avenge your boundary with doubt— all those titles which never fit: necessity of reinvention a hard year fleeting emotional response this container with its own rules. Name me a god who hasn’t pardoned and cursed in the same breath. Every idea is a question, too, & my top surgery is denied a third time—too risky amid the body’s constant sway between well & ill & I tell myself never mind. I tell myself you are seeking comfort in a body incapable of such things. Some days I tell myself there is nothing to be done. There is so much work to becoming. V. When the buzz grew back & decisions had to be made, I tried boy. Hair pulled tight, smoothed to one side, I thought yes, body as boy, which became boi, then then, then was, then just maybe, then just vessel, then nothing more, then just this once, then neveragain. Thing is, we don’t have canyons where I’m from, just the junk of melt and migration: passivity, inevitable landscapes. Appalachia is all slow creep. But ridges— the exposed rock of a canyon wall is what remains when a river has bored its way through. Name me a god without design: I have learned to take, too. My night drive carved its shape from red desert and basalt, riparian zone: the surrounding biome of this foreign earth, a strip of habitat between the river & the land beyond. An interplay, a margin: Space to remake, right and revise the narrative—cell mutation, bones hollowed, chest cracked open like a seed in surgical—I deadname girl belle proper frailmeekthing deadname diagnosis relapse and recur. Instead take up them, of consequence, reluctant then a made thing, then threat, then body between. Is the line not so very thin between making again & making new? Galvanized, then forged, rewarded for a long and searching gaze. Taking & taking up, armed— I have acquired. Name me the god who says Yes, and. Worthy animal. I have learned all sacrament rests on the tongue.
Caeneus Struck by Side-Effects at a Late-Night 7-Eleven
BY VICTORIA C. FLANAGAN
Between retches, I study the frosted window to my right as if for the first time: etching sallow, nicked and private. I’ll look anywhere but down. Here, on the tile floor of a pitstop, I divide my loneliness into parts. Section off the havebeen agonies, the stillare regrets, lace-delicate: just weeks into gestation, my radiated body rejects what it might not bear. The neverwouldhavebeens, the probablyshouldn’ts. The nevertobeagains. No, my body is not a vessel it is a canyon, particle ricochet rising to the edge, DNA split, each invalid afternoon a mortal souvenir. But why attend this constant vigil for myself? No one says buck up to the faithless. Anointed by bleach & a testosterone patch, I imagine a mammoth skull dug up & drug through midtown. A crowd stares on as the crane hoists, the tusks make miniatures of us all. Asphalt buckles mile after mile, baring in noon light the century’s graves. It’s not fair to say excising when it may have been unearthing, uncovering, discovering—strangeness evolves by degrees: I was dug up spitting red clay, voice choked down an octave from silt. But I have proven, time & again, unfit. Inviable. Each biopsy sews up a question—this body not quite danger, not quite deathtrap. Is it that my body, if it could bear would bare a thing incomplete as girl? But uncertainty is not a menace in itself. Over the sink I remind myself, take heart: A window is not a mirror, and who am I, anyway, to disrupt the wonder of this, all this becoming?