• Somewhere There's a Nothing I'm a Part of

    Somewhere There's a Nothing I'm a Part of

    By Elaine Kahn

    the status bar circles my iris 

    it isn’t insurmountable
    or permanent

    though, boundaries do exist 

    you don’t dissolve by going through them
    and I went   

    are lovers people? 

    what I mean is
    wept from the gutter
    is a kind of present 

    of desire of
    the sexuality
    of death 

    like, they control me
    into me 

    but I am more
    and other things 

    I am alive
    so I stay up all night

    enjoying feeling
    sick with pleasure
    I read Dolores O’Riordan’s natal chart
    we have hardly anything
    in common

    I want to be more
    than anything I want  

    if I listen carefully to certain music
    I can just remember what it’s like
    to live
    inside the perfect closeness
    of another’s breath 

    it seems extraterrestrial
    in hindsight  

    Dolores said
    I’ll miss you when you’re gone
    and I think of this
    while scraping 3-day-old smashed cockroach
    from the sun-bleached wooden floor of my apartment 

    it’s like the refrain
    or the stain of the refrain

    I don’t pay it too much mind 

    there is real joy
    in understanding 

    no one else is going to do it for you

    I want so much long fake hair
    and I want to win a dance off 

    I want to be disciplined
    and prompt, I want 

    to cum
    by barely even moving

    desire really can be simple


    via Granta

  • S.S. & the Blues

    “A failure of nerve. About writing. (And about my life — but never mind.) I must write myself out of it.

    If I am not able to write because I’m afraid of being a bad writer, then I must be a bad writer. At least I’ll be writing.

    Then something else will happen. It always does.”

    Susan Sontag, 7/19/79, New York


  • A Celestial Event

    The final solar eclipse of the decade happened this past Thursday, an annular solar eclipse. 

    This “ring of fire” solar eclipse happens when a new moon passes between the sun and the Earth. The moon covers the sun’s center, leaving a ring of light around it. 

    You have to be in the right place at the right time to see something like that, and in this case the right place was Saudia Arabia or maybe Guam or a city in southern India.

    On Thursday afternoon, I was oblivious to this astronomical phenomenon. 

    I was in central Indiana taking a walk with my father in the cemetery where my mother is buried. There were no rings of fire to be seen. It was an unusually warm day, and we didn’t even need our coats on our walk.

    As we do, we stopped at Mom’s grave before we started walking. Every year my aunt Linda makes a beautiful wreath for her — for the gravesite — and this year of course was no exception. It looked different to me, somehow, than in years’ past. I touched the ribbon gingerly and searched for the words that I never seemed to find whenever I stood at my mother’s grave with my father.

    This time, he had them for me. 

    “Can you believe it’s been 17 years?”

    “No, I can’t,” I said, and we started walking. “Half of my life.”


    It’s not that these eclipses are so rare, exactly, but it all goes back to being in the right place at the right time. The next “ring of fire” eclipse will be on June 21, 2020, and I most definitely will not see that one, either, unless something wild occurs and I’m in Ethiopia or Pakistan or perhaps China.

    But maybe, like with this last one, I’ll still be in the right place, at the right time. 



    Maybe that psychic in Madison was right.
    She told me my throat chakra was closed
    & all I’d done was introduce myself.

    Listen to yourself — she says.
    You say your own name like it’s a question.

    I wanted to laugh her off
    Been trying to laugh it off ever since.
    But it was so reminiscent of all my bullshit
    then & now,
    letting other people sell me on me.

    You try to shrug that off.

    These days I’m with my nieces on a weekend afternoon
    & learning something like usual.
    At 6, Polly can read words like “ornithologist”
    & knows to be proud of that.
    She says to me, to herself, when looking in the mirror:
    “I look pretty.”
    Meanwhile, her sister Araceli is pretending to be a cat
    & in her 3 years has never let anyone define her but her.
    She meows and I laugh —

    They’re both right.

    My therapist told me I was self-absorbed
    & of course, she’s right, too.

    “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves,
    & everyone else can see it right away,”
    a minor yet major character told Don on Mad Men.

    I think about all this a lot.

    So what is it?
    Tell me again:

    What is your name?


    This poem was originally featured in LOCUS: II (“a blind mashup of artistic expressions where interpretation syncs up & where it collides”) at The Martin in Chicago. 

  • LABOR DAY, 35

    LABOR DAY, 35

    I daydream of Hydra.

    When the Sunday paper arrives, I flip straight to the Travel section.

    I've never read the Vows
    & am only inclined to read Sunday Sports 
    when there's a female on the front. 

    At brunch my girlfriends agonize over the ticking clock
    & indecision & thirty-five years.
    I dip my grilled cheese in my soup and stay silent.

    It's not because I'm not interested
    (I am)
    It's not because I'm not well-versed
    in the annoyance of indecision
    & the precious art of timing
    (I am)

    But I'm an expert in the practice of reactive states
    & feel more at home listening than divulging.

    My period comes due with the rent,
    & I'm not a fan of a late payment.

    My paycheck arrives by direct deposit. 


    photo by Salina Hamm (Grandma) 

  • What Counts

    What Counts

    Finally, it was my time to read The God of Small Things, Mom’s paperback copy. So many times I have taken it off the shelf and added it to my stack of potential reads — once, even getting 51 pages in — only to abandon it, unable to finish. 

    Not ready, not yet. 

    Back on the shelf.

    I forced my own hand with it this time, having started it earlier in the week and, though still unsure about it, deliberately packed it and only it as my book in my carry-on bag for my flight — flights — to Monterey, California.

    I just finished it, up here on this plane, above snowcapped mountains in the clouds, somewhere between Denver and Monterey. How is it possible we are only 45 minutes away from California right now? 

    It’s hard to make sense of it. 

    That book was hard to make sense of, in some ways, yet blindingly clear and achingly direct in the ways that count.

    There’s a scene where Ammu, the mother and central figure in the story, is napping and having what her twins call an “afternoon-mare” — which leads to a lovely passage that questions things such as, “if you eat fish in a dream, did you actually eat fish?”


    The date of my mother’s inscription in the paperback reads “10-26-00” — a date that counts. 

    Her wedding anniversary. 

    One of her last.

    Had she any idea, as she wrote her name in the book, that there wouldn’t be many more? I don’t remember 10-26-00 or 10-26-01, but I remember 10-26-02.

    On 10-26-02, I spoke to my dad on the phone, sitting in my Dodge Neon outside the 7-11 by my dorm in Bloomington. He told me a few things that were hard to make sense of, like that Mom was losing oxygen to her brain. That it was not good.

    I still didn’t know. There would only be 3 more days.


    I wish I could recall my mother reading The God of    Small Things, but I can’t and I don’t. But I know a few things, and that’s what counts:

    My mother diligently wrote her name and the date in her books. 

    And she read books like these, that are hard to make sense of in some ways and achingly clear in others.

    On October 20, 2000, my mother went to Sam’s Club in Indianapolis and purchased three things: three books.

    It’s a funny thing, to go to a Sam’s Club and buy only three books.

    But my mom liked getting books there — you could find great deals. This, I remember well.

    One of those books was The God of Small Things, which, apparently, she started to read six days later, on her 23rd wedding anniversary to my father. I know this, because her Sam’s Club receipt was inside the paperback, tucked in the back pages.

    I took my mother’s copy of this book from my parents’ house sometime between 2006 and 2008, because I remembered it was a favorite of my friend Beth’s, and I wanted to know why. 

    Still, it took me until 2019 to read it, for reasons I don’t really know. But I do know that I timed it shortly after my brother and my niece Polly finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which, as it happens, was one of the three books my mother purchased on October 20, 2000. 


    If you eat fish in a dream, did you actually eat fish?


    The Sam’s Club receipt served as my bookmark. As I read, I kept checking for it, to make sure it was real, that I hadn’t imagined it. 

    It’s still there, tucked in the back pages.

    The thin paper felt like a secret: to an observer nothing special, a placeholder for lack of a true bookmark. But to me, it felt monumental.

    It was a small thing. And it counted. 

  • Out of the Nonplace, Into My Car

    "Non-place or nonplace is a neologism coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé to refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as 'places'."


    This past Monday I picked my boyfriend Larry up from the airport. On the drive there, I was thinking how when he had recently done me the same favor, he managed to time it so perfectly, he had pulled up to my terminal right as I was walking out the doors. My timing would not be quite so impeccable, as it was certain he’d either be waiting for me for a few minutes, or I’d be circling around while he waited for his bags to arrive.

    I turned up the song playing in my car (“Mood” by The Internet) and told myself the timing would be fine enough. I started thinking, as I often do, about the film “When Harry Met Sally,” which has ingrained in my brain the notion that taking someone to or from the airport only happens at the beginning of a relationship. Note this exchange:

    Harry Burns: You take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of the relationship. That’s why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship.

    Sally Albright: Why?

    Harry Burns: Because eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?

    Sally Albright: It’s amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.

    We can also thank Harry and Sally for reminding us that [heterosexual] men and women can never truly be friends, “because the sex part always gets in the way.” While I still stubbornly insist that’s not true, Harry Burns has clearly gotten in my head.

    I got to Larry’s terminal shortly after he had walked out, as luck would have it, right as Thundercat’s “Friend Zone (Ross from Friends Remix)” was ending on my mix. This was exactly what I wanted, as the next song is “oranges in winter” by Bassti  and it was exactly the right blend of chill and drama for pulling away from the airport. One minute and 25 seconds of it. Start talking, and you miss it.

    As much as you’re supposed to hate the chore of picking someone up from the airport, I was delighted to do so — and not only because you could technically say I was returning the favor, as he’s picked me up on more than one occasion after my travels. It just felt good. I liken it to the warm feeling I get when I give my cats a treat of wet food, and they wind their fuzzy bodies around my legs in anticipation, their purring heightened to a low motor. Why not go the extra mile to show a person, or a cat, that they are special? (In this scenario, the wet food equals a ride in my Ford Focus and dry food equals taking the CTA home from the airport, in case this is going too far off the runway.)

    So imagine my continued delight when I opened this week’s New York Times Magazine and the “Letter of Recommendation” essay is called “Rides to the Airport” by Jacqueline Kantor — and she’s discussing exactly this! Including, thank goodness, a reference to “When Harry Met Sally,” and excluding, thank goodness, a weird analogy to an airport ride and feeding your cats. She notes that while Harry’s notion “isn’t wrong,” still, “Airport rides carry more weight when they’re done on the basis of an intimacy that burns long instead of fast.”

    Ms. Kantor apparently lives in New Orleans, and I can only hope that, should I get to travel there again, we will become fast friends and she will give me a ride to the airport when it’s time for me to return home. I love the way she likens this form of intimacy and closeness to “lying on the couch in contented silence” — which I am currently doing with my cat, Peaches, but am quite likely to do with a human man named Larry again soon enough.

    As Ms. Kantor writes:

    “The airport is an example of what the French anthropologist Marc Augé called “nonplaces” — locations where humans are decidedly transient. (I imagine the people are marked by numbers: a receipt in a grocery store; a boarding pass in an airport.) In a nonplace, you can feel either irrevocably alone or intensely independent. You are the only person concerned with your identity. Settling in next to someone in the car after being submerged in the anonymity of a nonplace brings a return to sense of self as acute as coming up for air.”

    “Irrevocably alone or intensely independent.” Yes. Most often I get a quiet thrill out of walking fast through an airport alone. I felt that intense thrill of independence most acutely this summer at the San Jose airport, as I hoisted my duffel bag onto my shoulders and headed outside to wait for the Lyft that would take me to a weekend yoga retreat. I would barely speak for the next three days, and it was both anxiety-inducing and freeing.

    Perhaps it takes knowing you can be in comfortable silence with yourself (and/or your cat) before you can truly enjoy that thrill with another person. In my case, when Larry got in my passenger seat on Monday evening, he looked at me and I looked at him and I had never seen him more clearly.

    “Wait, what was that beat?” he asked, immediately distracted by the music. “I know this.”

    We drove back into the city, out of the nonplace.

  • Always Be Cleaning Up

    The Sunday paper can be so devastating.




    Why do men hate us so much?

    Why are they so afraid?


    I am mildly hungover but full of ambition.
    It’s not yet 1pm and there’s so much promise.

    Beth texts: “Sigh. Yet another woman making a man’s life easier.”

    Me: ::a series of clapping emojis::

    “Always be cleaning up,” she replies.

    I’m listening to the new Juliana Hatfield.
    She sings, “it’s so weird”
    and I think,


    Larry’s in Miami for another day. On the phone this morning, I alternate between the worst and somewhat decent versions of myself.

    Oddly, he’s open to both,

    open to it all.

    Maybe it only feels odd because no one gave me that before.

    Or at least I didn’t give me that before.

    They — or me? Probably me —only fixated on the bad,
    but how was I supposed to grow from that?


    It’s impossible to know.

    Like Peggy Olson, or maybe that character Stephanie, said on Mad Men,
    We can’t see ourselves.

    But I’m trying, I really am.

    Last night I couldn’t get the door to lock on the gender-neutral bathroom at Cole’s.
    It felt like a trick.
    The last time I was in there I was not alone, and the memory hit me right as someone tried to push in.
    I pushed back,

    It’s not that it’s a bad memory, it’s just a memory.

    The next time I had to pee I went in the women’s
    where the stalls made it feel safer.
    Of course this is only my experience
    but I just want a private stall most of the time.

    I don’t write on bathroom walls but
    I enjoy taking photos of others’ work.

    Once, recently, in another bathroom
    I turned to flush and saw Larry’s name on the wall.
    When I got back to our seats at the bar, he’s nonchalant as usual
    “Oh yeah, it’s there.”


    I’ve finished what I want of the paper.
    I can’t read the word “Trump” anymore today.

    It really kills this Sunday ambition.

    Instead, I should focus on the opinion piece I read by Viet Thanh Nguyen;
    the one by Jill Filipovic too.



    I can’t decide if I like this Juliana Hatfield altogether or not,
    but I definitely like her lyrics on “All Right, Yeah” —
    it goes a little like this

    “Spray perfume on my sternum

    It mixes with my sweat

    All right, yeah

    All right, yeah

    Minimum, medium, maximum cool”

    If anything is clear amidst all my ambiguity
    it’s that I’m drawn to other women’s words.



    Maybe that’s why the weak men are so terrified of us.

    They should be.

    The good ones can follow Larry’s lead, or at least they can try.
    I’d call his composure to my most reactive states

    Even if he would clearly, distinctly dislike this album (although I have no idea) (I don’t even know my own feelings on the matter)
    Even if he loves some club in Miami
    I would most certainly loathe.
    Guess what? It’s fine!
    We don’t have to like the same things all the time.


    Jill F. writes, of Nancy and Ayanna and Ilhan and Alexandria
    and I want to cry from the hope of it all.

    It gives me the stomach to read the other stories
    knowing they — we — are moving
    “toward the good.”


    “Women shouldn’t adapt to the existing lie; men in the political realm should be more honest.”

    It can be hard to be fully honest in any realm,
    I’ve realized.
    Confessing to my bullshit and my real shit on the phone this morning,
    I feel uneasy,
    like I’m back in that damn bathroom from last night
    unsure if at any moment, some person is going to barge in
    and catch me in the act.

    The point is, though, it’s worth it — and better than adapting
    to the lie —
    the lie being that you were ever unworthy
    or inadequate.

    That’s why we scribble our truths on bathroom walls
    (or in my case take photos of others’ truths to build on my own)
    cause even when you & me & we don’t feel even remotely





    We are.

    Time to go scrape the snow off my car

    and take this ambition out in the afternoon.

  • to be sorted » is anything wrong with my mind?

    to be sorted » is anything wrong with my mind?

    If I stare too long at my stacks of books and magazines and the Sunday NYT, I’m gonna lose it. Currently: Audre Lorde open, journal open, T Magazine beside me, Claudia Rankine and a new notebook I didn’t need to buy at my feet, last Sunday’s paper I didn’t read — yet — on the coffee table.

    I’ve got gifts I need to give on my record stand, and of course, more books, stacked.


    On Sundays I am consumed with the need to read EVERYTHING, at once.

    I have got to learn to calm down.

    The first Sunday of last month I read the entire Sunday Times — with the exception of the Sports section, of course — and was so pleased with myself that I wrote it down in my journal, and again, here, now.

    There’s a specific kind of accomplishment I feel after reading the paper. Like it’s so fucking novel of me to hold an actual newspaper in my hands.

    Friday morning I was on a flight to New York, catching up on my New Yorkers, because that’s what flights are for, and mad at myself for only putting three in my bag (plus the New York Times Magazine), but putting more than four magazines in your bag for a day business trip has got to be actually fucking INSANE behavior, correct?

    The point is, I always have good intentions. When it comes to my reading productivity, that is.

    Today I did manage to read, and finish, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Later, I was (re)watching She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix (the series, not the original) and at a dinner where Jamie Overstreet’s being a prick about Nola Darling’s sexy little black dress, he gives her Citizen, which is currently perched on one of the three stacks of books and magazines and papers on my coffee table.

    I looked at the TV and looked at my book and wondered, as I often do, why I was watching Netflix when I really should be reading. But whatever, I like that show and it feels more constructive than watching Frasier.

    Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a marvel. Citizen, too. Because Claudia Rankine is a marvel.

    I have read page 40 multiple times today, which is maybe why I can’t seem to get around to sorting through all my stacks of reading material.

    (Yes, I intentionally posted the photo this way.)

    “Have I ever vomited love or coughed up blame?”


    Previously: "focus your intensity; quit being the apology"

  • 'where excuse & endurance mingle'

    On Monday, September 25, 2017, I wrote down some things.
    I titled them “yesterday” and “today”
    So on that day, my yesterday and today went something like this:


    He is so intimate with me, kissing me during
    “Kiss me”

    The a/c in his bedroom hums

    And I like when he smiles at me, during

    Like we are sharing a secret
    an inside joke


    I wish he would stop doing that.
    I hope he doesn’t quit.

    It’s confusing, he’s so contrary.

    My Lyft driver takes an eternity to get me
    and I bite his head off.

    “hey, I’m sorry -- don’t be sad,” Masood says.

    How did he know?


    I wondered again if I’d come home from work and find Mufasa,


    Maybe in the tub.

    I go to the Gap outlet and try on

                                   a red bodysuit

                                   sexy boyfriend jeans

                                  girlfriend jeans

    All 3 items make me feel

    I look in the mirror and
    my eyes are huge, bloodshot

    Heightened by my eyes bare
    except for mascara making
    my lashes look maniacally

    l o n g

    My lipstick not quite right, too
    orange and
    not enough red.

    What the fuck is a “sexy boyfriend” fit, anyway?

    Why do I keep insisting on trying this style on --

    They flatten my ass and make my figure …


    Everything looks awful and
    I look high

    but I’m not.

    Surely Mufasa isn’t dead in the tub.

    I walk out empty handed,
    feeling like a thief.

    “Have a nice day!” the cashier calls.
    I turn red: “You too!”

    My eyes burn & so does my face.

    It’s too hot for September 25th.

    When I get home, Mufasa is at the door.


    Now it’s 2018 and almost 2019.
    Mufasa is dead,
    but she didn’t die in the tub.
    Instead it was on a cold table
    with her head cradled in my hand
    and a kind vet
    taking her away
    as I sobbed,
    teardrops falling on my Indiana hoodie,
    feeling the loneliest I had felt in

                    It was lonely like crossing the parking lot to the hospital where my mom was inside dying

                                                like taking my clothes out of M’s dresser for the final time

                                             like getting lost in Covent Garden while in London alone


                     like trying on a red bodysuit and unflattering jeans on a too-hot September day because I don’t want to go home and see my dying cat who was now dead

    It was lonely,


    I didn’t know then what I know now:

    That my heart could break like that
    and that Layla would soon follow
    That my heart could heal like this
    and that a year later

    Yesterday and today

    look entirely different

    and the same

    Because I’m still late meeting Lauren for brunch on a Sunday
    Parking in front of my old apartment,
    almost crossing paths with my past
    but missing him, because
    we vibrate on entirely different
    frequencies now.

    I hope for him,


    Not for us, because us was a disaster.

    And I’m not sad about it, anymore, really — look,
    Nao sings, “he released me into orbit”
    and it makes me think of him
    and all of that pain we gave each other feels worth
    something, now.

    Because I’m free
    of all of it.

    I picked up my Audre Lorde to find a poem to fit the mood,
    and like usual, today,
    I had forgotten the one I had bookmarked
    some yesterday ago — “Movement Song”

    god, she nails it here:

    “Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
    as the maker of legends
    nor as a trap
    door to the world
    where black and white clericals
    hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
    twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
    and now
    there is someone to speak for them
    moving away from me into tomorrow”

    — there is so much more,
    but you’ll have to find it
    your damn self.


    These days I’m writing down PJ Harvey and Erykah Badu lyrics in my journal
    and writing a shitty poem on a Sunday that I call


    because Janet,

    But that was another yesterday.