Oliver Baez Bendorf


This Will All Be Yours Someday


In every part of every living thing
is stuff that was once rock

In blood the minerals
of the rock

—Lorine Niedecker, Lake Superior

What we pass through time, through whom, and how? Queerness—its histories, practices, rituals, words, admonitions and pent up dreams— does not all get passed down through the biological line, it finds other routes. In Chicago, leather preservation at The Leather Archives & Museum. In Milwaukee, the Queer Zine Archive Project, its online collection. Our ritual objects, our literature. To trace and imagine ourselves backward and forward. Often through: arts. Also, sex. What gets in its way: intergenerational alienation, neglect, colonialism, book burning/banning, illness, trauma, death… And still queerness persists, finds its way to water.

Queerness: a river that moves outside of conventional structures.

To whom do we belong? To whom are we accountable? My bloodline mixes with my reparative (chosen) kin to inform a present queer experience. On my father’s side, a 19th-century utopian society built around mystic spirituality and communalistic life, settling in Iowa from Germany. They had annual Love Feasts which were solemn affairs of a shared meal and foot washing ceremonies. That commune blood shapes my present longing for a more collective experience of life, which is queer, as homo- and hetero-normativity have collocated with the nuclear family and its attendant isolation. I want the queer version of my people’s Love Feasts, to be in service to a “we.” On my mother’s side, a parrot, a poet, coffee farmers, Santeria, a single mother, Italians who entered undocumented, having fled fascism; Taíno (indigenous Caribbean); Spanish colonizers. And on what I call my side, girl-I-was, boy-I-am: faggots, dykes, artists, witches, shape-shifters, dreamers, dancers, rabbits, resistors, evergreen trees, the ocean … my whole life, queer in proximity to those who came before. I was the burgeoning homosexual who led séances at recess. In Iowa. At Catholic school.

And what is to be done about the pile of pent-up dreams and suffering? For me, one thing: write.

So many of us, even queers of color, still trace our poetic lineages back to one white foremother and one white forefather. I am no exception, even if Emily and Walt are rocks against which I sharpen my own edge. The river: no canon at all, but we each assemble poets whose work has paved the way: such as Essex Hemphill; for me every day Rane Arroyo; Borderland poetics as theorized by Gloria Anzaldúa; Audre Lorde’s “transformation of silence into language and action.” May we wash the feet of those who were here. May we write it down for those who’ve yet to arrive.

On my altar: Rane Arroyo, Lynda Barry, my great-grandfather, my grandmothers, my grandfather, a feather, a dried flower, some rocks, pine needles, a bottle of ink, cloves, a fossil, a chart of non-human paw prints. Some days, I forget to give my poems as offerings and my ego gets in the way. I remember, and they ground me.

Though experiences with disposability may muddy or sever our roots, the earth is our home, and we inherit everything terrible as well as everything joyous, everything beautiful and good.

Welcome to the river, where no one remembers what shame is and everyone has health care for the body they have. There is a perfect sunlit rock where we may flutter between wakefulness and sleep. Bienvenidos, benvenuto, willkommen, to the river we’ve stayed alive for. Look around while you can; this will all be yours someday.


The Carp


Its scales lifted, like rainbows, from the ice.
Its tail bent back against flesh—kite of bones.
The head was buried under snow.
Something scraped the belly.
God, I thought you hated me. The self
deflates. Should I have stayed at home
and thought of the lake?
Pine cone made of scales …
feeling lucky again. Whoooo-wee!
Lord, if it is you, command
me to come on the water.
Or is it only a falcon this time?
Or is that witch who lives above
the barbecue joint with all those
wind chimes? Or is it Rane.
Or any other blood I come from
or mix with.
We stand upon it, each touching
each. Summer’s dock made to wait on shore.
Moonrise plunk of buzz-dive
& whatever sings from feral pines.
The whole skin a pile of firewood.
The heart a distant geode.




Black rat bones, brown dog
hair, bottom of a bucket. Salt. Water
thick with sulfur. Dust gathered from
graveyard on the hill.         We decide
our ancestors must love our queerness
now that they are dead (but of course
they might not).                    Smoke
lifts the four corners.
No one has a tarantula, so we
use a spider, found missing half
its limbs. Onion root, oil lamp,
cinnamon sticks, bathwater.
We pour honey into a goddess
cup (no one has a bull horn)—
watch it drip out of range
& I think we are clean now
& I think we are ready.