Identity Pangs
Playlist by Mateo Lara
Who are we? What do we want? Who do we want? Sometimes our biggest struggle is figuring out who we are and where we are going. Our longest journey is finding and then loving ourselves. Learning to accept where we came from, appreciating it and then moving on. These poems help weave a delicate wave of confusion, sexuality, acceptance, observation, and understanding. Identity is a crucial human experience, learning be who we are and then sharing it with others and the world.
1. Tonight I Will Dream Of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me The Rules Of The Road…
Alexis Rhone Fancher
2. First Light
Chen Chen
3. Canyon of Heroines
Trace Peterson
4. Violent Current as Gay Thoughts
Mateo Lara
5. Fábrica
Vickie Vértiz
6. Portrait as a Couple [México, Distrito Federal]
Vickie Vértiz
7. The Last Move
Ada Limón
8. Fall
Nayrouz Abu Hatoum
9. A Pornography of Ghosts
Grey Vild
Anjelica comes on to me like a man, all slim-hipped swagger, relentless, dangling that red, ‘57 T-Bird at me like dessert. Lemme take you for a ride, chica, she sez after acting class. I figure what’s the harm, but Ms Angel Food gets out of hand. I don’t count on her heart-shaped ass, or those brown nipples crammed in my mouth. I don’t count on the Dial-O Matic four-way, power leather seats, the telescoping steering wheel, or the frantic pleasure of her face between my thighs. I admit, I’ve always been driven to sin. But Anjelica’s far from blameless. She rides me hard, week after week, double clutches me into ecstasy, hipbone against hipbone, the dulcet, lingering groan of our gears, grinding. When I confess the affair to my boyfriend he jacks himself off in the galley kitchen, comes all over his unattainable fantasies. He says he doesn’t consider sex between women to be cheating, and begs me to set up a threesome. I tell him the T-Bird’s a two-seater, and watch his face fall. I could end it, but why? All I can say is, I want her for myself. All I can say is, I’m a die-hard romantic. Anyone I do, I do for love.
I like to say we left at first light
        with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
        even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
        during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
        around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
        says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
        To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
        & I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
        I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
        my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste 
        of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
        kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
        we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
        I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
        feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
        on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
        in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
        for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
        too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back,
I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
        Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
        my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
        & I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
        unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
        before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
        is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
        her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
        not going back at once to see her. But too much is
         happening here.

Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
        least forgivable English word. 
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
        How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
        English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
        in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
        It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
        of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride
how I did not know those flowers were already
        memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
        I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell,
        elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
        prepared me for all others.
This bag of crunchy Cheetos is making me thirsty. Good thing I picked up a Fanta orange soda on the way home just in case. Walking back, I couldn't help noticing how most of the neighborhood has been replaced by strange towering steel and plate glass structures. A man was lying across the sidewalk in front of one of them and asked me for money. Greece is being bullied by Germany holding it to a double standard. When they had the tickertape parade for the US Women's Soccer Team this week and said "Canyon of Heroines" on the radio I started to laugh and realized it wasn't funny. The guy at an adjacent table in the coffee shop was looking at me smokily for an hour like he wanted to do something to me all over the counter, and I sat poised anticipating an advance that never arrived. I have trans woman friends who desperately need hope and jobs and love and safety and family. I wish I could be twenty places at once and have the power to fix everything but in a stealth way so I wouldn't be just grabbing the spotlight. True Detective is a TV show that a lot of people seem to enjoy. I trained myself to speak at a higher base pitch every morning until it became quasi-permanent because that is how I know I do not depend on the medical establishment or strangers' willingness to imagine charity. Much of the street is submerged underwater due to the storm. That other salesman can assist you—I'm helping this young lady right now, he said, placing his hand on the small of my back. The entire auditorium of people staring me down was hostile but knew they couldn't show it in public except for occasional frown lines darting from between their eyebrows. Please stand clear of the closing doors. I can't breathe in this dress. I can't seem to figure out where that smell is coming from in the apartment. Gender identity or expression will not protect you from being fired in most employment situations nor does being a transsexual. Split a capsule of medication into smaller doses by opening, dividing, and mixing it among separate containers of a mushy food like applesauce. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed this week amid much controversy. Did I just write all that? History is transmisogynistic but it won't be the more of it there is. The beautiful woman suggested I put my bare legs across her lap in the dark so I did and she gently ran her fingers along them. Wheat germ is where the problems all started. Later you asked if you could put your arm around me on the train but there was a scary guy shouting at everyone in the subway car and I didn't want to provoke him. People I love are at risk of being violently harmed or murdered every day, or they suffer from suicidal urges because of how the world fails to see us as people in a million sharp pointy little ways. Welcome to the military. The three-panel dressing room mirror had a Busby Berkeley effect which gave me a little thrill but I might have just imagined it. I wish I knew how to code things with boolean operators. I wish I knew how to read philosophy. The x-ray machine operator kept repeating "STOP BREATHING NOW DON'T BREATHE" each time he activated the machine. #CaitlynJenner
Vukić Part XIII

For Mihael

Once the poison breaks from his veins,

A turning ghost wastes its permanence on sucking youth from a raging heart.

First, we think of life: roundabout, pursuing a selfish sea,

Against these muddy hands, dripping distance and silence,

Clawing at sediment and touch, clawing at sediment and want,

Clawing at the world for fucking us up and telling us only half-truths.

I miss shape-shifting, drunken on his bed,

Crooked fingers tracing the keyboard,

The humming night, stargazing into brown eyes,

And destructive rooms and wine-drenched sheets,

Foreign luck turned into a perfect spot for growth,

Upon my universe, I was only 22 and naïve,

Cut a hole in his favorite shirt and kept all my secrets there.

He asked me to be nothing, erase myself,

Dig holes, bury infinite things,

As he lit his cigarette, chemical moans subdue precious delivery.

Black soot uprooted all my sanity,

From his burning tongue, a harsh red melted my mood,

When he moved back home, 6000 years of solitude and miles,

Crashed and burned me out, his language became Croatian once more,

And my English slipped between the cracks of his broken skin.

He would never remember me as he once did,

For in silence we forget and I’m still searching for sentiment between his straight-laced ribs.
For Dolores Dorantes and Boyle Heights

Then we remembered
We are in a drought

And if people don’t like it
Que se vayan mucho a la
Fábrica del interior
A procesar
Papeles, submit requests in writing for hearings
Where you won’t show up

Because you don’t have to
You go wherever the fuck you want
You’re a good friend who comes when she’s needed, but
Like water
You move where you must and sometimes
That’s not at her side

Finally your dreams don’t bite
Finally, you tire of following directions
Finally you break the rules to win
But it didn’t matter
It was a project, not a game, girl

A factory imagines your dreams
Otra fábrica
The lover materializes on a monitor
The coming horizon of satellites and wood
Pricey coffee and stupid speakers

There’s a plush pink monster sitting next to me at the table
He means well, the macaroni elbow. Codo? Yes
With no thumbs how much harm will he do             can he do          has he done
He wants to bring art where none exists, philanthropic condos

His square head is soft and he’s smiling. I know he won’t eat me
How many more times will he tangle my understanding
How does it feel, you myopic spectacle
Flouting your throbbing fluorescence

That monitor is a dying sparkler, its smoke means war, that I’m not gone
But boy do I stink up the place
Here, these colors I have ready
Crushed eggshells confetti yellow, pink-purpled
Que chiquigüite ni que ocho cuartos

Someone take out the trash
Not me. You!
Another factory-making insides
Another rendering
Continue reading on
It was months when it felt like I had been
washing the dishes forever.

Hardwood planks under the feet, a cord to the sky.
What is it to go to a We from an I?

Each time he left for an errand, the walls
would squeeze me in, I cried over the non-existent bathmat, wet floor of him,
how south we were, far away in the outskirts.

(All the new bugs.)

I put my apron on as a joke and waltzed around carrying
a zucchini like a child.

This is not New York and I am not important.

This was before we got the dog even, and before I really
trusted the paralyzing tranquilizer of love stuck
in the flesh of my neck.

Back home, in my apartment, another woman lived there.
In Brooklyn, by the deli, where everything
was clean and contained.

(Where I grieved my deaths.)

I took to my hands and knees. I was thinking about the novel
I was writing. The great heavy chest of live animals
I had been dragging around for years; what's life?

I made the house so clean (shine and shine and shine).

I was suspicious of the monkey sounds of Kentucky’s birds,
judging crackles, rusty mailbox, spiders in the magnolia tree,
tornado talk, dead June bugs like pinto beans.

Somewhere I had heard that, after noting the lack
of water pressure in an old hotel in Los Angeles,
they found a woman’s body at the bottom
of the cistern.

Imagine, just thinking the water was low, just wanting
to take a shower.

After that, when the water would act weird,
spurt or gurgle, I’d imagine a body, a woman, a me
just years ago, freely single, happily unaccounted for,
at the lowest curve of the water tower.

Yes, and over and over,
I’d press her limbs down with a long pole
until she was still.
With dreamy eyes,
you hosted my gaze and your lips...
a well intensifies my thirst.


I wrote you into a poem
because this is how
I learned to host love
back home...
now, I am left to grieve
twice the weight of loss.


Our eyes traced each other, and gazed through the shades of fig trees, which we knew, a long time ago,
used to mark borders, in lands where rivers dare to dry. You found me in a foreign city, then took me
to my home, with your hesitations and fresh heart
you walked me to my past,
then demanded without words to love the most shy wheat of your body/earth.


When metaphors of kissing
exceeded our capacities to breathe
we fell asleep,
this time holding on
to our disowned togetherness.
Don’t let my silence mislead you,
I didn’t leave to let the stars
dictate my sleep, I left to find my pride
left yesterday in my bed sheets.


as you collect words to decorate my evening with stories from your home, I ache a loss I never met; you stretch a bridge between me and your village, I never met: we grew okra on the last thread of land hidden from the occupier’s hand, we ate from a round silver moon placed at the center of our humble universe; reached the moon, each with generous hands; we sat on the floor, to glorify the land. You farm the night with seeds of fear and thirst intensifying a longing for our burdened homeland; with half-sad eyes you say: despite exile, tyranny, deprivation, there is no other land to contain our love for a loss we still grieve.


I return to scent
collect particles of innocence,
I was fully present, in the moment,
you were there...
You wore the moon’s shadow,
fearing my past ash,
accumulated on my heart’s wall.
I was breathing all the dust
we left in corners we used
to visit
Then, built stories from mud bricks,
and prayed rain won’t fall,
I forgot I had left the desert;
here, it rains to welcome
the fall.
Measure the length of

one last. So brave, we have all but disappeared. We are on, for size. To be found inferior, in any dimension. This one is all the reasons you can’t read in the dark. It pours salt from fine linen like the fakest Christmas jangles your hair &. lusting for rain, when a life can’t be wanted, death can. It is something. It is increasingly, the texture of your curls. It is still, your gold hammers dizzyings pelt the insides of my skull in patches. The crashing salt polished to a thinness that melts the tongue.

Keep me & never let me go

It is something, not nothing. I’ve taken to statistics & so, keep being made to inventory your name. A parchment of lips & unspoken. I wanted to be relieved. Instead, the usual endless shame. It is midas-like & no longer comforting. Even the contortions that accompany, where otherwise shapeless. They are not nothing. I whisper to the stone sinking in the pit of every track to cross me, every thistley undergrowth, every lonely tie tripped down. & you are there, our silences full as ever.

The sin of despair

like children, playing in what seems to be instead of what is— it takes away the sin of the world. Like pieces of war in the silverware drawer & all your chickenhawks & goldilocks, perforations pour from you, lit up remnants of torn creatures that can’t regenerate what my grip erased, tried to fill it in with lipstick & dirty highlighter pens. I am only as filthy as you’ll let me. & the ground, collapsed my knees, wrings the flight from a cockeyed cumulus. Who could be this earthbound & hollow? You pick from me, I’m nothing but mites—
in a voice we’ve only begun to recognize.

& the grass dreams you

shocked creature, nearly hideless. The blades make a sparse fur, peel back on silver eyes dot the trees. Learn to move as other than. Pray, in terror & — splice wing to pelt to forked tongue. Splice gill to thistle, muck to heron. Mite to thorn, moss to chaff, wind to husk fast gone spark.

You reinvent me

until I am, like a man— a pornography of ghosts. You reinvent us all, in your new image.
Once, so stunningly flint-tipped, now see how little you could destroy.
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