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Remedial Heteronormativity

By Kyle Dargan

“Man-law” I first violate at age ten—
my wandering fingers not appeased by picking
through my cousin’s video
game cartridges, Sports Illustrateds.
Rather, I let my tips trace their way
around his bedroom—exhuming
sheathed New Mutants and Excaliburs,
probing for more between the expansive cleavage
of sofa bed seat cushions.

This is true: if you are committed
to finding something, you will
discover something. I wondered how
it would feel for me to be Male like him
and free from adolescence.
When my fingers grazed a waxy Playboy
wedged between wood frame and metal
fold-out, I did not peel open the cover.
A need to testify kept me from yielding
command over my eyes and hands to center-
folds of ballyhooed skin—alabaster,
unattainable. In the moment, a budding
knowledge: my cousin’s lust
and where he hid it. I stowed
both under my tongue—the weight

an ache within my jaw. I found Uncle
downstairs at the old walnut table,
air thick with aromas of crossword
ink and Parliament smoke. After I tattled
about his son’s hoarded fantasy,
Uncle’s disdain pulled up a chair, sat
cloaked in authority’s masking musk.
“So what? At least the boy isn’t gay.”
The burning floor of my mouth then
awash in his lesson: his new naming
of deviance. And how intolerable this
name compared to whatever ogling
my cousin did in secret, fancying
himself grown. How could I not take
the hint that if I synced my sight
with the spreads’ flaying gaze, I would be
dispatched into what yearning rightly awaited
beyond the proving ground of my boyhood?

Once there, I could be like my cousin—maybe
sullied, still redeemed—but only after
I learned to narrow my eyes, to mouth
Father spare the boys who, kilned
in the same heat as me, risked hiding
other men’s skin beneath their beds.




Listen as Kyle Dargan reads "Remedial Heteronormativity."

Added: Tuesday, February 25, 2020  /  Used with permission.
Kyle Dargan
Photo by Marlene Hawthrone Thomas.

Kyle Dargan is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Anagnorisis (TriQuarterly/Northwestern UP, 2018), which was awarded the 2019 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and longlisted for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. For his work, he has received the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. His books have also been finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer Awards Grand Prize. Dargan has partnered with the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities to produce poetry programming at the White House and Library of Congress. He's worked with and supports a number of youth writing organizations, such as 826DC, Writopia Lab, Young Writers Workshop, and the Dodge Poetry high schools program. He is currently an Associate Professor of Literature and Assistant Director of Creative Writing at American University.

Kyle Dargan was a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 26-28, 2020) in Washington, DC which was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Split This Rock began a virtual poetry reading series in May 2020 which included a reading by Justice Ameer, Kyle Dargan, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, and Cameron Awkward-Rich on June 11, 2020.

Other poems by this author