BY JOS CHARLES
Writing was, for me, like a gate, or slab beneath a charred, dripping piece of a thing, collecting remains.
I am not ashamed of what I was writing or had written, but across those months in the winter and early spring of 2016 when I graduated my MFA, I was unemployed, lost my healthcare, my cohort moved back home with their families (which for various reasons typical to many, but especially trans women, was not available for me at that time), I was turned down for work across a spectrum of legality, two of my immediate friends were hospitalized (trans women who were assaulted), and three friends died (all trans women, two who died by their own hands and one who was murdered). One evening I saw a post on Facebook about the life expectancy of a trans woman being 27—which I doubted, still doubt—but I had turned 27, and, I don’t know, it felt impossible not to shut the world off.
I was “depressed” and “suicidal,” in a kind of pathological way I still can’t grant myself. I was in the thicket of a kind of time that is very proximate to death. A time that, like a gate or rack, keeps one just before a visible open.
I say this not to exceptionalize myself—as if acknowledgment of affect were a way toward escape—but to say these experiences are typical of trans women, and, more broadly, how the academy is structured, unemployment, grief. I have experienced far from the worst, and, speaking as I do now, to you, is a kind of privilege I am grateful for, being something unavailable to the lives of those adjacent to me, like the life of who I was, then, in the kind of wood where the trees seem to speak, and they do speak, and I, silent, picked at the fallen fruit.
Let us say I was quantifiable, wholly interchangeable, in a way I no longer am.
Reading late Paul Celan for the first time, starting with Sprachgitter, I learned many things. I read Éduoard Glissant too—and Clarice Lispector. I learned about barring, or found words for this thing I learned, long ago, elsewhere. I learned how barring, from the job, from gender, from the bathroom, was constitutive of entrance. Or, rather, that the disciplinary mechanisms, as they say, are in fact the thing they are disciplining, existingly. That I am not so much trans, but it’s the bathroom, the job, the house, the loss, that’s trans. The death that’s trans. The incalculable now.
It was not a conversion, but a revelation, a looking outward, at what one passes through in order to conceive of stillness. The poem can hold much, yes, but it also necessarily veils and lets so much through. So I stopped trying to gather it, as if my blushing hands could hold damage. I focused on corridors, how a sound resonates, accrues its space. The poem, I understood, was, or could be, a space a reader wanders, accruing, in addition, instead, alongside, her being gathered up into an “I.” I learned to let the char finally fall and smoke up through the room.
That’s what I want now of work—the artwork, the poetic work: a use, not as a tool has, but as something unwieldy, figurable, like, not the slab, but the rack, gate, you pass through, and you look back to or will never look back to.
A thing you pick up, and at every moment, possibly, could shatter. Knowing one day it will.
Jos Charles is a poet, translator, editor, and author of feeld (Milkweed Editions, 2018), a winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, and Safe Space (Ahsahta Press, 2016). Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is pursuing a PhD in English at UC Irvine. She currently resides in Long Beach, CA.