The 2021 New Voices Contest, 3rd Place Winner: Interlocution by Syd Westley
We’re all very excited to share with you the winners of the 2021 New Voices Contest, selected by Donika Kelly. Today, we have “Interlocution” by Syd Westley. Stay tuned for our second place poem by A.D. Lauren-Abunassar next Wednesday, and our winner S Kim’s poetry on the June 30th. Thank you to everyone who submitted this year!
“Interlocution is an expansion, an incoming tide of thought, of thinking. The poet rifling through a buckling language to find some way to account for this life, this body, and love’s attendant offerings.” — Donika Kelly
it is no thing this language thought worth naming
K tells me one day while we are driving that she hates the word queer. I struggle against her for a few minutes, my hands tight on the wheel.
To me there is no other word.
I fight hard the urge to metaphor. No. I want to name it, this thing.
So often, I want to take all of her inside of me.
I whisper this in her ear, over the phone.
Whose body is the body politic?
As if a group of bodies could merge to make up one larger body for a region, a nation.
Materiality seems, to me, such an ingrained part of a body, of its constituent parts – the texture of its skin, its nipples, its hair.
I have always been interested in bruises. K says she will leave me some, and I lavish in it. The purples and yellows on my body. They are completely unpoetic.
Let me begin again. I set out to write a love poem.
The basic things I can assume of a reader have vanished.
I say the word sex or boy or girl or gay, and it is a process of translating.
Inter- meaning between, among, in the midst of.
Trans- meaning across, beyond, through.
Both denoting movement across an unstable thing.
The first time I say I love you it is an accident and during the pandemic.
We are running around the emptied batteries by the Golden Gate Bridge.
I love K! I yell into a tunnel. I love K! The tunnel replies.
Getting you, reader, to imagine, even through conspicuous silence, is an act of voyeurism. So much of what we feel comes from what we see. If I want you to feel, I must try to make you see.
Here, peak into this bed. Here, peak into these pants.
How to translate without a kind of violence?
When K first met me, she hated me because I use they/them pronouns.
Why would I opt out of the binary if I had the choice?
After telling my best friend about this project, she says that she would be fine being illegible to the state forever.
She is trying to redistribute wealth.
I consider changing my aims.
I wake from a dream in which I have a small penis or a large clitoris. I can feel it when I walk and when I run and, in the dream, I am running away from several doctors who are trying to cut it off.
There is no sense of loss I have felt as vivid as that of waking.
She fucks me like a boy does. How violent the simile.
A metaphor is a way of looking around rather than at. It thus can supplement or deepen your understanding of a thing, but it evades defining the thing, itself.
Love is a drug, for example. What does it tell you? Love is intoxicating, addictive, euphoric. If this was your only knowledge of love, though, you would have no idea what I mean when I say, I love K.
What I want is the opposite of evasion.
A name makes something more knowable, and perhaps this is the root of my frustration.
A teacher once told me in revision that I needed more trans experience in order to write the poem that I was trying to write.
For the first time in my life, I ask someone to tie me up. K, in her light purple bra, puts a blindfold on me and binds my hands together, my feet. She takes my wetness in her hand, calls me pathetic little boy.
The words girl, boy, fit so nicely in the mouth, move so easily over the tongue.
K, the chemist, goes looking for answers, for language, in the lab.
We are doing the same thing, I suppose, looking for our bodies in the dark.
Lying next to K, I don’t think about any of these questions. I take her head in my arms, touch her eyebrows, her cheek, the slight slope of her chest.
Franz Fanon writes of “crushing objecthood,” a term I feel demoralizingly apt.
Can language lift the weight of objecthood?
I set out to write a love poem but find myself writing a translation.
I have been forgetting, recently, that many people see me as a girl. Yesterday, I took my shirt off in my backyard when I got hot. My sister yelled. The teenage boy next door might see.
She fucks me like she fucks me.
For me, K spends hours working on a playlist of every important song in her life. In the attached document are writeups of every song, anecdotes of shoving the cassette into the car, doing coke with her high school friends.
What will I lose when there is a language for the whole of it?
It is difficult to admit that part of the pleasure is in the discovery.
From where does desire arrive?
In the entirety of his collection, Anybody, Ari Banias does not write the word trans.
In The Year of Blue Water, Yanyi writes “non-binary,” and I stare at that page for four consecutive minutes.
One of the biggest reasons, I feel, that our sex is so good is that, devoid of the trappings of gender, desire can exist in its rawest form.
I say things to K that I would never say to a man or to a woman.
I ask her to do things to me that I never knew that I wanted.
Do not think that your ignorance is benign.
The fact that you can’t see the ways in which we fit together in bed means that when K was eighteen, she elected to get gender reassignment surgery.
I use elected here with irony.
I am trying to prove a point.
In the mornings, K goes for a run up the hill while I sleep.
In the afternoons, we listen to Donna Summer or New Order on vinyl.
This is the collection of trans experience.
Sometimes I wonder how much of it, our love, our sex, is contingent on shame –
the necessity of another body to hold in the dark.
When I want to be dominated, is it because:
- a) I have internalized misogyny
- b) I have internalized misandry
- c) I enjoy it and it has nothing to do with gender
and is it:
- a) something to be unlearned
- b) something to be reclaimed
None of this is to say that gender is the root of violence.
Last fall, in a San Francisco lesbian bar, a person with whom I was dancing pushed me up against the dancefloor wall and started to finger me. I froze, as I do. I was most shaken, though, by the fact that I had not known this androgynous looking person’s gender and they had not known mine.
Silence or the unspoken can do as much as language, if not more. Anybody tells me this, and I can feel viscerally the shadow of what Banias does not say.
If we are to begin somewhere, though, I think it must be with words.
We wear gender like lingerie. Dress ourselves up, strip ourselves down, but always we end up naked in each other’s arms.
I have always been ashamed of my hands. I bite my fingernails, and my hands are very small and scarred. My mother has always called them ugly. K has ugly hands too, in my mother’s terms.
One of the first things K said to me was that she liked my hands, especially the scars of which I am so ashamed.
Perhaps the fact that trans- and inter- denote movement has nothing to do with the idea of jumping the void between boy or girl.
Perhaps the movement is yours.
You, as you read this, recalibrating.
Your face, in the half-light, turning to look at mine.
The epigraph is taken from Solmaz Sharif’s poem, “The End of Exile.”
Franz Fanon writes of “crushing objecthood” in his essay, “Facts of Blackness.” I note here that I do not mean to say that the “crushing objecthood” of blackness is universal in any sense.
The simile “she fucks me like she fucks me” is after Ilya Kaminsky’s poem, “In a Time of Peace.”
The two collections mentioned are Anybody by Ari Banias (Norton, 2016) and The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi (Yale, 2018).
Syd Westley (they/them) is a queer, mixed-race, non-binary poet from the Bay Area. They are pursuing a B.A. from Stanford in Comparative Literature with a focus on marginalized literatures and poetics of America. Westley is a 2019 Lambda Literary Scholarship Recipient & Fellow in Poetry. They have been published by Stanford University, Dissonance Press, and Lantern Review.