Winter 1989, Renée L. has her turntable set up next to the window in this 1912 bachelor apartment in downtown Calgary, record albums stacked on the carpet and lined up in milk crates because she loves music, because she works in a record store, because she is in your face and everyone else’s faces with her swearing and belching and Olympic beer-drinking and you find her so thrilling in her outrageousness, her obsession with scatology and Jonathan Swift, her snarky girlfriend named Tonya C.
Renée L. and her girlfriend Tonya C. are the only real lesbians you know. This is the first lesbian house you’ve ever stood in, drank in, peed in; you perch on the lesbians’ black-framed couch with other English majors, all of you thinking you’re just so damn smart, flashing your new vocabularies, a contest to see whose books are thicker.
Your own history of messing around with exactly one woman—a woman named
Christy M.—a shadowy secret, a larva buried in your chest, squiggling under your ribs as you rub your hand across the lesbians’ upholstery fabric, your fingertips too sensitive in this den of iniquity, the radiators blooming heat, fourth drink in your hand.
The whirling turntable shrieks about a birthday in this white-walled apartment called Darlington or Bricker or Colgrove Apartments, the ceilings high and curved like cervixes, Renée L.’s bicycle hanging from the ceiling in the bedroom, Tonya C.’s courier bike propped against the wall, English majors drinking and sweating cedar incense and Kraft Dinner, and Björk wailing. Renée L. tells a loud story about how she left a dirty saucepan on the kitchen floor for so long it grew maggots; Tonya C. curls her red lip at this story, disgusted with her maggot maiden, this story of a pot delirious with maggots, and while you take in Renée L.’s slim hips and loud, crooked laugh, while you try not to stare at Tonya C.’s wet red lips and muscled legs, you can feel yourself getting slithery like a maggot too, distorting, contorting, that larva in your chest is you, it’s you. Once you exit this apartment and pick your way down the staircase, your own housefly wings will unfurl, stretch wetly, buzz buzz, you too will start to fly, your tiptoes scuffing then leaving the floor, buzz buzz.
One night not too soon after, you’ll fly in the door of their open relationship, lie in crumpled bed covers in naked Renée’s naked arms, her naked bicycle hanging above you in this naked cathedral.
Years later, you’ll be eating those red lips of Tonya C. in a zippy red Honda Prelude in Fish Creek Park, Tonya C. a one-night stand who twenty years later will buzz with you into unholy matrimony. At your wedding you will whirl like a turntable, like a bicycle wheel spinning from a ceiling, like two flies in a jar, you will dart in the air with each other, hello, Tonya, my wife, buzz buzz.
Questions and Answers
1. Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I remember that when I was a teenager I was always interested in becoming an artist of some kind, but I couldn’t figure out what my medium was. I did a lot of drawing and some acting, some embroidery, but those didn’t go very far because what I really wanted to do was capture and reproduce sensation, and those media weren’t doing it. Then one very rainy day I was walking on a sidewalk, trying to avoid stepping on earthworms and in spite of myself I accidentally stepped on an earthworm. I remember distinctly that as I was stepping on it, I heard it “pop” – it was a wild moment of synesthesia, the feeling of it popping beneath my shoe reflected in a distinct sound in my ears, and I thought, I must write this down, and I wrote about it the second I got home and found a piece of paper. That was my first poem, my first poetic moment, and the first time I realized how malleable and useful language could be.
2. What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?
The writer Michael V. Smith was hosting a talk-show web-series called “Soundtrack” that featured LGBTQ2S+ writers talking about a memory in their queer lives that had as a “soundtrack” a choice of albums that Smith proposed. One of the albums was by an 80’s band called The Sugarcubes, and the second I saw that I immediately thought of the song “Birthday” which was on loop during a particular period in my life when I was figuring out my sexuality and wondering how to come out. This poem was inspired by the song “Birthday” and so plays with some of the lyrics, in particular a line about “fly wings in a jar.” “Fly wings in a jar” reminded me of some very special maggots in my life.