Saturday, February 28, 2009


I was recently introduced to the "mistranslation" exorcise and have immediately and grateful added it to my list of cathartic-save-my-own-ass activities... The exorcise is to take a poem in a language you do not know, (it may be helpful if it's based in the same alphabet, but then again would be a different and amazing exorcise with an alphabet you don't know), and to translate it line by line, based only on the looks and phonetics of the words and letters in front of you. I was given a poem in Finnish which I know nothing about- not even how it sounds when spoken. Forcing myself to focus on something I knew nothing about and couldn't criticize myself for not understanding was an amazing moment of freedom in my day...

By Merja Virolainen

Sain sinut vain yöksi,
silmänräpäykseksi, pariksi.
Senkin vain leikimme
kotia varjojemme kanssa,
minkä se kesti,
pelko painautui kainaloon,
yksinäisyys rakasteli minua.

Niin tulin siunattuun tilaan:
kannan lasta sinulle, kipua.
Nuku sinä, nuku,
minkä yötä kestää,
niin et kuule, kuinka se varttuu,
soi jo isona lantion
vahvistuu, pikku prinsessamme,
huutaa kylkiluuni kruununa,
suu ammollaan kuin taivas,
imee lävitseni kaiken
mitä kuulen, näkee mitä näen,
kasvaa, oppii elämään.

Mirror, Violent Lie

A saint and slut, your veins
Simple paying-- parasitic
Sink veins like mine
Katya, you're vile, me I am cancer
Meet me, say to castrate
Pelt it, pain it, kindly loom
Your saint has robbed, castrated my minute

No tiny saint slut tit
Can last, so sing it quick
None can sing you, none
Meet me, you talk me, castrate, ah...
No instrument could kill like your veins
I go in sleep, insomnia, lay on me kind, passive
Will you pick up a princess name
Or hit, kill, croon, ah...
Your animal craves temperance
Me, I'm only laying here curled
My cunt, naked my name. You
Count, open-- vein alive.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Fish

This is seeking a title... Help a sister out...

Do you eat fish?
And if I fry it?
I’ll watch
So I uncoil the newspaper
Unearthing translucent
Roots where bones were

My father taught me this
To bait the hook carefully
Held his hand out and plunged
The barbed metal into calloused flesh
And I followed, scarring small palm
A lesson in respecting what you alter
Ocean at your knees

The spiced fish oil is spitting
From red pan
She sits quiet and stares
Bites her lip
Do you always cook topless?
Only when I cook fish
Does it feel as good as it looks?
I approach her at the kitchen table
Spatula in hand
Bring my stomach
A minefield of grease spots
Chest glimmer
And let her inhale

My grandmother could whip a cigarette
Out of a man’s mouth
With the fly end of her rod and line
She made a living this way
On a floating pedestal
Crimson lips and corset
Baiting men
Rather than fish

The table is a cacophony
Flounder intoxicating
Small bowls of kiwi kumquat lime
She bring pomegranate seeds to her tongue
How does it taste?
Like Riis beach
It should be
Do you want more?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Almost Poetry Poker

As another class activity my tiny Brooklyn College poetry class all brought in poems we liked- Marti, Plath, Pinero, Lorde and others- and cut each line out to throw in a mixed up pile. We each pulled 8 lines from the pile and spent five minutes writing a poem that incorporated the 8 lines we'd selected. Here's my piece, ripe for revisions, (other poet's words in italics)...

Cinder Song
Hana Malia 2009

In my tomb of green leaves
Our body wears the smile of accomplishment,
Because I has you under surveillance y I has you slick chlorophyll mood light
We, bright jungle eyes with cocaine nose- cocaine nose
In our thighs burnin cocaine holes
Baby, don't check your reflection in still river run
Don't need to see your acid face
Scorch lines, deep stretchmarks snake
Like river run, river run run
that that that stands erect in the spirit's glare.
Stop. We ain't seen sun
Canopy got us green flesh
Cocoa thigh lovin
Baby, your shit is spinnin, your marks are stretching
to the point of bursting. Hush,
here, grip this steering wheel I've gripped before.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Response to Lorde

As a class assignment, I was asked to take a poem, quadruple space it, and then respond to each individual line of the poem in the open pace below. It was an exercise in letting go of the whole piece- in writing without knowing where the next line would come from or go. I expected it to be disjointed and awkward, but it came out as what feels for me like a true honoring response to Lorde's piece, Litany for Survival.
I suspect this is at once a poem for myself and my mother in these days where thoughts of closeness to her make my skin burn...

What We Know in Winter (temporary working title)
by Hana Malia 2009

for you who finds rest in concrete cracks
laying, seemingly floating just above a bed of nails
like they are orderly lines of school children.
for you who believes you are too much to be swallowed down whole
the welcome of rape- if no means no what does silence mean?
who fucks when you're bleeding so the mess has a name
on the avenues between sunrise East River, sunset Hudson
flailing and coiling
both fetal and nearly gone
pleading with a lover's strong back for
a moment more than right now.
you must have been breastfed to want the insides this bad-
the cycles red and inevitable
the release unbearable

for you
who knows no uncertain moves
wrinkles, stretchmarks have etched soft skin
you do not trust food to settle you
this kind of peace
this too honest tale
become mantra on tongue
in your children's sleep
this faltering straight line,
they were never meant to survive

and when the winter is not over you forget
today will be short
when the days get longer you fret
how fast your hair will grow
and when you are naked you beg for burlap coverage
turtlenecks make you fear the indoors
when your children leave you cook large meals
can only take small bites
when someone has your hip in hand, you imagine
its inevitable droop
when you are at the mercy of your own hands, you are sure
they will be the last
and when you finish in only small quiet breaths, you are amazed
at how naked a person can be
when no one else is looking
but when you cry out,
you are unconvinced

so it is better to sing into your thick pillows
this moment, just now
is enough

Litany for Survival
by Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

When Little Boys Call You Fat Albert

I am watching PBS, and Phillips just said, "I do know one thing, Cass Elliot died a very happy woman."
It's been a rough week for this fat girl! I will make myself find the time to write about it this weekend, but for now, for my own peace, I channel Cass Elliot and Beth Ditto

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Because Who Needs a Gay Bookstore on Christopher Street?

In Response to the below article, featured in the City Room section of the
ew York Times yesterday:

We will call this part of the "economic crisis" and crisis in publishing and independent retail, but anyone with their eyes open, anyone who has made a life in The Village knows this is something more- Queer communities are losing space in this city turned open air mall. Chelsea, the Village, Harlem, Hell's Kitchen, Park Slope- neighborhoods that once housed poor people, people of color, queer people, have been consumed by glass encased condos inhabited six months a year by tenants with no intention to invest in the streets below their oh-so-private doorman dwellings.
As queers are being busted in video shops, kicked out of their neighborhoods, and then commodified in The Village Voice via the new Queer Brooklyn Hipster Girl aesthetic, (see photo expo on Choice Cunts), we need to keep our eyes open. When the last LGBTQ bookstore in NYC turns into yet another British Boutique on Christopher street, it is time to get angry! Don't let the dismantling of queer space go unnoticed or un-noted!

My beautiful, ever on-point friend Parhom Shoar responds:

It's a different time. The US has always been a capitalist country, but today's hyper-capitalism is unprecedented. Aside from the obvious impact on our quality of life, our culture is being eroded in the sake of profiteering. I can't say this is done with any specific malice, it's the nature of the economic beast.

As you say, NYC is being ... turned into an open air mall. So much of the appeal lies in the cultures that have been organically created in the city over the years. When such things as basic as the subway are part of what makes the city what it is, and that's even being neglected, well...

I don't think that it's something the queer community could stop by fighting back. It's a much greater systematic problem. That needs to be addressed by all layers of American society. It's not just a queer issue.

To which I say:

All true. Maybe I am just hearkening on the fact that early queer writings and community projects saw queer issues as everyone's issues and vice versa- as third world issues, class and race issues, age issues, environmental issues. And so perhaps if the infinitely sized capitalist beast abstracts our vision with it's breadth- small things like Oscar Wilde- immediate spacial and community changes, are a way to see something tangible about the ways capitalism and imperialism have completely altered the scope of queer politics, (we are now isolationists rather than coalition builders).
And also, like I said, I posted this article so that "marriage" and other short-sighted movements don't bind us to the point where the negations of our history and infrastructure, "... go unnoticed or un-noted."

February 3, 2009

Venerable Gay Bookstore Will Close

Oscar Wilde BookshopThe Oscar Wilde Bookshop, at 15 Christopher Street. (Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in Greenwich Village, which is believed to be the oldest gay and lesbian bookstore in the country, will close on March 29, its owner announced on Tuesday, citing “the current economic crisis.” The announcement came nearly six years after the store was about to close, only to be given a last-minute reprieve when a new owner bought it.

The store was opened in 1967 on Mercer Street by Craig L. Rodwell, who was influential in the gay rights movement. It later moved to 15 Christopher Street. Mr. Rodwell, who inspired similar owners of gay bookshops around the country, and who helped organize the city’s first gay pride parade in 1970, died of stomach cancer in 1993.

Then, a store manager, Bill Offenbaker, bought the store. A third owner, Larry Lingle, bought the store in 1996.

In 2003, after Mr. Lingle said he could no longer afford to keep the store open, Deacon Maccubbin, the owner of Lambda Rising Bookstores in Washington, agreed to buy the store and keep it afloat. Then, in 2006, Kim Brinster, the store’s manager since 1996, became the store’s fifth owner.

The bookstore, which currently occupies a storefront not much bigger than a typical Manhattan studio apartment, became a landmark institution for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Ms. Brinster wrote in an e-mail message to customers on Tuesday afternoon:

It is with a sorrowful heart that after 41 years in business the Oscar Wilde Bookshop will close its doors for the final time on March 29, 2009. We want to thank all of our customers for their love and loyalty to the store over the years. You have helped make this store a world wide destination and all of us at the store have enjoyed welcoming our neighbors whether they are next door or half way around the world.

In 1967 Craig Rodwell started this landmark store that not only sold Gay and Lesbian literature but also became a meeting place for the LGBT community. Over the years it grew into a first-rate bookshop thanks to the loyal, smart and dedicated staff. There are not enough words to thank these dedicated booksellers for making the OWB one of the world’s finest LGBT bookstores. I feel very honored to have gotten to work with them.

Unfortunately we do not have the resources to weather the current economic crisis and find it’s time to call it a day. So thanks to all who have been a part of the Oscar Wilde family over the years, you have truly been a part of a great global community.

The store said it would continue to take orders through e-mail and through its Web site until mid-March. Ms. Brinster said the store would extend special offers and discounts to liquidate its inventory.

“What a shame,” said Martin B. Duberman, an emeritus professor of history at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, when he heard of the store’s closing.

Professor Duberman knew the store’s founder, Mr. Rodwell, and wrote about him in his 1993 book “Stonewall.”

“Craig struggled very hard,” Professor Duberman recalled in a phone interview. “He had no real backing from other sources. It was pretty much always hand to mouth. In the early years, some people objected because he refused to carry any pornography. He eventually relented, though I can’t tell you how long it took, but I’m sure that helped him move from a marginal life to at least a semi-prosperous one.”

Professor Duberman called the store “clearly pioneering,” saying, “It demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to own a bookstore, however small, that catered to a gay public. At the same time, by its very existence, it helped to demonstrate that there was such a public, which in turn might well have had some influence on gay writers – suggesting that there was an outlet for that kind of work.”

The current owner, Ms. Brinster, who is 51, started as a manager at the store in 1996 when Mr. Lingle was the owner. Raised in Texas, she moved to New York City in 1979 to get a master’s degree in religious education at Fordham University and later worked as a letter carrier until moving into the book business.

In a phone interview, she said sales had declined by double-digit percentages, compared with a year ago, each month since August. On Tuesday, she noted, the store had only two paying customers.

“People are hemorrhaging, and we’re no exception,” she said. “People really are nervous.”

Ms. Brinster said the economy “is worse than it was after 9/11.”

Independent bookstores have faced relentless challenge from big retailers like Barnes & Noble and online book sellers like, and there is growing interest in electronic books. Ms. Brinster also estimated that some two-thirds of the store’s customers were foreign tourists, and said the decline in the value of the euro — and the general reduction in tourism — had hurt the store.

The store sits below two apartments and above a massage parlor. Ms. Brinster said she paid $3,000 a month in rent, which she said was already below market value.

“Even if we were rent-free it wouldn’t be enough for us to cover the bills we have,” she said. “This is one instance in New York where it’s not a case of the landlord gouging the tenant. Our landlord has always been remarkable with us.”