for Transgender Remembrance Day, 20 Nov 2015
In writing class today, the students choose colors from a deck
of paint cards from the home supply store—names as plain
as pencil point, as rich as sacred soil. I tell them to write a poem
in which they make a home of the color. One student imagines
a house of drizzle, another a home of quaking grass. There’s driftwood
and cardboard and recycled glass, the inbetween of tadpole green—
everyone has their own color—a pale white called hush,
like a page on which nothing is written yet, and there’s daybreak
and gateway gray, potter’s clay, everyone their own color, their own home.
An email I got this morning says that 1 in 5 transgender people
have been homeless, that transgender people are four times as likely
to live in poverty, twice as likely to be unemployed, that these
disparities are much greater for black and Latina women
My Irish teacher explains to us that in Irish a black man is a blue
man, fir gorm, because the Irish for black man, fir dubh,
means the devil. The sky tonight is dark blue, it gets darker
and darker. A light shines in the dark street like a sign,
a kind of hush. I think about the ways we use light and dark
to mean good and evil, as if this is just the way it is,
and not a set of boxes we put things in.
Desiree asks what her color means. She has chosen a color
of plum, color of bruise, framboise, it says, meaning raspberry.
A poem starts about in my head, an incantation, almost,
of sound—framboise and bruise, boys, laws, what was, because . . . .
The email says many transgender people have been refused
medical care. It says that 13 transgender women were murdered
last year, and more in this, the way the sky gets darker and darker.
My nephew and niece held a party this fall, what they called a reveal.
It was raining, the sky was gateway gray and drizzle. There were pink
and blue things everywhere, a special cake, a box of pink and sparkly
socks, and across the table, ninja turtles. The baby is assigned
a box before it’s here, the way we do, before they’re even born.
My Irish teacher says to us that unlike other languages, Irish
has no neutral gender, so all nouns and pronouns are either masculine
or feminine, but the Irish word for girl, cailín, is a masculine noun.
Caleb says, one way of thinking is that some people are red,
and others are blue, and everyone understands this, but sometimes
we come across someone who is purple. Purple, he says, can be
perceived as a mix of red and blue, but it is a color
on its own. A color like framboise, or daybreak, or hush.
David chose a pink called lotus. I describe the lotus flower—
its associations with rebirth, with purity and awakening,
with faithfulness, the way that it emerges from the pond’s muck,
breaks the surface, transcends the mud and water to flower, awaken,
become what it must become, something beautiful. The Buddhists say
it means that we can rise above our human suffering, move from one
state to another, but maybe we can’t really rise above
our human suffering, though we might ignore and forget.
In the Victorian language of flowers, lotus could mean forgetfulness
of the past, but now it means eloquence, that we may not forget.
I think of how the lotus transcends the pond, translates its life,
its desires, transforms darkness into light.
No one can understand that verse from the Bible, By faith, Enoch
was translated that he should not see death; and was not found,
because God had translated him; for before his translation
he had this testimony, that he pleased God. I think of a candle,
I think of a candle, a hush, a page with no words yet.
The sky tonight is pencil point. All our skin is potter’s clay.
In Japan, there are special lotus viewing parties, so many flowers
achieving enlightenment at the same moment, it is said
you can hear the blooms open. I think of a pond filled with blossoms,
a crowd of people holding candles, their eloquence filling the room.