Stephanie Burt’s We Are Mermaids was released earlier this year. It’s a delightful look at the emotional difficulties and triumphs of girlhood, the places of watery air and breezy water, the brittleness of the spaces between. The great poems are about trans identity, yes, but also how everyone – trans or not – has inner superpowers that beg to be unleashed. Below is Stephanie’s poem “My 1994” (first published on Scoundrel Time) as a sampler. Congratulations, Stephanie!
I did not know it. But I knew. I took off the dress
Kay offered and apologized for my striped boxers.
I called myself a kid in a candy store
As a teenager in a lingerie store. I wanted
Moving to a place I knew secondhand, from TV
By Top Shop, Boots, Postcodes in England-land. I was wrong
The opposite of nostalgia – a longing for being
A place I could never call home – with my wish
to become someone new. In between is a wasp
My window pane and its chain link screen. she wants
Get out. She levitates and dives toward some
Away from not knowing that there can be no no
Unless someone unlocks the glass and lifts it
The window itself and lets the wasp into the room.
‘Cause you read me I wanted to write a book and told it
Everyone I knew that I wanted to write a book
About the softest pop groups I could find:
The boys wore striped sailor shirts and sang
Like girls and the girls wore striped sailor dresses and sang
How every first kiss was simultaneous
The Holy Grail and no big deal, which was true
And true. The field mice. Heavenly. Blue Boy. I loved
The mall. i love them all The demand we drop
Our former selves are garbage. We are not wasps
And don’t have to leave our shells behind. I had
Moving to England to see them where they lived.
They said love could break a boy’s heart
Keith Girdler sang. I don’t think there is such a thing.
I wore the sailor shirts but not the floppy collars.
My best friend at the time gave me bad advice on how to pass,
Tell me women dress for each other.
Never for ourselves. My girlfriend at the time needed it
To date with a boy. I was happy to help her find one.
I did not know it. But I knew. Maybe everyone did.
The wasp rams the glass, black and gold. I thought I wanted
To free myself from my body that was
Not possible. country
On this windowsill with me.