Sarah M. Bess is a transsexual witch from rural southeast Missouri. She currently dwells in the wastes of central Oklahoma, weaving poems and other curses. Her work has been featured in Matrix and The Fem. Sarah was a participant in the 2016 trans women’s writing workshop at Brooklyn College.
I never know what to do with myself in these situations
when the nurses make small talk
when they ask about my weekend
or lay bare some small piece of their lives
a kind of exchange
I make little noises of comprehension in my throat
thinking maybe in another life, we could have been friends
I never remember their names
or their faces
I try to stay warm and wonder what to do with my hands
I try to nod at the right times
I try not to pull my skirt down too far
expose too much of my Self
Some of them tell me to take all the weight off my leg
others tell me to breathe in
now breathe out
some of them say the words big stick like an incantation
sometimes it hurts and sometimes it doesn’t and I don’t know why
I turn away and something hits me, a shoe, just below my right shoulder leaving red mark latent bruise panic and the second one crashes through the window. In dreams there’s always something, a weapon, something close at hand, but my limbs are cold water and this isn’t a dream. Remember oscillating fan remember kerosene lamp remember Kool-Aid pitcher in a thousand pieces. This isn’t a dream and I have to pick through it real careful have to run but I’ll stop for the shoe, poke around sharp edges and claim what’s left of my inheritance.
You say the water’s too cold but I’m already stepping out over smooth stones, barefoot, just want to feel my body in space, muscles contracting in shock. Always check for copperheads, sharp rocks, cottonmouths, beer cans, you can tell by their eyes. Wading out is easy but diving in is hard, standing in the wake of passing johnboats smelling motor oil and honeysuckle. Weightless but I know where my limbs are, stinging blackberry scratches floating out toward the Mississippi.
I aspire to leave bright, waxy trails of lipstick
wherever I go
like some fantastically pigmented terrestrial mollusk
recording my life in meandering lines
crossing sidewalks and scaling emergent vegetation
a costly signal
that only others of my particular species can read
to slide in waves along your faint traces
the spiraling memory of our collision
a galaxy of deep-red gloss, flecked with gold
bodies enmeshed, enrapt
entwined in weightless helices
suspended from a single glistening strand
high above that place
When I show my crooked teeth, something like a smile cutting through, I can feel my skin slipping.
Old foundations jutting up from unmowed grass.
Stagnant water and wild grapes.
I reach up to touch the hand of a ghost wrapped around my neck and I remember where I came from. I remember sour juice bursting from thick skin, the faint line of a scar along my lower lip, the sound of heavy footsteps down the hallway.
The guitar solo from And Justice For All.
You tell me that I hold a screwdriver like a faggot jerking off a dick, that I’d better not let anyone see me do that. You tell me to be a man and I bite my tongue. I learn to keep my mouth shut.
I have this old record player where you have to adjust the volume and balance knobs just right or nothing will play from the right speaker. Maybe if I keep collecting sounds I can drown out your voice.
Maybe if I keep poking holes in my skin
I’ll be invisible
or something like a moon jelly
full of whatever
I’m swimming in
maybe I’ll just ride this vortex ring to
where people don’t pause
before they say my name out loud
or remember what I looked like
with short hair
We could gather
in dark places
feeding on lignin
in secret colonies of
peptides like love notes
late-night phone calls
to talk about your day
We could fall asleep
dissolving the space between us
We could meet
in a thousand different places
where speech becomes touch
and climbs up from the earth
in blooms like new bodies