Nailing the Soul Back into the Body

Poems on Gender


One nail at a time 
Or taken all altogether 
The nails tell a story 
The story is a lie 
You are not the colour of your skin 
The sex of your body 
Or the calluses on your hand 
You are a blossom 
Rooted in the earth 
Soaking up the sunlight 
Of a hundred billion stars 

When I was a kid 
We were nailed into our bodies 
There were things a man could do 
That a woman never could 
There were places white could go 
Where black would never be allowed 
And always, there was the enemy 
Foreign bodies, just across the border 
Across the ocean   
Across the wrong side of the tracks 

Blew my mind 
The Vietnamese people were fighting off 
The most powerful imperialist army 
In the history of the world 
My country, my army 
But they were the freedom fighters 
We were the invaders 
Truth, Justice, and the American Way
– all my life I had believed this lie 
Now everything changed 
As I looked at the world 
Through Vietnamese eyes 

Bring The War Home, we chanted 
And the war came home 
Not as a curse, but a gift 
As an invitation 
Join us 
And we did

Was like stepping into a different dimension 
Everything was turned inside out 
Two, three, many Vietnams
Asia, Africa, Latin America 
Home of the Brave, Land of the Free 
Bad was good 
And what I had thought was good was 
I had never even heard that word 
– outside of a sword and toga movie 
But once you start digging up bodies 
You find them buried everywhere 

Bring The War Home, we chanted 
And now I could see 
The war was already here 
I could see freedom fighters on every corner 
And I could see the enemy too 
We carried the enemy on our backs 
Nailed into our bodies 

What is the human soul but the body unleashed
The body set free 
The body in all its mystery and secret 
In all its possibilities 
In all its interconnectedness 
I am not as strong as the tiger 
I can’t swim like a fish 
Or fly in the air like a bird 
What makes me unique
Is you 
I speak your words 
I sing your melodies 
I dance to the music of you 

Freedom is not some king in a mountain fortress 
Master of all he surveys, beholden to none 
Freedom is you, your body 
In all its frailty and power 
Hopes and fears
Hunger and thirst 
Freedom is you and I 
Feeding each other 
Food for the stomach 
Courage for the heart 
Ideas for the imagination 

Capitalism hates the body 
Capitalism fears the body 
Capitalism wages war against the body 
Because the body can’t be trusted 
The body breaks rules 

Race, nation, gender, class 
These things do not exist inside our body 
They do not belong to us, we belong to them 
It’s how we are nailed into the machine 
How we becomes its working parts 

And of all these, gender is primal 
It attacks what we are
On the deepest level of our biology
Sex is the body, the human animal 
Gender is capitalism, trying to ride the tiger 
Gender is the spur and the whip 
And you can’t get away from it 
You can’t have no gender 
–  anymore than you can speak without an accent 
It’s a gendered world – them’s are the rules 
And either you break’em or you don’t 
But whatever you choose 
You’re punching in a bar code 

Gender abolition – as if we could 
Gender is a nail that gets pounded into each of us 
Gender Identity 
Is the scar tissue that forms around the nail 
As the body tries to heal itself 
But it can’t heal
Because the nail is still there 
And it’s not going away 
Because the problem is not just the nail 
The problem is the hammer 
That keeps pounding it in 

Learn to love the nail 
Does not work 
Because if you don’t push back 
It just goes in deeper 
So you gotta keep on pushing back 
Or else you gotta get to the hammer 
And get rid of it 
Not pass it on to somebody else 
Get rid of it 

Unleash the body 
Liberate the soul 
And free the world 

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