Open Up And Say … Ahh!
Boys that looked like girls: a warning, that’s
what churchy all-beige mothers in Baton Rouge
cautioned us about … the gateway to sin. Listen,
my mother was the one who threw away her Alice
Cooper record … you know, the one with the white
panties as the record sleeve? She claimed, after giving
birth to me, that doing so was a precaution, though it wasn’t
for God, it was to keep things simple; to please her own mother
who thought it unfitting for motherhood. Too much makeup and
too scary, she fussed as if her daughter wasn’t grown. Still, my mother
had strangeness of her own. She gushed over Boy George and admired the
beauty of Annie Lennox; in her own way, she was drawn to the androgyny of
new wave. A voyeur of experiences; she wanted to smell but not touch a life
that looked nothing like the one she’d lived. Perhaps she was drawn to otherness.
I liked that part of growing up with her then: at seven I
thought Boy was the prettiest girl. At nine, I conned my southern
grandmother to buy me a Poison cassette, Open Up And Say … Ahh!
which, in retrospect, might have been questionable. Those were actual bad
boys: their make-up less queer and more predatory, but I was little, I didn’t want
anything yet … desire was a space held out in the future that I’d learn how to fill
without a manual. Nana didn’t know she had purchased an animal-print leaflet of
topless women in jacuzzis; and it was the girls that I thought about all the time … the girls
that I thought might get me into trouble. Poison let me in on a secret I didn’t have language for.
And Nana, the matriarch who pulled her shoulders back, who
hummed during calisthenics and whose hair was always real close
to heaven, mocked masculine women for sport. She cawed, “who you
callin’ butch!?” … like it was the quotable gag from an 80s sitcom, not
her own strange language of judgement. You don’t choose your family and
you don’t have to choose to stick around … the story could end like Nana died
young and I grieved hard. But she didn’t and nor did I. Evil takes a long time to die
sometimes. My root was Boy George and those big-hair jacuzzi girls in animal print,
and there’s no-fault insurance in my home state, which means nobody wins and nobody
loses. I was going to be who I was going to be. The thing I wish I could go back in time
to tell myself: relax. Do whatcha wanna. Find your people. You’re gonna turn out just fine.
Grief on Stage Pt. 1 & Pt. 2
Grief on Stage Pt. 1
We’d watched them years ago in
Seattle: two siblings, both singer-songwriters
with voices wrecked with gifts and grief as they
pantomimed a performance after their mother’s
death, all husk and fire like they’d
ingested poison as an exorcist, only
to succumb to the heave of mourning.
We sobbed alongside, a harmony, almost
like cicadas in echo, and behind you I saw the
silhouettes of premonition: sound engineers, shoulder
blades to the sky while they muted their faces
against soundboards in atrophy of soundless grief.
Witnessing gave me a reference.
Grief on Stage Pt. 2
The cacophonous stab of your throat on fire calling
from Vegas, it was the volume of the thing first, then
the reasons for it: grief and horror. You
combusted with a despair I hadn’t the register for,
not calibrated for a cry that was a clamor. Your
demands, bottomless, my guts sunk
with yours like drowned kittens in a garbage
bag, and that is how I remember it: the
turning point, your tailpipe tied down
with their corpses. Baby, if only I knew
first; if we still had landlines, if you’d been
home instead, if only if only if only this weren’t
bargaining I would’ve syphoned the
tear gas canister up and over, buoyant and away
like we have learned to do. I would have
torn the cords out of something—the payphone
on the wall, the throat of anyone who said they
saw it coming—but the truth of it was, harm’s not
the currency either of us deal in. If I had the
pull of time, I’d move you forward to a
place where grief is peripheral, not primary. I’d
mute the sound and hush you to sleep, chest to
chest like nesting dolls, with my whole soft
body around yours. But baby, it’s
not as if that would change anything.
Rhienna Renèe Guedry is a writer and artist who found her way to the Pacific Northwest, perhaps solely to get use of her vintage outerwear collection. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Empty Mirror, Bitch Magazine, Screen Door, Scalawag Magazine, Taking the Lane, and elsewhere on the internet. Find more about her projects at rhienna.com or (1) rhienna renée guedry (@chouchoot) / Twitter.
Banner: The Way We Wore Our Tattered Beauty, digital art by Robert Frede Kenter Tweets: (2) RobertFredeKenter (@frede_kenter) / Twitter