Some leave so early. We just get a taste
Of who they would have been. Perhaps a song
Or a novella. They were not here long
Enough to write much, scrawled it down in haste
A breath behind their ear a warning twinge
Death teeth at neck a shudder in short hair
A bat so small that it could tangle there
A squeak that might have been an unoiled hinge
But was not. Maybe pledged themselves to die
By hunger needles love or evil chance
Tore from our arms into black ragged dance
Yet not. Romantic imagery’s a lie.
No consolation. Just the brutal fact
They’re gone.No time for metaphor or tact.
SAPPHO AMONG THE ASTRONOMERS
Each day we know more. Knowledge in the net
And fish and random wood. Alone she slept
She doesn’t say so we don’t know she wept.
The moon was down. The Pleiades had set.
We count the stars roll backwards in their flight.
We’ve known her words speak truth about the heart
Of how love ends or tears and headaches start
We ascertain the week perhaps the night
She slept alone. Which makes it no more true
But somehow satisfies and warms the mind
With tiny certainties. I leave behind
Precise notations of my love for you.
Critics trust her nor me and speculate
A metaphor behind each lying date.
In that last film he’s nothing but a glare
face locked fools gold where once those brilliant eyes
torn paper folded brow was once so wise.
His own abyss looks out in that blank stare.
Something was not quite working in his brain
one day. He’d hardly noticed it before.
Thoughts burn to sudden chaos and his jaw
so slightly twitches. Nothing. No great pain
says why. Throws arms around a weeping horse
whipped in the street. So much he cannot save.
Perhaps it’s kinder would be brave.
Where do they come from anger and remorse?
Lost in himself he never laughed or cried.
Was dionysus lord the crucified.
Godlike he holds her hand. She smiles. Salt tears
Headhearthurts. So you write it in a song.
They’re dead. You too. The poem lasts so long
I’m yelling at you from three thousand years.
She’s smart. She doesn’t shriek your name aloud
at awkard moments. Sometimes quotes your verse.
He asks about you. Her replies are terse.
Smiles thinking he’s not looking smiles are proud.
He sort of gets it. That first night he caught
your glance, your swift departure. Treats her kind;
comparisons are always on his mind.
you’re competition still. If jealous thought
caroms around your brain like iron wheels,
You’re fucking Sappho, bitch. Think how he feels.
FOR PATTI SMITH
She goes on living working. On her skin
age verse grief love write complex telling lines
beauty transmutes remains deceiving signs
laughter’s own creases change them. And within
she feels sixteen but tired. Late night sweat
lust for his ashes to regenerate
wishes to sleep aches it’s so very late
her flight’s at dawn. Wants several minutes yet
of memory of muscle at her back
arm curve that gave a backbeat to a song
so young she has been singing it so long
crow caws pearl note. But no one hears the lack
she hears it mourns it welcomes every loss.
Art the skilled throw the hazard wily toss.
All writers are imaginary friends
who whisper in my ear, throw shady looks
over my verse and prose. And move dark rooks
castle my lines with unexpected ends.
Each other’s muses when the muses sleep
engaged in sly erotics of shared soul.
Die maybe done or not. The bells that toll
new measure of how reputations leap
to classic or remaindered as obscure
and then return allusions make us smile
echoes that linger. Always for a while
long life perhaps but deathless is unsure
My mortal colleagues voices in my head
may I too linger somewhere when I’m dead.
In August 1979, when I definitively transitioned, I made a decision to be entirely open about being trans. This was not particularly about being virtuous – I reasoned that at 6 ft 4 I was always liable to be read and that if I wanted to write and review and write reports on novels and television scripts, I was always liable to run into people who had known me at Oxford or at Yorkshire Television.
It also meant that I could write about being trans – this became almost immediately relevant because of the publication of Janice Raymond’s book.
It was consistent with the liberationist politics I had held during my GLF days and with how some of my older friends like Rachel Pollack had chosen to live their lives.
I did not intend it as a rebuke to those of my friends who wanted to live in stealth or who had been chivvied into stealth by their GICs; I was lucky to have a psychiatrist who accepted that my reasoning about my career was valid.
I have never regretted being either trans or visible. Generally, I have the level of acceptance as a woman who happens to be trans that I am comfortable with – occasional idiocies aside…
Plenty of trans people do not have the level of privilege I had and have; you do what life lets you do.