Kathy Fagan

When I came out in the 90s, having entered a committed relationship with a woman that would last until she left me sixteen years later, it was still possible for a woman to be ostracized for her sexuality in my community. I am first-generation college from a working-class Catholic family; against most odds, I hold an academic position at a public institution in the Midwest. At the time I came out, AIDS continued to alter and/or end the lives of my gay male friends and mentors. I was no longer married to a man, no longer young, not a mother; where I fit in was not immediately apparent. Then again, not fitting in was a condition familiar to me. It was, in fact, my native state. When I was in school I was called Freckle-Face Faggot Fagan. At first I wondered why anyone would compare me, a sturdy little girl (with a dictionary), to a bundle of sticks. When I came to understand the idiomatic meaning of the expression, I was less puzzled: of course I was “different,” of course I was “queer.”

These were feelings, not thoughts, and though I had plenty of both as a child, I was neither able nor encouraged by the adults in my life to articulate them. To this day, I am uncomfortable when speaking, especially if I’m speaking about myself. The indirect, figurative, imagistic elements of poetry, therefore, became my primary way of interpreting my experiences in the world. I don’t know, to this day, whether inherent queerness made me a poet, or if it was inherent poetness that made me queer, but behind both are, I see now, a powerful identification with the non-mainstream and a natural feminism made infinitely stronger by virtue of having once been in love with a woman. I have since learned to respect my reticence, to understand that its impulse is not to withhold, keep secret, or obfuscate, but to perceive sensitively and incorruptibly, and it has become easier to turn that respect outward, to honor others’ vulnerabilities and preferences.

I am fortunate to be in a monogamous, warm and loving, albeit straight, marriage now. I’ve been called a “hasbian,” which is funny, but also rightly suggestive of failure, so heartbreaking to me. While it is easy to pass as straight—both because I’m married to a cisgender straight man and because I’m a cisgender woman over 50 (which means, in our culture, sexually invisible)—I do not feel un-queer, nor would I ever wish to. I believe my queerness, half the result of wound, half the result of nature, affects every choice I make, especially in my art, my politics, and my teaching. I believe the spectrum of sexuality I’ve experienced is specific to some men, women, and non-binary people who may possess—or develop, out of necessity—above average psychological range and emotional capaciousness. I believe my queerness has encouraged me to fall in love with individuals instead of genders, has challenged me to remain open to difference and alert to injustice, and has led my poems toward the experiment and complexity I hold dear.



The Maid of Orleans
With my poems decamped and all the words behind me,
I ride bleary-eyed where poppies once grew—
a paper cut through green fields—to the city gate
where she meets me, this girl-saint, so hot
in her armor you could press a shirt with her.
I know her by the smoke exiting her bullet holes
and because she is snapping her gum. She chews it
for the dry mouth, she says. She lets me try on
her back-up armor, she shows me the town shutters,
crescent moons carved out and stars carved out,
timbers painted blue and orange, the doors
and the windows, everything with its entrance or exit
for light and air and blood to pour through.
We eat cherries for lunch because they look so cool.
She can use the fluids, she says. Flesh clings to the stones
no matter how hard we suck. Some things are happiest
attached, she says. What else will you measure yourself by?
The cherries are red like the blown poppies, only two shades
redder, more blue-red than orange-red, and therefore, hotter—
I’m told by those who know color and those who know
fire—than all the red-stop poppies in poppydom.


Firefly Cento


With what eyes
will you speak to me now,
O dream star?
You who ran into the fire
without a language for it,
the country, they say, where no one can live.
Not to speak swaggeringly in the world,
but you can pluck out your eyes,
bowls full of fire—
the light will still be inside.


Art Brut


To be a whacher is not a choice.
—Anne Carson, on Emily Brontë
Winding yarn around it Spiders taught me
Girls I give ram horns penises wings to They need protecting
being small & alone When you are small when you are alone all the time &
you want to speak but When speaking makes it less more wrong
you draw what she tells you paisley minaret You color the
curves & the codes how she shows you & from the pieces piece the
walls in crosshatch faces voices floating up We
were not meant to We were meant not to Chip
chip chip of the birds like my pacing that year
Mouth shut hunger gilded like an egg I was hoarder of
air rococo of  cart wheels & spokes one needle spinning
into loop line straight line curved  boat’s keel
sky’s bowl & thread slack or taut of blue-gray-green depending
depending on  Oh little boats do dance in the whether
rattle in their slips like spoons to a glass the toast called
by those who are dead not dead to me now saying Here
put in my hands our wound-stitched shadow the color
my eyes were when no one was watching but you