Iya’s Ship, Not Shipwreck

I was born in 1813 drenched in oil, yet the kind spirit of Yemoja lay dormant within me. Born of fire, Iya spat me out, hopeful she had created the ultimate protégée. A true spawn, I lay there, a pool of spit and sweat. I began to grow, mechanically, obediently. I sprouted then fell ill. Neither I nor Iya could explain the cause of my fevers and jaundice. Perhaps it was just seasickness. It weighed heavily on Iya to tend to a sick child and my wilfulness angered her. A representation of her ability to create, I was the prototype. An indication of months of labor, I shamed my creator with an unyielding inability to form accordingly.

The sawdust in my eye became the plank she chose to walk on, miles above an ocean of her own doing. A martyr for a cause that could not exist without her. For years she walked the endless plank alone, splinters nestling into the soles of her feet, offering proof of the suffering she had endured. A memento of trying times. Her hands worked diligently and nourished me but my skin became encrusted with her insecurities. Scales formed defiantly. They dried and shriveled, became itchy and incredibly tight. Much like a snake shedding its skin, I became increasingly agitated. When I cried out, Iya cursed my father for passing on such a difficult temperament to me. And so she walked on. She walked and walked and walked. Eventually she crawled, clawed, and dragged. Knees chafed, femur bruised, ankles broken, she walked the plank until the bow broke. Collapsing under the weight of her shackles, I fell into ice-cold waters. Abandoned, I capsized into a whirlpool of her past. A thousand burdens befell me – anger, loss, shame, betrayal, fear, illness, and poverty among them. Overcome by exhaustion, I submitted and allowed the lethargy to carry me to the bottom. I laid there, a molting mass of awkward femininity, painfully mutating into some version of a woman. It was then that Yemoja spoke to me, calmly.

[…]

Her words revived in me a truth I had struggled to release from under my skin. I erupted. All that was molting became molten – dead skin to liquid carbon. I am blessed by the deity of saving shipwreck survivors, the deity of all waters and the moon. And so I rose. A hundred thousand cowry shells shielded me, each a symbol of Yemoja. On the surface I saw Iya and her broken ship, sailing despite its dysfunction. Still she walked, but her strides were smaller, less urgent, more infrequent. And, from a distance, I was able to love her better than I ever could under her wing.

© Leila Chammas, April 20, 2017

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Asylum Androgyny

Hysteria, from the Greek word hysteros, meaning womb.

Bethlam Royal Hospital. London. 1889.

I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. My femininity was revealed prior to introductions, leaving me prejudged. Prematurely diagnosed. Exposed as a reincarnation of Anna O., they scribbled vapid notes, making a fool of me and shaming Dr. Breuer. Lacking both elegance and perception, they scratched pencil to paper, summarizing my being into regurgitated medical terminology. Vomit – a hollow medical degree laced with privilege and void of philosophy.

I was overshadowed by my uterus, condemned to a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ by virtue of my physiology. No discussion, no assessment of the functionality of my organs, no mention of the possibility that, if it truly were hysteria from which I suffered, perhaps the solution may be found in biology, not psychology.

Female. Uterus. Hysterical. 

No regard for the complexity of human anatomy, no consideration given to the intricacy of the endocrine system. My body, forced into a rhythm of menstrual regularity, revolted. I am a woman. I am hysteria incarnate. A silk gown drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood and bones. A medical experiment.

A week later, I presented myself in my masculine form. I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. With no uterus to cloud their judgement, they scratched pencil to paper: Possible negative reaction to serious outside stressors or a malfunctioning of a pivotal physiological system. Endocrine system should be thoroughly tested. 
And it was, for no man would naturally experience symptoms of hysteria without a womb to cause them. I am a man. A silk robe drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood, bones… and flesh.

How does one suffer from having a womb? Simple. You become seen through it, overshadowed by it, understood amateurishly by virtue of possessing it.

I was once a man who suffered from hysteria, cured by denying the simplistic approach of a gendered body.

© Leila Chammas, March 1, 2017.

The Worst Thing I Ever Did To Myself

I crawled out expecting the cave that once sheltered me to shelter me still.

I waited for the world within my mind to match the one without it.

I expanded in my own skin but painted it to match my mother’s eyes.

I waited for men who had the audacity to claim to know how to love me, try.

I beat my skin raw and offered it up to the sun in submission only to be burned black, too rubbery for even the foulest of mouths to chew.

I waited for permission that would never be granted, to exist as I needed to be.

I imagined a hundred lives and was a victim in almost every one. When I woke up, I was 82.

I became water, then ice. Malleable at first, then unyielding. After countless failed attempts to flow, to touch every nook and cranny, fill every space with my presence but remain see-through, I froze. Stunted, I became an amalgamation of rigidity and determination. I retracted and expanded silently within myself.

I am soot, gravel, clay. Molten lava on your back. I was tossed into the ground and commanded to grow but I became embedded into the sole of your shoe. Over six thousand miles of land and ocean, I leached. And for decades I survived in a barren land until what was whispered for years was finally shouted: I waited.

Every time the sword perforated an organ, blood gushing and oozing to coat the perpetrator in guilt – red on metal – I waited. For absolution, for freedom, for acceptance.

But today, the fat lady sings.

© Leila Chammas, February 9, 2017.

Burmese Marionette

A genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings. Wooden and hollow, submerged in waters thick as molasses. Looking up towards the sky to see 52 soles, tapping, moving. An entire world exists on a plane that it cannot reach. A complex marionette, lower than the Shakespearean stage overhead. No amount of blood or entrails stuffed into the doll’s hollow corpse could coax life into its carcass. A leper, for all intents and purposes. Its movements, mechanical, controlled by another; every gesticulation an exorbitant effort, wading heavily through a deceptively clear coagulation.

It is solitary in every way possible. If you were to look at the stage, you would see 27 Burmese marionettes but the mind of one radiates far below. Deep into the Mariana Trench, spanning the distance from Providence to Wichita where faith in God only exists in the face of tremendous fear. The people it loves are no longer enough and it has lived through hell a dozen times over in its mind. Stripped of purpose and a sense of safety to the point of suicidal ideation, wood can set itself on fire. Some of what it wanted, needed, was given then mercilessly taken away, some never given at all. Redemption curled up and died in its palms. Hope withered when it forced its arm out in a feeble, yet courageous, attempt. Love weaved through its hair like a gentle breeze only to fade into oblivion, without explanation.

A genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings, exists on another plane. No number of strings could elevate its mind, no puppeteer skilled enough to recognize the mind has separated from the body, slipped away, giving the puppeteer unconditional control of a cadaver.

It exists simultaneously above and below, on land and under water, in life and in death, in reality and in its mind, on earth and in hell. It is a mummified, genderless, Burmese marionette. Neither 18 nor 19 strings, but certainly one around its neck.

© Leila Chammas, January 26, 2017.

 

Red Light Existential Crisis

We are born through no effort of our own, with a mind and body we have neither chosen nor own. And, all of a sudden, this thought begins to morph, slowly, into a worm that wriggles its way through the crevasses of the mind. A magnificent organ, soiled effortlessly.

It may not be an existential crisis worthy of the philosophers I studied but it is an angst that quietly gnaws away at my consciousness. Long, grey nails on a bony hand picking away at the chipped paint on my walls. Tk. Tk. A soothing activity for the hand, I’m sure, but I am experiencing exposure and vulnerability.

I’m waiting. I know exactly what for but I will never tell. I know that some of what I wait for will not come to me and I cannot simply go out and grab it. So I slowly and painfully let it go. A mourning process of sorts ensues. If I were a fisherman, I’d release my line into the ocean to disintegrate where I know the spool will accomplish more in death than it ever would in life for me. I learn, and I let go.

Still, I have not begun to live. Twenty-eight years of life and I recognize that the vast majority was spent waiting. Subtly, but still very actively, waiting. Herein lies the crisis, bringing the basis of my existence into question. I have existed for years, created without permission, plagued by a feeling of needing to earn the right to… well, exist. Something about being given what one did not ask for, whether good or bad, creates a sense of responsibility over what has been given. What do you intend to do with it? How do I laugh with Sisyphus, look Nietzsche in the eye and say, “Yes, I would live this life over”?
The angst this creates is almost unbearable – I am chained yet free. I am nothing and everything all at once. The world I have envisioned is not the one I am in. I can either disregard or honor the difference. I am both an idealist and a realist.

And then, when the feeling finally subsides, I emerge from the depths of a murky lake. Baptized through my own suffering, the feeling of near-suffocation dispels the impurities in my lungs. Breaking through the water’s surface, breathing in deeply and urgently, I realize that I will never be loved by another more than I love myself. The fault may either be mine for loving myself too much or another’s for not being capable of loving me enough. And yet this all may not be entirely true. Either way, I am often at a red light, irritated yet unphased. Curious and anxious. The waters of my own reality splashing around me, taunting me mercilessly with the thoughts that while I may very well be Poseidon, these waters may very well be godless.

© Leila Chammas, January 18, 2017.

My Brother Died Twice

I don’t understand why I see the things I do in the middle of the night. I just know that they petrify me. The bits I’ve managed to remember alone terrify me and I’m thankful for what I’ve forgotten.

My brother, almost 3 years my senior, was in a basement with a bullet that had pierced through his stomach. The wound had perforated his body creating a massive crater in the middle of his body. Inactive, silent. Just a gaping, crimson hole. It was as if a massive bullet – a menacing and oversized Bullet Bill – had crashed into his back and with full pressure, thrust itself out the other side. Like a jar of packed jam. The glutton ruining its perfection by scooping the insides with his three plump fingers, licking them voraciously, staring at that gaping, crimson hole, a testament to his greed.

A man, a sacerdotal man, sat beside my brother and tended to his wounds. He was sleeping, somehow alive, perhaps comatose. Stretched out on a makeshift hospital bed in a dim room with pale green walls the color of sickness and despair.

Fade to wakefulness.

My brother, again, sleeping, somehow alive, perhaps comatose. This time, a bullet to his head. This time, I approached the religious man tending to his wound, and angrily yet fearfully exclaimed, “If you don’t save him, I will kill you!” I felt utter desperation. Looking at my brother, being watched by a man of God with no discernible medical training, in an inexplicably puke-green room, no indication as to how my brother became injured or who the other man was – nothing. I was simply in a situation, reacting to it, not understanding it, and experiencing great fear through every second of it.

And somewhere in between everything, my favorite mirror broke. No, shattered. I touched it as I usually do, and it simply fell apart. A thousand little pieces of magnified glass crumbled with the utmost ease while the other side of the mirror was none the wiser to the destruction of its other half.

***

They say in Lebanon, that if you dream that someone died, you have renewed their life. Last night, my brother died twice. Today, he will live twice more.

© Leila Chammas, December 31, 2016.

A Boxer, a Van, and a Tortoise.

I was standing in an open garage and looked out to the front lawn to see a white plastic table, about 3 feet tall, with a huge tortoise on top of it. It was hidden inside its shell. To the right, a dusty, emerald-green minivan parked at an angle. Not accidentally or with any indication of emergency. Rather, it was parked calmly and eerily with intention at an angle. An aging boxer was remarkably sitting in the driver’s seat, the fur on his face had faded to white around his eyes and jowls.

I walked over to the van and the boxer jumped out of the open window and stood, barking at me. Two cars passed by – one red, one blue. I don’t think there was any significance in the coloring of the vehicles; I just happened to remember them. I tried to coax the dog to approach me so that I might grab his leash. However, in a flash, he had jumped into another car, crashed it into the side of the garage, and was running through the open garage door and into the house, an excessively long leash trailing behind him. Meanwhile the tortoise, still hidden in its shell, had turned itself to face me as I watched, in shock, a dog I could not command run with a speed I could not match, through a house I was not in. Inside, they shrieked and screamed.

I wasn’t afraid of the boxer. I was worried he would get hurt, confused by the tortoise on the plastic table, and mystified by the parked van.

I then woke up, stressed, as I often do.

© Leila Chammas, December 22, 2016.