The Confluence Poets celebrated their first opportunity to read to a live crowd by paying tribute to the Native land on which we live in the Methow Valley. I read a series of poems written during an artists residency co-sponsored by Methow Arts Alliance and the Icicle Fund. It was one of two residencies focused on the culture, history, and art of local watersheds, first the Methow and then the Wenatchee. These poems examine the nature and history of the Wenatchee Watershed, its Native history and the impact of humans from settlers to the present. Thanks to my residency colleague David Lukas for videotaping.
I was honored to be among the readers for the tribute reading for Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Stephen Dunn, who died on June 24, 2021. He was my first important teacher of poetry, and beyond that a long time friend and mentor. I hope you enjoy this video of the reading of his work by his friends, former students, and colleagues.
Abecedarian of a Gender Dysphoric Childhood
As soon as I knew anything of myself, I knew that I was a
Boy, despite the ample evidence of clothing and parts to the
Contrary. I had a firm commitment to this identity:
Dressing and—within myself—being like my father at
Every chance. Weekly trips to the grocery store, always a
Family event, I wore the hand-me-down jeans and shirts
Gotten from my older brother: Johnny Tremane! and
Hung my hands from beltless loops by the thumbs.
I was sure about who I was back then, those first ten years.
Just about until puberty, when the messages got amped up, trying to
Kill off that boy part of me with taunts, and threats that I would
Live a lonely life if I remained a tomboy. I didn’t understand what they
Meant. I had plenty of friends. It was as if they thought that
Now, at the age of ten, I was someone different than I had been,
Or maybe it was they who had changed? Anyway, I asked for a home
Perm so I could wear my hair in a flip like the beauty contestant I loved
Quietly and with deep secrecy, a kind of drag I wore
Restlessly that summer before fifth grade. Like all acts, it was
Short-lived, and by middle school, my he was back in secret glory,
Tomboy in navy blue blazer, my shaggy bangs and desert boots
Under the requisite dress-code skirts and jumpers. I remained a
Virgin until twenty, when I gave it that college try with a man
Well into his thirties. After that, I was able to announce I’m no
Xenophobe, let me taste the world’s full offering of bodies
Yin and yang and all the flavors between. I live my own Queer way; a
Zebra: neither black nor white, but the field on which they play.
reprinted from the February 2021 Trillium Awakening Newsletter
February and March have always been important times for me as harbingers of change. Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re moving toward a change of season from winter to spring. Something about this transition is profoundly moving to me. The earth is changing, gaining light and temperature and losing ice and snow. Trees and bushes are undergoing what feels like a painful birthing as sap moves and buds engorge and finally burst into flower or leaf.
Socially, this is also a time to celebrate struggle and transformation during Black and Women’s History months. My forty plus years in education have given me ample opportunities to celebrate these commemorative months. As a poet, I’m always drawn to read more Black and women-identified poets and to explore their intersectionality.
Today in the US we’re paying more attention to these intersections. Our understanding of race and gender identity is deepening. In my college teaching, each term I have students who are, themselves, or have family members who are, non-binary or transgender. And we discuss the importance of recognizing how central and deeply personal gender identity is to our sense of self. When we add race to the mix—Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, it’s like a kaleidoscope that shifts our perspective of Self and Other.
Perception of Self and Other is such an essential part of being human. In the awakening process, we find a new perception, a two way mirror that shows us ourselves and the other as ourselves. We see that we’re not separate. There both is and isn’t an Other, just Consciousness arising as That.
Traditionally, spirituality has focused on the transcendental, getting up and out of our physical human form to hang out in the state of Being where all is bliss. Today, we know the limitations of this transcendental perspective. We live in these bodies. We identify ourselves in the mundane world as this and not that, or both this and that. We navigate our lived experience this way. We encounter others whose vision may be grimy with the detritus of their conditioning, and they may see only parts of us and respond accordingly. We may be moved to demand our place, to demand justice and equality, to bridge the gap between what is and what could be for ourselves and others. This is how I think of awakened activism.
I would say that the crux of our awakening is that we discover our true and total nature. We discover it as we greenlight, embrace, and ultimately integrate all the hidden parts of ourselves. And this discovery can take years, a lifetime even. And we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in the constant evolution of consciousness arising as itself in its myriad forms. This sense of our ever emerging totality deepens our empathy and compassion. We can embrace the world in all its fragmented, disparate parts. This is what love is. The philosopher Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public. I love this sentiment. Our love for the totality of Being demands that we pay attention to injustice. That we speak and take action against it.
I lived a long time as an “invisible minority:” a white, middle class, educated, apparently cisgender, Queer professional. On the outside, folks saw what they wanted to see, even as they sensed my difference. The truth of my Queerness, that I lived with and loved women, did not align with my superficial exterior. This dissonance resulted in a transference of anger and hatred from the truly life threatening—anonymous phone calls detailing how I would be harmed—to public violence and harassment, to job and housing discrimination, and family alienation. It’s a common story for those of us who are perceived as Other by family and community. For a long time, too long, decades, I was what I thought of as quietly Queer.
It may make no logical sense, but the murder of George Floyd last May, and the social upheaval that followed catalyzed something in me. Some deep and essential parts of myself as marginal, expendable, and shameful woke up. I began to write about the murders of trans and gender nonconforming people—at least 44 last year—mostly trans femmes, Black and Latinx. Each death touched this part of me, my Queer self, my white, aging, pain-limited, masculine-feminine, shamed, threatened, liminal Self: Radical Embrace of these parts.
It’s essential to claim our awakening emergent selves.We awaken as what we are, all our parts. For me, this must include what it is we embody, our Queer, trans, heteronormative, non-binary, racialized, able or differently abled, neuro-diverse, transient bodies. We em-body Consciousness as all of this. This is what awakens in this liminal time of constant emergence, living and dying, at one with Self and Other, as finite and infinite. This is the great paradox. There’s room in you for all. There’s room in us for all, everything and everyone. Awaken to all that you are, and let your Self sing. Sap’s rising, you’re in bud!