The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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MAY 2021 Issue
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The Sapphire Sea

Jackie Ess. Courtesy the author.
Jackie Ess. Courtesy the author.

I stared for a little while at the phrase “trans femme endurance,” but then again, I think when you get a loose prompt, one of the worst things you can do is argue with it. The plague year hasn’t been good for my identification with any of those terms, yet maybe some of how I passed the time, or even thrived in it, will be interesting to someone.

As far as gender and sex and all that, I haven’t got much to say. Though then again, you could look at my social media and see I never learned to shut up about it. This has really been a period of folding up wings I had only begun to spread. That’s ok, they’re collapsible. You know that Malkmus song about a kite that folds down? Maybe it helps that this isn’t the first time fear kept me indoors for a while, and it isn’t the first time I fell out of life. The difference is maybe in how you don’t land. But then again didn’t I?

Mostly it was a year for art. I spent part of 2020 inventing and playing with an anonymous persona, Cliff Cannon. Part of it fixing a novel, Darryl, that comes out in late spring. Lately I’ve been writing a new book, the working draft is called Fruit. It used to be called The Seal’s Wide Spindrift Gaze Toward Paradise but what kind of a title is that?

It was a year for love too. My wife. My dog. Did I mention my dog? Good girl.

So it was a year for art, but also a year for not showing my face, or waiting a long time to let it be seen. That’s alright, it’s a patience I’ve developed. I became domestic, sort of suburban. And it’s been a year of staring back across the border hoping my friends would make it. I think we might make it. Maybe I’ll see you soon.

It became my year of voices, which makes me feel 10 years older in some ways, and in other ways 10 years younger. It was a setback. You know, for me, the real misery was all in 2018 and 2019. That’s when I fell out of life, nothing to do with any virus. I was emerging from that personal purgatory, finally ready to address the world, and to enter it once again as a body. So much for that.

But having had this experience, many experiences actually, of being put down for a while by something that happened, or by something I was recovering from, that helps. It helps to know what it feels like when spring comes, and that it does. D.H. Lawrence writes in the “Craving for Spring”:

Give us our turn, give us a chance, let our hour strike,
O soon, soon!
Let the darkness turn violet with rich dawn.
Let the darkness be warmed, warmed through to a ruddy violet,
incipient purpling towards summer in the world of the heart of man.

And yeah, I know that feeling. Of course the season follows winter, that’s the drama of it. We’ve had a long one, but it is still, essentially, only weather. Wallace Stevens writes in “Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu”:

One likes to practice the thing. They practice,
Enough, for heaven. Ever-jubilant,
What is there here but weather, what spirit
Have I except it comes from the sun?

I suppose we’re about to lose the regularity of the seasons as a metaphor too, at least for cycles. I read a book of poems about the sky that had been written in the early 2000s and thought that maybe this might be the last book where we can consider the sky so innocently, as what glints back, as the sapphire sea. Because we really are in a pickle now, aren’t we? I think we had probably better return to the carbon question soon, if only to save poetry.


Jackie Ess

Jackie Ess is a writer in several forms and under several heteronyms, temporarily united. So far, her writing has appeared in Vetch, The New Inquiry, the Zahir, We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics, Peach Mag, and of course Twitter (@jackie_ess). So much for bylines. Her first novel, Darryl, comes out in May 2021 on CLASH books.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

All Issues