We Have Never Asked Permission to Sing

You’re about to read a heartfelt offering—to trans people of color, from trans people of color. In 2019, five poets lent their radical imaginations to Forward Together’s annual Trans Day of Resilience art project. They aimed to celebrate the magic of our trans family and chart a path to the full lives we deserve. These poems were written alongside the project’s visual artwork and spill with the seeds of our future world. Let these words be our spells, prayers and protest songs. Let them conjure bolder dreams and louder demands. May we celebrate ourselves, claiming freedom as our birthright. May we never ask permission to sing

Layleen’s Bill (With Revisions)

for Layleen Cubilette-Polanco Xtravaganza


The New York City Council will pass a package of legislation,
expanding services for transgender, gender-nonconforming,
non-binary, and intersex inmates        will turn out its pockets,
never sign another ransom note

All officers with trans inmates in their custody will undergo
a competency training        will have their badge numbers
etched off with diamond-tipped acrylics, aquamarine

New beds will be added to the transgender housing unit
        beds of wildflowers will erupt from lots that were not
vacant, just holding their breath

Counselors will be made available to all trans inmates         we
are each our sister’s counsel

The Board of Correction will convene a task force        will
be tasked with something useful, like beekeeping, or collecting
rainwater

Sex workers will have their cases diverted to Human Sex
Tracking Intervention Court        will spray paint the words
“we are the intervention” on the courthouse rubble

The Rikers Island compound will be replaced by a series of
smaller, borough-based facilities       will slip into the rising
Atlantic, the ribs of our dead prepared to cage it

Trans elders will be held in solitary confinement for their
own safety        will have their charcoal locs retwisted in
chosen hands

This legislation will take effect in the summer of 2020
        we have never asked permission to sing

Girls

Remember when she drifted along the surface
of the ocean, hair like kelp
reflecting the surface of the sun.
The whales extending their foreheads
to graze her shoulder.
Her gaze rests on the gray cloud miles away, inching
towards her Sāmoa. A few moments later,
the sky opens with a hot downpour.
She submerges her brown head
into the Pacific, becomes ocean.
Gives baby whales wet kisses.
Peels back layers of coastline
to reveal the volcanic rock
that whispers a secret:
I'm not going anywhere.

*

She is alive. Lights flash bright red.
Then blue. What did she know
about saving lives? She was someone's
baby girl, pumpkin, angel,
love dumpling, little one.
Here she is on Atlantic Ave.,
at the house with the fig tree
that reminds her of Cameroon. The police car
that she hijacked sits idly outside,
the sirens no longer work.
She packs her powder pink duffel
with playing cards, rope, a teddy bear
named Raven, sour patch kids,
castor oil, and a red canvas notebook.
She walks past the painting on the wall
of a full-circle rainbow glittering
around a white sun. Outside the door,
is a family of maybe five hundred.
Their bellies so accustomed
to the pain of uncontrollable laughter.

*

The best part about being a trans girl
is keeping the world’s secret in your chest.
We are shards of seaglass.
You see yourself in us:
Big and wide. Spines
long enough to play with purple clouds.
In the beginningthere was us.
In the end, here we are. Here I am,
made of the same stuff
as my grandmother. And her grandmother.
And the mushrooms that sprouted before her.
Lift your head, close your eyes,
do you hear yourself
breathing?

STRATIGRAPHY.

for the THEM!HOOD.


         “Stratigraphy –The study of the layers (strata) of sediments, soils, and material culture at an
                                                                                archaeological site[.]”
                                                        -The Archaeological Institute of America

V. MODERN LAYER

and each time the boi dies                                                                                                       pour one out for ‘em.
the black word is left to the air again                                         cry                                        whole hailstorms.
new kindling in every mouth /                         love harder                                                             than thunder.
new dances for all the dust.                                                                                         all theliving done together.


IV. 2013 –2017

their fingertips cartographers of the land                                                      play the dozens with the devil.
meet red clay in the jaw /                                                 flame death                             mans be for everybody.
slate lining the ribcage /                                                                                                     funny box run right over.
anoint altars with honest touch.


III. 2006 –2012

throat a cavern of infinity                                   water                                                                                   to a whale.
hairof pitch-pine smoke                                                                                                           nappy as a briar patch.
and hands content with emptiness                                                    an appetite                       for every breath.
the black word became the boi                                    ayyyyyye.


II. 1995 –2005

and so this black word spoke itself anew.                                                               aw shit.
declared itself a body / a beating fire /                                  go off, nigga.
a burning heart /                                                                                                                                                  yo, that’s lit.
a brown skin etiology.


I. 1994

in the beginning there was the word.            ohword?
and that word was black.                                                                                       ayyyyyye.
but this primordial black lacked a glyph; 
a phoneme with no flesh equivalent.                                                                                              damn, that’s cold.

An Offering

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
So that I can tell it again, and savor it.
I am here, yet they think of me as a relic.
Not forgotten, but unglorified
A rough beast with a hashtagged accent of defeat,
A weak heart, and a Bethlehem slouch.

I often find myself both sought after and shunned—
Unable to speak my own name if I wanted—eternally emptied,
Made to mourn the loss of any meaning I might yet make
Like a silenced clap of thunder, technicolor turned to ashes.
It seems that so many I’ve loved have wanted me dead,
Ground down into the ancestral mosaic of past and present gods.

Earthly siblings, sweet apparitions: can we sanctify ourselves into new life?
I cannot warn the others of the coming storm alone,
Cannot take shelter from storms already here, and look! Just look.
Everywhere blood clings to the leaves, soot gnaws at the lungs
There’s no water for miles, and soon all you can say is:
Well, we should’ve listened for the thunder.

Still, I was not the first to dream another world,
To crave the teeming darkness of the ocean floor,
Stories I would never fully know. With this I exalt myself,
Shapeshift into my harbinger skin. We have always been on the move.
Lithe and wild and dangerous, we grow new lungs,
Spread our palms across the dirt and tend to new leaves.

But I can never forget the body that came before.
Acidic grief dries out along the cracks in this new flesh,
Phantom bruises from when them did hush up the clap, thief the color.
I divine myself as Ochumaré, a messenger with an offering
That you may call me rainbow serpent,
Sibling, lover, or freedom traveler

That in case language doesn’t express desire, but hides it,
You must remember to reach only for the neither thing,
To be righteously unashamed of this grief until the otherwise comes
Until that time when we may name ourselves whole, if not holy,
And stop eulogizing the project of living long enough to see
That it has yet to come, and so can never die.

A Dream Come True

We are the wildest dreams of our Transcestors come to life.
The beating of ancient drum, now transformed to the snap of fingers,
Clap of hand, spit of sickening syllables.
The full weight of bodies, spinning magick into the air,
Appearing weightless on descent, landing fiercely without effort.
Vibrant hair, bald heads, boss braids, lit wigs,
Tits out, clit, click, and dick out-hedonistic liberation.
Authenticity sourced from bloodlines of deities,
Brown skin perpetually creating euphoria,
Trans truth, Afro-tenacity.
Revolt beating in pulse with the heartbeats of Black Trans Elders,
Black Trans Futures learning and evolving the pace,
While we, the present, give and receive the lessons as we learn them.

We are the wildest dreams of our Trancestors come to life.
Warriors who refuse to let silence or submission be our melody.
We prove that shit with our feet, our canes, our wheels, our signs and our voices,
Taking the streets before ignorance finishes its evening commute.
Rattling the earth, cracking the sky in two.
Streets know Black Trans rage,
Stronger than they know the red of our blood,
Though the streets still know it well.
Now the world knows history books with our names actually in them,
Immortalized in Black ink, leaving the red behind.
Like no more being error, more like icon.
More Marsha P. to Andy Warhol,
Jennicet to Obama’s opportunism,
Miss Major to the whole country,
And your most recent Emmy winning Netflix search.

We are the wildest dreams of our Transcestors come to life.
We love ourselves out loud, we love each other.
I’ve shaken the hand of a child,
Clad in melanin, love, truth of identity and expression,
And “Black Trans Lives Matter” patched on their back.
The smiles of who no longer search for love in words kept in shadow,
Now the sunlight that makes shades of earth, stone, sand, and root grow.
Makes our love pop like our skin, like our hearts.
That love, more viral than any campaign against us.
Our agency over our minds and bodies as fluid as the waves inside us,
Sorcery beyond the range of closed minds,
Conjuring outside the realms of hate and death.

We are the wildest dreams of our Trancestors come to life.
Once deemed more target than human,
Now clapping back at presidential proportions.
Every election will know that “president” cannot exist without the T.
Neither can ancesTry, wiTchery, resisTance,
Even culTure itself owes us for the bite in its articulation.
We carry our ratchet with our Black feminist theory and unmatched aesthetic.
Holding our trauma and our dreams as armor.
Serpentine shade hand in hand with steel spirit as we Transform the world.
They have been reminded of the ways we Transcend,
Transporting between the human, and the divine.
Living beyond the lies, into our power, into our magick.
annoinTed.
immorTal.
eTernal.

We are the wildest dreams of our Trancestors come to life.
And our dreams are wilder because of it.