Poetry

“You Bring Out the Emerging QTPOC (Queer Transgender Person of Color) Poet in Me,”
by Yeva Johnson

 

You Bring Out the Emerging QTPOC (Queer Transgender Person of Color) Poet in Me

……….after Sandra Cisneros’ “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me” and for my children

 

You bring out the emerging QTPOC poet in me.
The only fits in a three dimensional Venn diagram in me.
The she hasn’t taken an English class since high school,
who does she think she is, in me.
The woman-loving-woman, yes also married to a man in me.
The black woman at the synagogue whom you explain everything to,
but she’s already read it in Aramaic in me.
The some lesbians are allergic to cats in me.
You are the one who recognizes my alienation in almost any crowd.
The quadruple entendres that always seem to fall flat.
The flirtations that go nowhere because she doesn’t cross color lines.

You hear me.

You bring out the nascent chanter,
singer of praise songs in rhyme no reason in me.
The shame for lusting after that treyf woman with tattoos in me.
The caught by the Rabbi’s wife eating a salad with bacon guilty look in me.
The I’m not butch or femme, just me in me.

You know who you are.

You bring out the Motown rhythms in me.
The Salt-N-Peppa fan in me.
The fat Grrrrrl in me.
The one who loves the Humanistic Sh’ma in me.
The I don’t feel comfortable traveling to Israel unless
I’m fluent in Hebrew in me.
The I don’t feel comfortable traveling to Palestine unless
I’m fluent in Arabic in me.

Look out, I see your smile.

You bring out the opsimath in me.
The you’ll never be a musician so
just go to medical school dream deferred in me.
The some Black people speak
Standard English, some don’t in me.
The Black pink diaper baby with a Yiddish name in me.

I’m calling you now.

You bring out the Jewish lesbians are Black in me.
The Black Jews aren’t lesbians in me.
The fat women aren’t doctors in me.
The I haven’t seen another Black woman’s solo
flute recital in over 30 years in me.
The maybe no one wants to hear my anthem in me.
The I’ll never give up dreaming and hoping for a world
Where there is no big deal about me.

Smile, we can do this.

You bring out the I don’t support gays in the military,
it’s the military I don’t support in me.
The I’m wondering after 242 years
Why we only have Presidents from one gender in me?
The I’m afraid of violence in the movies
but I’ll stand up to a 6 foot 2 violent patient in me.
The I’m a doctor but a fat black woman gets
no respect as a patient in me.

The I always knew
I was different in me.

Look at me.

I am the Black Venus of Willendorf
I see her Afro every morning when I shower.

 

Copyright © 2020 by Yeva Johnson. First published in The Bellingham Review and used here with permission of the author.

Read Sandra Cisneros’s “You Bring Out the Mexican in Me,” which inspired Johnson’s poem, here.

Watch Yeva Johnson read her poem here.

 

Yeva Johnson is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, musician, and physician whose work, appearing or forthcoming in the Bellingham Review, Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color Anthology, Sinister Wisdom, Yemassee, and elsewhere, explores interlocking caste systems and possibilities for human coexistence in our biosphere. Yeva is a past Show Us Your Spines Artist-in-Residence (RADAR Productions/SF Public Library), winner of the 2020 Mostly Water Art & Poetry Splash contest, and a member-poet in QTPOC4SHO, a small and sustaining San Francisco Bay Area artists’ collective.

 

Poets’ Note

I wrote this poem as part of my performance offering as an Artist-in-Residence at the San Francisco Public Library for “Show Us Your Spines,” sponsored by RADAR Productions, a project that supports QTPOC poets, writers, and artists. My own child had been assigned Sandra Cisneros’s poem in a high school English class and thought I might enjoy it and shared it with me in the week before my performance. You Bring Out the Mexican in Me inspired me to write this poem in which I joyously fit more facets of my identities into a single piece than I had ever been able to before. You Bring Out the Emerging QTPOC (Queer Transgender Person of Color) Poet in Me, one of my favorite poems, captures some nuances and simple pleasures of one poet’s life.

 

Commentary by Amanda Moore

For a poet who comes to the page later in life, the term “emerging writer” can be inclusive and comforting, even if there is no single definition of what it means to be emergent. Located somewhere between “early” and “established,” “emerging” implies a writer with some experience and traction in the literary world—a few publications, maybe a chapbook—but also still developing in terms of voice and reach. Instead of relying on the poet’s age or traditional badges of literary success such as prizes, the term “emerging” allows poets to be any chronological age as they begin to get their work into the world and receive more recognition. It’s encouraging to think one’s poetic career can still be emergent even after aging out of recognition from, say, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, but what does it mean to emerge in other ways, to embrace other identities and ways of being even (or especially) after a life filled with various experiences?

In today’s poem by Yeva Johnson, the word “emerging” is expansive, busting through conventions, resisting binaries, and declaring an evolving sense of self that encompasses a complex life, fully lived. At the same time, it has fun with the idea of the self being somehow emergent or new, given how many identities and experiences it already possesses. The poem is essentially a list of characteristics, experiences, and feelings of the speaker, who identifies herself in the title as emerging in myriad ways: a poet, a QTPOC poet, and perhaps even QTPOC, an acronym decoded in the title to ensure all audiences are fully aware of the identities the poet claims. By itself an aural delight, the title contains strong rhythm, internal rhyme with the “t” and “c” sounds, and the homophone of QT (which one can hear as “cutie”), all communicating joy and lightness, a tone of celebration from the start.

The poem is a direct address to a “you” that feels intimately specific at times and universal at others, mining singular and collective experiences. Even though it begins in address and returns several times to highlight the agency of the “you” who acts to “bring out” complexities of the speaker’s identity, the poem focuses mostly on aspects of the “I.” The “you” often helps the speaker see herself positively, as one who “only fits in a three dimensional Venn diagram” and is a “singer of praise songs.” At other times, the “you” brings out the speaker’s insecurities, her feelings that she “hasn’t taken an English class since high school, / who does she think she is.” The speaker can feel recognized or embraced by the “you,” a sense of security that enables her to declare her identity: “I’m not butch or femme, just me in me.” At times, however, she is also misjudged or mistreated: the “black woman at the synagogue” assumed to be clueless but in fact with deep knowledge (having “already read it in Aramaic”),  or “the doctor” who, as a “fat black woman,” receives no “respect as a patient.” The tension between the positive and negative aspects of what is brought out in the speaker drives the poem.

While the “you” exerts some control over the speaker, it ultimately doesn’t have the last word. Alternating single-line stanzas throughout the poem chart the speaker’s growing power, moving from recognition (“You hear me”) through implication (“I’m calling you now”) and ultimately to imperative (“Look at me”). This final command to the audience is followed by a marvelous closing couplet narrated in the first person—“I am the Black Venus of Willendorf / I see her Afro every morning when I shower,” the speaker in these lines claiming mythic importance and a tender self-love.

Although the single-line stanzas chart an empowering narrative, the rest of the poem moves through the speaker’s experiences and identities in a nonlinear fashion, traversing high and low points—not unlike a piece of music well-rounded with crescendos and diminuendos. Sure, there is a “dream deferred,” but this speaker also demonstrates inner strength, later manifested externally in her ability to “stand up to a 6 foot 2 violent patient”; she is, moreover, a “woman-loving-woman” who is “also married to a man.” The speaker defies binary and other rigid stereotypes, offering the fact that she’s a “Salt-N-Peppa fan” in the same stanza as her declaration that she doesn’t want to travel to Israel or Palestine without first learning their languages. Such a wide field allows for a symphonic understanding, and returning to the “You bring out” structure after so many turns has the same effect here as a chorus or motif repeated in a song.

That the poem’s movement feels musical is no surprise: The poet is a flautist and often combines poetry and music in her performances. Johnson may be “emerging” as a poet, but she is already established in many other identities and practices that enrich her writing: musician, doctor, and parent, among others. One of the great things about discovering art by people who have built lives, careers, families, and other interests before (or while) turning to writing is also discovering the myriad ways their work is fed by these real-life experiences. Reading Yeva Johnson’s poem brings out the curiosity in me. I can’t wait to see what else she produces.

 

 

 

Amanda Moore‘s debut collection of poems, Requeening, was selected for the National Poetry Series and will be published by HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies including ZYZZYVA, Cream City Review, and Best New Poets, and she is the recipient of writing awards from The Writing Salon, Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Currently a Brown Handler Resident at the San Francisco Friends of the Public Library, Amanda is a high school teacher and Marin Poetry Center Board member, and she lives by the beach in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Author photo credit: Clementine Nelson.

 

 

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