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The Child Formerly Known As _________

By Cameron Awkward-Rich

           is what your father calls you now.                Yes, you know
your father loves you
                        but each time he will not name you

                                                  you feel a hole
bang open.                 Black pit.                     Runs straight through you
              like a tunnel,
                                                  which is what it is.

There are tracks laid in the tunnel in you & a train. 
                                                                            Yes, that’s right, a train
                        & on the other end, a little girl.

            The train is where each thing made for her that happens in your life
goes to travel to her & sometimes
                                     you think you will die—

last night the man tugging at his crotch
                        says Have a good night girl or maybe he doesn’t
                                   grab his crotch & means nothing or means well
           but what does it matter?
                                                He boards the train
                        with your father & your first girlfriend & the state of Michigan
                                                  & they all want to see the girl

& you’re carrying a train full of people who want you gone
                                                               or think you are gone.

But then the train is full & leaves
                         its station & leaves the hole
                                                 engine warm & then
           it all feels        faintly ridiculous—

          who does that man think you are, anyway?
Even if you are a girl, you don’t look like the kind who would want him, though you do
                        in another life where he says girl with a slightly different inflection
& means he is the kind of man who wants a boy to ruin him.
                                                  To carve a hole & move inside. 

                                      But that isn’t how it happened.
                                      You’re the one with the hole

with the little girl inside the hole
             with the father standing at the edge, calling & calling
                          for her & never you
                                      & you can’t blame him—

             you’d rather be her
                         or at least bury her, seal her shut
or shut her up 
                                     & in the end, isn’t that what we all want?

                        To not feel so
split?                          To carry an image of ourselves
                                                inside ourselves & know exactly what we mean

            when we say I—         .                      I—                               .   

                          I— ?

Added: Monday, July 9, 2018  /  From "Subject to Change: Trans Poetry & Conversation," (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). Used with permission.
Cameron Awkward-Rich
Photo by Samuel Ace.

Cameron Awkward-Rich, both a poet and a critic, is the author of Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016) and Dispatch (Persea Books, 2019), winner of the 2018 Lexi Rudnitsky Editor's Choice Award. His poetry has appeared in Narrative, The Baffler, Indiana Review, Verse Daily, The Offing, and elsewhere, and he has received fellowships from Cave Canem and The Watering Hole. Cam holds a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University and is Assistant Professor in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Please visit Cameron's website.

Awkward-Rich is a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 26-28, 2020) in Washington, DC.

Other poems by this author