from The Call-out
Fortunate autumn. September rushes
Over our heads. Migrating flocks
Of warblers, jays, petrels, thrushes,
Come, then leave. The equinox,
When the sun aligns with the equator,
Passes. The dawns start coming later,
The sunsets sooner. The sudden rains
Don’t last for long. The warmth remains.
Goldenrod blooms, and even the roses
Are hanging on, this late in the year.
We know what’s coming, the signs are clear,
Whatever falls soon decomposes,
We know the world is in decline,
But just for now, it all seems fine.
Kate’s euphoric. She joyfully bounces
Up the subway steps to the street
–”It’s freaking gorgeous,” she pronounces,
Turning towards me. “How about this heat?”
–“We’re screwed.” I say. “It’s global warming.
We should get to work on terraforming
Mars, before things go downhill.
You think this is nice? It’s going to kill
Us all quite soon, not to mention
Every single living thing.”
–“It’s just so lovely, it’s almost like spring,”
Kate replies, paying no attention
To my gloomy forecast. And I have to say,
She isn’t wrong. It’s a gorgeous day.
And so we arrive, and prepare to enter
The Morgan Library. Kate’s never been,
And suspects it’s immoral. –“We need to decentre
This view of the past as this kind of serene
Procession of aristocratic ‘cultures’
And remember that the rich are always vultures
Feeding on the bodies of the dispossessed…”
–“Ok, but look! This place is the best.”
It’s three stories high. The ceiling is golden
And painted with copies from Raphael,
Or someone like that, done pretty well.
There’s a fireplace out of a castle in olden-
Day Europa, and of course, there are books,
As high as the roof, everywhere one looks.
I show Kate the way that, carefully hidden
Behind a bookcase, a spiral stair,
Provides the access to those forbidden
Tiers of shelves, high in the air.
–“Ok,” I say, “so grant your position
That there’s something obscene about the condition
Of being so rich that you can build
This shit, but still, at least he fulfilled
Well, I won’t say, some kind of duty,
But some kind of vision. The world is bad.
There is no justice. Everyone’s sad.
But here, in this building, at least there’s beauty.
It offers a refuge, a place to go.
There are worse things to do with that kind of dough,
–“So Morgan was being altruistic?
Dunno. I think you exaggerate.”
–“Well no, not quite, but he was artistic…”
–“So why, when I said the weather was great
Did you feel you had to start complaining?
Isn’t it beautiful that it isn’t raining?”
I laugh. –“The weather is beautiful, true
But it isn’t the kind of beauty you do,
Unless you’re God. And beauty matters
Because it’s the thing that makes us care.
If you see someone’s beauty, you see that they’re there.
It’s the only thing we have that shatters
Our isolation. We die alone,
But beauty lets us know and be known.”
–“But that knowing is still totally conditioned
By material relations. Like take this guy,
It’s because he’s rich that he’s positioned
To produce this beauty, which will signify
That he felt and thought. Like, we’re forgetting
The mason who carved the stonework fretting,
The carpenter who built the shelves-
All these multiple lower-class selves
Whose labour is stolen, or kind of eaten,
By the vision of beauty of some rich fuck.
Like, sorry labourers, you’re out of luck.
You spend your life oppressed and beaten,
And all your skill is just a tribute to
The ‘vision’ of the man who exploited you.”
–“You’re right. But beggars can’t be choosers.
You have to take the beauty you find.
I mean, I’m one of the world’s losers,
I’m leaving no brilliant works behind,
I’m barely surviving. But there’s no denying
That this place has a very satisfying
Quirkiness, that it’s touched with grace.
It makes me happy. Just like your face.”
(I’m sorry my story seems to require
I repeat my every unfortunate word,
No matter how awkward or how absurd.
I’d rather look foolish than be a liar)
“You’re beautiful, Kate,” I went on, like a dope,
“By which I mean, you give me hope”
Immediately, I come to regret this action.
The results are just as bad as you’d fear.
No transsexual feels satisfaction
When you praise her beauty- we cannot hear,
We can’t believe, we’re not receptive:
Either you’re lying, or its us that’s deceptive,
So Kate reacts not with pleasure but shame.
Hurriedly, I move to play down or disclaim
My words. I show her the illuminated
Books of Hours, and the autograph
Brontë poems. She sees a staff
Member and asks if he’s compensated
Fairly. He says he’d rather not say.
We adjourn to the Starbucks across the way.
Cat Fitzpatrick teaches at Rutgers University – Newark. She wrote the book of poems Glamourpuss (Topside Press), a poem from which was nominated for a Pushcart prize, and co-edited the anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction & Fantasy from Transgender Writers, which won the ALA Stonewall award for Literature. She is currently working on a verse novel (excerpted above) about trans women in Brooklyn making terrible choices. This is a topic she knows a fair bit about.