not a woman, not not a woman
more a zombie-tortoise hybrid, slowed by my own mean
brain / I mean I look in the mirror & crave another femme’s heart
all over my thighs & unmoisturized back
I don’t reflect well in calm water / my mother named me
after her favourite actress, Jodie Foster / who is white & rich
& gay / I don’t believe in being self-made
or in astrological destinies but I don’t not believe in astrology
either / what’s the sign for people who binge on self-sacrifice
but forget to actually eat
I had a crush once & a dream
I beheaded her to plant a flytrap in her throat / boyfriends can’t compete
if they’ve been digested / my insecurities are more photogenic
than my face / my only picture of my mother was also shown
at her funeral, but I know we share her nose & taste
for bad men / my father raised me to sit with my ladylike legs
clamped around my mouth / I swallowed my depression
& now I can’t stop smiling / to show off the well-fed lizard
peeking from my throat / I’ll bare these canines for anyone
my rude neighbour & his grumpy
dog / the man who messages me on Tinder to say you’re pretty but
it’s a shame you’re queer / right before I crack open his forehead
full of fresh meat like a coconut / take a long hot sip
letter for my future daughters
— after Rachel McKibbens
there was a before & an after / before the first ravage / after the last man I trusted / I thrashed to the surface / on my own / before your breath muddied the air / there was a time for burning everything / prisons / courtrooms / fucked up diagnoses / gold towers / erected on top of graveyards / & then there was a time for building / a body from my body / there were the times I was told / I wish you weren’t born / by someone who loved me / & meant it / there were the times I agreed / & there was the time I authored / you a mouth / a fist / a name / I am tired of defining myself as not / now I am a universe that grows / every time our brains beat / back their inherited burdens / you too will ache like a cavity / that cannot be filled / someone will leave a bootprint / in your heart / but I will drag your skin open / as you crawl back to yourself / I remake myself in your image / you who began as my flesh / & are now my blood’s king / Daughter / you teach me to be borderless / Daughter, everything continues / Daughter, I have kept myself alive / & now there is a reason / Daughter, you mother / a new song from my ruined throat / Daughter, we are unroyal / we flinch / cut / flee / brim / weep ourselves hoarse / & still / we are enough / we are enough / we have always been enough
frequently asked questions
1. how was your day?
I put on hot water for tea & the kettle calls in your voice. every week I buy stone fruit & let them rot on the shelf. I catch feelings & fold them away on laundry day like you’d want me to. I don’t eat peaches except from your fingers. the pits in my stomach fuzz into pink octopi. sweet disease. I don’t trust my gut, it’s a pressure cooker. our names sound good together, but mine is a pebble & your tongue is full of holes. at night with the lights out, I mouth your favourite poem about sunflowers & open myself like I am both the flower & the sun.
2. what does BPD feel like?
an infinity of mirrors & not one of them knows my name.
an infinity of asking the same question & expecting different answers.
an infinity of questions taps against the windows of joy.
an infinitesimal joy waits for the right camera to expose its canned smile.
an infinity of cameras trudges out to document another accident.
an infinity of accidents has propelled me to today.
today crashes into me like a downpour of tambourines.
today drags me headlong like a caboose.
my head drags me along while I number today’s spoons.
a day with you fills my spoon with honey & lavender, stirs calm into the circuitry of this riotous machine.
3. are you ready to get out of bed?
con: the weeping is more likely to be public. con: without the sheets I need my skin to hold me together. con: it won’t be reciprocal. I haven’t lotioned in days. pro: keep my job. keep my friends. time is a coin I toss at other people, some of whom deserve it. they know who they are. what I save for me, I use to make wishes at my shortfalls. pro: I’m trying to be reliable, but I’m all out of soy milk & stamps. con: I might see an acquaintance at the store. I might trip & break my fall on the neighbour’s dog. does being prepared for the worst count as a life goal?
I’m not the easiest to love. give me one day where I inflict myself only on myself. con: I’m out of work appropriate outfits. I wear sunglasses at all times, especially when I don’t feel sparkly. don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be beautiful unless I’m also useful. let me be post-celebration sidewalk, the glitter under your feet. & if not, let me be the mirror in the morning, the moment before I recognize myself
4. how do you know when you’re sick?
4. how do you know when you’re sick?
when I write a swallow that is just a bird or a downpour of saliva, a tulip just a bloom that signals spring. when the world divots into manageable disappointments: the subway delayed, not having the right change for laundry, all my friends, too sick or busy to care for me. I said I was okay & I meant I haven’t been touched in days. this is no poem. no small beautiful thing gutted from the dirt. my art performs artless tricks to please. if I knew what you wanted from me
I’d write nothing else.
showing up to Sunday dim sum with a fresh shave
over har gow / siu mai / your frowns name me feral / inexplicable / I can smile & nod with the tamest of them / but I did not do this to be beautiful / I am less well-trained housegirl / more carrion defiling my own flesh / to send a message / you are the ones who taught me / it is wrong to lie to family / at my most wicked I was comfortable / today I am almost myself / a harvest of bones / a rooster’s foot / spare rib / a skull / so naked / I could confuse me / for something dead / or almost / today I coil your judgment to my scalp / like a barbed crown / fill your cup with bitter tea / let your anger rattle my teeth / tomorrow I’ll remember how to feast / without permission / let my friends tell me I look wild / in my big bad skeleton / my fallow field where I once had hair / I try not to be hard / but if you think I am delicate / then no / I am not the daughter / you thought you knew
Jody Chan is a writer and organizer based in Tkaronto/Toronto. They are a 2017 VONA alum and the 2018 winner of the Third Coast Poetry Contest, judged by Sarah Kay. Their first chapbook is forthcoming in 2018 with Damaged Goods Press, and their poetry is published or forthcoming in BOAAT, Nat. Brut, The Shade Journal, and elsewhere. They can be found online at https://www.jodychan.com/ and offline in bookstores or dog parks.