Girlhood: An Apocalypse
I haven’t had my period in three months. It’s okay. This story doesn’t end with me pregnant. I’m not pregnant anywhere in it. I’m just thinking. Thinking heavy like always, thinking heavy like death. Thinking as a form of violence (towards myself) and thinking in a way I may one day sell as poetry (or pain). But it is not pain. It is only violence. It is not life. It is only girlhood. Like in books or movies or most of all rock songs. I’m nineteen years old.
My roommate Maine has a great name and a bad heart; we discovered that at NYU Langone last friday. Beep beep beep. Too fast. I hadn’t been to a hospital since I lived with my mother (who often lives at hospitals), and I felt wrong sitting in that chair which I must’ve looked funny dragging next to bed 34 in my dumb little skirt and coat because I (obviously) am a cyborg/monster and a monster refuses to wait for the midwife, the surgeon, her mother, interns, or the Nigerian nurse, Fidelia Chimara, who has a needle and believes in Jesus with his company of angels.Bhanu Kapil I dug through my backpack to review my company of angels: my notebook. An unwashed dildo wrapped delicately in a silk scarf. Penguin Classic Vedic Poetry: Speaking of Siva. An almost-empty pack of American Spirits. Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker. An unopened box of at-home pregnancy tests, which adds up to precariousness and I was thinking (thinking heavy, thinking like death), time is my body, and it is also others’ bodies; it could next become sentences, and the reflexive pause within the phrase.Lisa Robertson Actually I hadn’t read that yet so really I was thinking familiar things like “shit” and “who do I know that lives around here.”
Then it was the middle of the night— like the very middle, square in the middle, the bottom— in midtown and it was very quiet for a few blocks. Then, in the quasi-familiar space of a close friend’s apartment’s bathroom at four in the morning, I was squat like a whore over a stick and quiet again and praying. Actually praying. I thought that I had actually prayed before but I hadn’t until now. Real praying isn’t really words it’s goin beep beep beep and feeling things at the bottom of them. Maggie Nelson said giving birth was like touching death at the bottom of it— like at the bottom of you ‘cause that’s where the baby is or isn’t and also where death is or isn’t becoming (yet). If all goes well, the baby will make it out alive, and so will you. Nonetheless, you will have touched death along the way. You will have realized that death will do you too, without fail and without mercy. It will do you even if you don’t believe it will do you, and it will do you in its own way. There’s never been a human that it didn’t.Maggie Nelson
But has there been a cyborg. Has there been a monster. These things do not touch death because they do not touch birth. The cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense.Donna Haraway They are fictions. I have fictions. My fictions are nothingnesses. My fictions are blanknesses. Circles, not spirals. My fictions are American. My fictions are male drag. They’re me, as James Dean, or actually J.D. Salinger, or maybe JD from Heathers ‘cause then I’m kissing an also-teenaged Winona Ryder. I don’t even have an origin myth. Just places where I stood, at crosswalks, waiting for people to start moving/disappearing.Bhanu Kapil That’s what the dildo is for, so I can be male, unmarked, maybe even white or at least purple silicon. Here I thought I’d destroy my origin, or I did destroy it, by becoming the she-dandy I found in the margins of used paperbacks. What do I love? I love the elsewhere of moving clouds.Lisa Robertson What do I love? I love many elsewheres; I love letting my precociousness inhabit these elsewheres in a wild manner as if the world did always bend to me. I love myth and myth-making.
I love this girl who is shaving her chin in the bathroom mirror right now— I am my almost-drag self (an almost in the way a lipstick is almost a shotgun shell, all red and gold and phallic and fatal at close range). I myself was not beautiful. Moody, angular, both dark and pale, of bad posture,Lisa Robertson I am sitting on the tank with my feet on the bowl, my knees high and separate and tough. This girl I love is good-postured and almost-blonde, shaving very precisely in foamy ritual. She’s going to smell wonderful when I kiss her later.
Babe, I’m so queer. Should I pierce my nose?
Somewhere, one of Sadie Lee’s wonderful nose-ringed butches is staring me down from the cover of my copy of Female Masculinity. Don’t laugh. Because boys played women on the Shakespearean stage and women played boys on the nineteenth-century stage, some kind of role reversal symmetry seems to be in effect.Jack Halberstam Spell-check always changes my “effect” to “affect”. One of the things I almost am is Peter Pan. On a nineteenth century stage or just everywhere. I never want to grow up. But why would there be books in the bathroom.
It’d have to be on my right side if I pierced my nose I think. Because I’m Indian and that’s what they do in India.
Piercing the right side of the nose strengthens your womb. Do they really believe that. Do I really have a womb. I’ve never seen it. What if I asked this beautiful girl to speak the color of my organs. I cannot see them.Monique Wittig But how could she. How could she or anyone see an accident in the deep of the body, someone else’s body, emerging to gasps.Bhanu Kapil What is going on. Where is my period. I want blood. But on my terms. How do I feel this, with agency. With agency how do I achieve impossible service and far-off ends.Bhanu Kapil Sometimes when the good-girl penetrates me there is blood. Because we are both virgins forever. And virgins bleed. We bleed together like colors “bleed”. Really we are “running.”
Brides wear a chain from their nostril to their ear and it is beautiful. There are pearls and rubies. Emeralds. After a bride is a bride she is a wife. She is never a girl, even when she is eighteen. In a dark place that smells of turmeric and smoke, a bridegroom breaks the chain of beautiful pearls and emeralds and rubies so that he can stop being a bridegroom and go back to being a Man. The bride does not get to go back. Even though she is only sixteen. This is not beautiful. This is the context which delivers me the universe, spanning plausible centuries. Centuries of Brahmans. (Did you know my mother was the first one who wasn’t a child). Centuries of
implausible sacrificed dead girlhoods. (My mother whose body now lives in hospitals, like the girls’ bellies weren’t even strong enough). This is an ontology and it is evil. It is an evil ontology. It is ontologically evil. But not us. Not us girls who want to make a story about the total implausibility of girlhood.Lisa Robertson Us girls who write that. Continuance. As it is related to loss.Bhanu Kapil Not us girls who bleed and run and love inhabiting our fictions; our myths. We are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.Donna Haraway I’m not going to get married which means that I’m a bride forever. Bleeding forever, bleeding and running, blending like that photo where you can’t tell where either of our hair ends. I will wear my chain and it will never be broken. Never. Not me. (Please). (Please God).
Babe, did you know I’ve been praying a lot. Actually praying. What if I pierced my nose?
We like sharp things right up in our faces. Cool metal. That’s what we like. Babe, we’re so queer.
Shhhhvv. My good-girl slides the blade across her neck. It is beautiful. Without thinking, I am wanting. I keep still. I keep wanting. I am thinking, you eroticisize what you’re not, secretly hoping that the other person knows what you’re performing and that they’re performing too.Chris Kraus My cowboys and all the JD’s fall away a little bit. What is there behind them is centuries of awesome and terrifying.
Okay but who have you been praying to?
The sixteen-year-old girl who birthed my grandmother who birthed my mother who birthed me was called Durga. This is not an uncommon name. In the small statue on my windowsill Durga sits atop a fierce tiger and holds a different weapon in each of her eight arms. The story I like best is where she kills men. Men and their buffalo-king. This is what I know. Durga called her sons up out of the dead, then turned around three times in an oval of light, emerging as three brides— Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Parvati, In this way, light, inverting itself, was able to triple, then turn into six, which led to many ecstatic couplings for quite some time.Bhanu Kapil Durga is all the mothers which is all the couplings; she is all the motherings; all states of being; all percarities; all brides. She is me, my lover, monstrous, cyborg. She has eight arms which means maybe I do, too. She is Kathy Acker too because I am also Kathy Acker right now because I feel like it. She is the girl god, or the dog god, or the dead drunken daddy god, all the gods that protect me in my living.Eileen Myles Girl-God, grrrl god, whatever. Would it be grace to aesthetically yield to the mystic obscenity of the word “girl”? She is allegorical, her body both lost and grotesquely multiple.Lisa Robertson My Girl-God Durga is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self.Donna Haraway Which is convenient, because apparently this is the self feminists must code.Donna Haraway Are feminists always white. I don’t know but I can’t talk right now because I am turning around in an oval of light. I am inverting myself, inverting my lover, inverting anything I can invert and I am not even searching for anything in that inversion. As a poet I would call this a “turning”. It is beautiful and it is not pain. Maybe it is a kind of violence (pleasure). But it is not “real”. It is only girlhood. It is a becoming in which one never becomes, a becoming whose rule is neither evolution nor asymptote but a certain turning, a certain turning inward.Maggie Nelson Multiplicities are possibilities and they are what I love. But they are also thresholds. They are so many different images of motherhood in a medical setting, with black coffee coming from the overhead faucet in the cafe like blood in a black-and-white film.Bhanu Kapil I love black and white films; I love coffee; I love being a teenage girl and wishing I grew up in Olympia in the nineties. But where is my blood. L7 is telling me to wake up and smell the coffee or just say no to individuality.Donita Sparks But can I. I don’t want coffee anymore. I When we pretend we’re dead what are we killing. What am I killing?? Will I ever be able to escape the multiplicity of your regard?Monique Wittig Look! You are looking. What are you seeing? Do you see them? The centuries of awesome and terrifying?
Do you sometimes at earliest waking observe yourself struggling towards a pronoun? Do you fleetingly, as if from a great distance, strain to recall who it is that breathes and turns? Do you ever wish to quit the daily comedy of transforming into the I-speaker without abandoning the wilderness of sensing?Lisa Robertson I do. And this terrifies me.
In the bright morning I am back at the hospital and I know my name tag says Curtis but no, I am not her mother, I am not anybody’s mother, can’t you tell that? Can’t you see that? There is a stick covered in piss in my backpack right now that says I am not anybody’s mother and I know that is not sanitary but what is this a hospital. I know things about hospitals. Because of my mother (and I am not anybody’s). That must be hard, about your mother. Why were all the Lost Boys boys; they said “mother” but what they were seeing was a girl. All this with an eye to the moment when she will have to settle down into the ultimate void of adulthood.Tiqqun Is there a void of something else please. Where is Wendy. What is motherlessness. Wendy’s like. Your poem makes me want to call my mother. Your mother’s on her way, Maine. Maine is drawing in my notebook and asking is there going to be a poem about this?
I am asking, quietly now, what if there can only be a poem about this. Or a strange overwrought autotheoretical essay. Sitting on the floor in my ratty CalArts sweatshirt, I am writing in my notebook, “is this the only or first or best answer to the Binary Bourgeois Western Novel?” But really that is not important. Of the questions Chris Kraus asks, that is not the important one. The important one is: Is knowledge a desperate form of acceptance?,Chris Kraus and that is the question I am almost approaching when Bhanu Kapil refers to her son as her “offspring”: a glitch sprung from her body; part of metamorphosis or evolution but also, of course, with an amount of blood. I consider asking Jackie for Bhanu’s email so I can ask her if it’s true; really, there even in all the blood and pain which is not violence, that really there is no such thing as reproduction, only acts of production. No lack, only desiring machines.Maggie Nelson
My fictions are fictions. This feels hot, like a bullet, and kind of untrue. If it is true that the Young-Girl never creates anything; All in all, she only recreates herself,Tiqqun then I am not her— I am her creation. The doctor’s monster. Her recreation. Her multiplicity manifest. Her implausible futures, like her implausible girlhoods. This is what they look like:
Lie through your teeth and accept cigarettes, even if you just slide them behind your ear like James Dean. In general pretend to be tougher than your father, blanker and crazier than your mother with her particular interests and phobias.Bhanu Kapil I think this is good advice because it makes me feel like a cowboy. Maybe this is also the difference between girl and grrrl— it is screaming at the top of your lungs, I don’t want to live what you have, you have put me through,Courtney Love preferably in messy red lipstick and thigh-high socks while you are seventeen and in a town you hate. What have you taught me? Nothing. Look what you have taught me: your whole world has taught me nothing.Kathleen Hanna Maybe “nothingness”. Destroying without any After, like an apocalypse. It feels great. When I am living through this I am living through the possibility (and hope, really, desperate hope) that myth and tool mutually constitute each other.Donna Haraway That’s what the dildo is for. Obviously. (Where’s Paul Preciado when you need him). This is an apocalypse and it is exciting. It is why us teenage grrrls are so excitable: thinking, maybe on a train or in a record shop, I’ll be a feminine man whose decadent joy resists all appropriation. I’ll be ultimately only.Lisa Robertson It is not pain. It is only violence. It is not life. It is only grrrlhood. It is in our bodies, along with the liquor we steal from our fathers and the cigarettes we steal from movies that our fathers like. It is in our bodies, almost a drug. It is A kind of body poetry. The opposite of identity,Lisa Robertson almost anonymity.
The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.Donna Haraway To Hell with Eden, says me, the cyborg. I do not find recognition there. Recognition, which I crave and desire, is present in what I create because what I create is always what I have been created from: girlhood, violently. Girlhood, undulating and turning, inverting, in ovals of light, and dreaming, of course. Why would I dream of returning to dust. I dream of “returning” to nowhere. I dream of going. “Who cyborgs will be is a matter of survival.” Does she mean what they will be when they grow up? “I want to be a doctor.” “I want to write opposites.” Does she mean like that?Bhanu Kapil I dream of being ultimately only. I dream of writing (creating) opposites. I dream of beautiful ecstatic apocalypses in which I and everything which is becomes undone. Undone in both good and bad ways.Judith Butler But still, undone. And so when I ask what I ought to do or become, when I ask God to let me remain in a girlhood my mothers
sacrificed had stolen from them, when I ask for some assistance in my myth-making, when I ask you for a cigarette, I am really asking, can one prepare for one’s undoing?Maggie Nelson
I am still waiting for blood. L is for love which is blood: the gathering speed of a pulse though the person is standing very still in the space before touch there in the darkness which is real.Bhanu Kapil There is darkness which is real and I see that and I know that, I recognize that and I feel that and trust me I am terrified. But still, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.Donna Haraway What I feel is almost reverence but it is also possibility. What I feel is terror but it is not pain. It is whatever death isn’t.
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, Routledge, New York, 2004
Jack Halberstam, Female Masculinity, Duke University Press, Durham, 1998
Kathleen Hanna, Feels Blind, from Revolution Girl Style Now!, Bikini Kill Records, 1991
Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: the Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, New York, 1991
Bhanu Kapil, Incubation: a Space for Monsters, Leon Works, Providence, 2006
Chris Kraus, I Love Dick, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 1998
Courtney Love, Teenage Whore, from Pretty on the Inside, Caroline Records, 1991
Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls, Black Sparrow Press, New York, 1994
Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, 2015
Lisa Robertson, The Baudelaire Fractal, Coach House Books, Toronto, 2020
Donita Sparks (L7), Pretend We’re Dead, from Bricks are Heavy, Slash Records, 1992
Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2012
Monique Wittig, Le Corps Lesbien (The Lesbian Body), Beacon Press, Boston, 1975
Zoey Greenwald is a poet living in Brooklyn, NY. She’s interested in feminist autoficiton, queer artists, punk rock, and cyborgs. Her twitter is @zoey_greenwald.