Please help the Black Earth Institute continue to make art and grow community so needed for our time. Donate now »

a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section 3

Marthe Reed

Marthe Reed
the least part

“When I said, ‘Give me an apple and a pear and leave the room,” had I the same feeling when I pronounced the two words ‘and’?”
“What is the meaning of a word?”
–Ludwig Wittgenstein

“I need to talk with you.”

“I need to talk to you.”
“Okay. What’s up?

“I hate having these conversations.”
C twists on the sofa so that his face looks, not at us, but toward the wall opposite.
Conversation ‘filled’ to the brink: what we take as known, or knowable, from without.

“I’ve known for awhile.” (A breath
“I am trans.”
(Another breath

What did we say?
Stumbling over shock, surprise, assurances of love, of our desire for her(?) happiness. “Your mother has always wanted to buy girl clothes.”
Anxiety has a spatial dimension, unsettling the fixed place. Fixing it up or
placed before the mirror

“I don’t want to change my name or pronouns. But I want to take hormones.” (A beat or two.)
“I need a therapist.”

I read everything.

A persistent discomfort with one’s sex or gender as assigned at birth.
Steadfast. Abiding.
“Gender dysphoria is manifested in a variety of ways, including strong desires to be treated as the other gender or to be rid of one’s sex characteristics, or a strong conviction that one has feelings and reactions typical of the other gender.” (DSM-5)

Driving to meet his therapist, we struggle to articulate what we expect, want. We go in to see her first on our own, as directed. There is no known quantity. Only questions.
“Is this just wanting his cake and eat it, too?”
“What do you mean?”
“The best of both worlds.”
What does this mean to you?

Our son. Our daughter.
Ours ?
A young man, a young woman.

“What if he changes his mind? Isn’t it possible this is something he has discovered on the Internet and it is just a phase?”
“The Internet has been a great boon to trans youth, allowing them to understand themselves and find stories similar to their own experiences, to have a feeling of community. Transpeople who come forward with the truth of their identity do not change their minds. This is who they are.”
This is who he is.
(This is who she is.)

Assigned or aligned, the current of expectation: anxiety’s affective grammar, the particular forms embodiment takes or refutes.
What do I mean?
What do I feel?

“He fits the profile. Though he identifies somewhere in the spectrum and is attracted to both men and women, he doesn’t feel a strong sexual attraction to anyone. When C turns 18, I will have him come back in and confirm that he wishes to proceed. I will then write a letter to the endocrinologist advising that he is trans and should be given hormone therapy for transition.”
Questions litter the air. Procedures, referrals, endocrinologists
Timelines. Inhabiting two experiences simultaneously. My child is the same person I have always known.
What I know is next to nothing.

A person’s internal, personal sense, of being a man or a woman or someone outside that gender binary. Being there, that one self. Oneself.

“C does not want anything to change in the family. He wants to keep his name and his pronouns.”
What does this mean—to him?
No help, hope, in our obsession with binaries. Neither one nor the other. Some other, some in or between—
It will take almost three months to see the endocrinologist.

“You are going the wrong direction!”
“What do you mean? This is the way to your endocrinologist’s office.”
“That’s not the appointment.”
“I don’t understand.”
Some people think I might want to have kids some day!”
Right. “Okay.”
“You’ll have to give me directions.”
The air of the car rife, his angry, embarrassed tension barbing his words.
“I’ll just wait here in the car for you.”
“Good idea.”

Everything to talk through. And nothing
What this is, what is not open. All talk focuses on other preparations for college only one week away now.
Open to

C gets a new look: three shades of red woven together, one side of his head a long and luxurious swale, vivid cerise, violet, auburn, one side clipped close to his head, sideburns blazing his cheeks.
A swerve of sunlight caught
What I see. Neither one nor the other.
What I imagine others see.
We pack in the swelter of late summer heat. He will start hormone therapy at college.

Six weeks into the first term at school, the online pharmacy mails a receipt for two scripts: spironolactone and estradiol.
T-blocker, synthetic estrogen

C does not mention anything to us of drugs or transition. Waiting on what changes,
how. A breath held too long
(a breath)

What will he look like when he comes home again?

Spiro suppresses the production of testosterone, reduces the size of the gonads, lessens body and facial hair, reduces muscle mass.
Paradigms of center and margin, either/or: if we abandon limit, affect is experience.

I send care packages, check in by phone, text. He has little to say beyond the workload at college and the role-playing games in which he is immersed with friends. His voice a deeper register than his dad’s, he regales me with details of spells cast, demons brought down, impossible powers acquired. Friends, girlfriends—”We broke up. She was getting on my nerves”—games. “School is boring.”

“I have so much work to do. So much work. Two papers and two exams.”

The trees go yellow, orange, scarlet. Turn burnt and brown. The dark mulberry of Norwegian maples, bristled husks of horse chestnuts, acorns littering the earth. Dogs and I walk the hills. No end to unasked questions.
It is easy to imagine nothing has changed. Or everything has.

Estradiol: the prostate shrinks, the bladder shrinks, the pelvic inlet and outlet widen somewhat. Breast growth and nipple enlargement. Redistribution of body fat: gleuteofemoral fat will begin to accumulate; adipose tissue softens and “rounds out” the face. Thinning and softening of the skin.
His voice will not alter under the hormone regimen.

“School is not going well for C.”
“How not well?”
How not, or this. Knotted

Home for Christmas: slender, so much more slender, t-shirts and cargoes hang on him. He has dyed his hair black.
Beneath the loose clothing, what slender shape? He says nothing, as if
nothing. As if change were not coursing electrically through very atom vibrating between us.

This between we inhabit without language, or map. Nomad science of malleability, fluidity, metamorphosis.
“S/he.” Language frays into its own gaps. What we mean to say. Meaning what?

When he goes out with friends in town, he appears down the stairs in tall boots, lace leggings, a tight mini. He carries a shoulder bag, smoothing his hair back with a red bow. Wears dark red on nails and lips. “Be safe. Call for a ride when you’re ready to come home.”
When he returns, quickly transforms. Back.
No word, words
For Christmas, a pair of burgundy suede, high heeled boots. And a hair appointment to bleach his hair back to blond, then three surreal shades: pale lavender, silvery blue, deep turquoise.
Selfies via snap chat to his new girlfriend.

If “open” systems replace “closed”
If contingent
If continuously shifting
If motion defined as “between” confirms the fluidity of their relations
If open

In the silence prying apart one moment from the next, the impossible gravity of unasked questions, worry, concern.
“How is school going?”

After dinner out, riding home together, “An F is no big deal. Everyone gets one.”
“What?!” Shock’s sudden kerf. Impossible to take back
Effervescence of the evening dissolves to lead. This freefall

In January, Facebook suggests a new friend (“friend”).
C’s photo
(a beat a second
I follow the link. M has changed her gender.





She did not, does not tell us, or say, I
I do not, not know, do not know how
This with
out, this out

Imagine a world without gender, without genesis, without end
In the confusion of boundaries, pleasure promises.


and not now

A knot of loss. I send a private message. “Beautiful name, love. I love you.”
I love you.


Two weeks

She(?) will not answer the phone.
I feel
hollow, cut-off. A loss, a luster on the air blotted out
She. She
Is loss the best name for what survives?

Is she(?)

“I thought he wasn’t going to change his name.”
“Yes. Me, too. I don’t know, I—”
Late winter. Snow arrives with a fury. It won’t rise above freezing all February. M’s radio silence.


“Why the silent treatment?” Attempting a light touch—as if—by text, I
am not worried, not
hurt. I am not—
“Really? Really? You hunted me down and found out something I was not ready to share with you. I feel trapped in a corner by you!”
A beat (                                     )
A second
(                                     )
“Sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry.” The emptiness of explanations.

Of March daffodils, yellow spilling up the slope of the front garden, yellow cups irritable to the palates of deer. Yellow against dry leaves, brown mulch, bare trees. Yellow light irrigating the air into which I hurl myself, planting, planting.

Z and I fly out to visit C, wander the beach, eat well, explore the city. He regales us with stories of yet more games played, outrageously powerful characters constructed, impossible feats. Says
nothing much. Nothing really. Wears red nail polish and cargoes, baggy t-shirts. Pretends
nothing at all has changed.
Sleeps late. Sleeps late.
Sends us home.
Says nothing about school, transition
her name

though a letter arrives from the college indicating a dire academic situation. No one there can answer my questions. Or talk. (S)he is an adult. A sealed gate I cannot breach. No word

“I can handle my own business. Stop trying to help! Stop trying to interfere.”
My insistent, irritable reaching after answers. Certainty.
In early May, our beagle succumbs to cancer. Too much, too much contingent, uncertain, dying.
Swallow dread, wait here (her(e)
for M’s return home in summer

Wisteria clusters, pale violet tangles over roofs in the neighborhood. In the woods, red and white trillium, yellow trout lilies, Solomon’s Seal peer into the light at the feet of trees. Late spring light and rain drench, pour through me.
When M arrives home, at the airport I drive past, unable to recognize her. So slender and so tall. Skinny jeans, Doc Martens, crop-top and ponytail, black eyeliner, rouged lips.
Her voice on the phone, unchanged.
do not expect her.

“What shall I call you?”
“M—, I guess.”
Lithe and private, she slips out of reach, shutting the door to her room.
at last.

Fast, fast, I fall in love with her. This woman, this girl. (Mine?) How sure and new. Lithe. Love tears through me, blazing.
In evening’s dimming light, I drop her at a coffee shop to meet old friends. A young man heading off double-takes. Looks then turns and looks again.
Adrenaline pricks through me— fear’s electrical pulse
( be


Wake late then walk to the co-op. Bread, cider, cheese. Coming back, talk rambles quietly between us. A glancing movement in the shade stills us, mid-sentence, on the drumlin shoulder. A doe and fawn browse, sheltered in tumbling narrow branches. The doe guardedly watches us, where we wait, unmoving, for their return to browsing.
I think of shelter, of M’s cross-hatched forearm. M carving tender skin, cutting away dread. Hers. (Mine.) Shearing grief’s flesh, a palette of marks delimiting chaos.
Fierce, she will not say. Or I. Do not stop

She is a sharp angle in the air. Tall boots and tiny skirts. Long limbs and budding breasts. I see her beautiful. Love’s talk? A private dread, the past echoing through me, and I see myself once. Then. Beloved girl, beloved—
Not me. Not me, though mine. Hers
In the kitchen I roll pastry, fold in sugared fruit, bake tart rhubarb, bright berries. Sweetness soothing sorrow. See there my mother’s hands
crimp pastry’s hem
In what is feeling located?

Water hollows rock, wears away its bed and moves through. We follow the trail down Watkins Glen, it’s water-shorn swale. Crevice flowers and shade of overhanging oaks. Water splashing, dripping, spilling: jagged uplift scored into the rock counts back in time. Crowds of folk march around us. There is no one else here. I am tender of her. Is this new?
She was always fierce. And tender.

We go out for coffee. Sit in silence. Walk. Drive to the laser clinic. She burnishes her nails green then blue then pink. We make almond cookies, chocolate gelato, sweetening summer’s lack. She is lonely, so far from new friends. Her people. I am in rush. Missing her.
Already missing her.

the sexual component—

Shame’s implacable garment. When school fell apart, or she did, feelings lashing through her, she set blade to forearm, blood welling at its edge. Again and again, etching pain or measuring out doses of control. I can do this.
Shame        punishment        control. What is the nature of (self-)worth?

being everywhere

“Is there nothing else you want?”
Everything, nothing.

She takes a summer class, returns to therapy, hates all of it. Resistance asserts its own grammars, pushing against, back, with-
Therapy devolves to pleasant conversation. She will not, wills not. Better inside, better down on her own. There.

How stop longing? Or watch—

The flight return west, booked for the wrong dates, collapses her in silent panic. Abjection sowing through her so she cannot speak. We can fix this. Okay? Are you okay?
Veneer polishes everything, semblance and seeming certain. Sure of herself. Earlier and again, shouts again. I can do this. Stop minding my business.

A dropped stitch re-gathered, we (we?) move on or through. An unstable rhythm, toward then away. She wills her way. Away. Womaninthemidst. No child, not mine

When she returns to classes fulltime, what then, I wonder. What then? (Is this fear?) Anxiety’s attachments always future, froward. Invisible.

I want to have surgery.

This sharp surprise (a breath
a breath

“When did you know?”
“I never knew never understood. Gender.” Un-gendered. Not gender no man no woman gendered. “Until puberty.” Estrogen coursing through her. “And I knew. I am a woman.” Through and through, no choice in this being
“the unmarked category disappears” or inverts itself

In this we, for now, together, turning as vines do, move in a light we sense, seeking us, or each other. Day pours through thriftstore windows. We shop for skirts, shirts, the elegant swerve. When I look over my shoulder, she is tall, taller than me, honey hair pulled over her shoulder.
In a light all hers, slender swerve similar
Remembered, tendering
self into (her)self

from one
identity to another

a way of living it from inside

In evening, we walk in dusk’s half-light, cool air akin to us as skin refreshed. Talking of songs, the tug of dogs at the leash, feeling then forgetting. A look. Look again, a quality of sight.
“All this and not…”
Seeing becomes the least part

Berlant, Lauren and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Duke University Press, 2014.
Harraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. Routledge, 1990.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia University Press, 1982.
Ngai, Sian. Ugly Feelings. Harvard University Press, 2007.
Marthe Reed has published five books: Nights Reading (Lavender Ink, 2014); Pleth, with j hastain (Unlikely Books, 2013); bodied bliss (Moria Books, 2013); Gaze (Black Radish Books, 2010); Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink, 2007). The author of six chapbooks, her collaborative chapbook thrown, text by j hastain with Reed’s collages, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest and will appear in 2016. Her poetry has been published in New American Writing, Golden Handcuffs Review, New Orleans Review, HOW2, MiPOesias, Fairy Tale Review, Exquisite Corpse, BlazeVOX, and The Offending Adam, among others. Her poetry reviews have appeared in Jacket2, Galatea Ressurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, The Rumpus and Rain Taxi. Reed lives in Syracuse, NY, and is co-publisher and managing editor for Black Radish Books and publisher of Nous-zōt Press.



©2024 Black Earth Institute. All rights reserved.  |  ISSN# 2327-784X  |  Site Admin