From “This Is Not Skin”
by Nathan Roberts
There are 1811 miles between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon: the famous Oregon Trail. We did it backwards. And we did it out of focus—Portland to St. Louis—our route slightly blurred, like a movie you’ve been watching too long before realizing it’s the projectionist’s fault and not the filmmaker’s; the storyline seems permanently marred by the fact that the characters never quite looked clear. That’s Audrey and me. She was like a drug I didn’t always enjoy, to which I’d nevertheless grown addicted. A recurring theme in my life, but more on that later.
Even the drag queens seemed to see that I was making some sort of mistake. The day we left, they fluttered around me like winged creatures, whispering warnings in my ear. My boss, Chocolate Jones—a black post-op transsexual who passed so believably as a biological woman that she once held down a day job in the children’s section of a department store—took me by the wrist and pulled me close. “You have to be careful of that child, Pure One,” Chocolate said. “She’s got itches she don’t know how to scratch yet.” Chocolate called me Pure One because, for the two years I’d tended at her bar, I was celibate. The other bartenders, the cocktail waiters in cut-off jeans and designer tanktops, the performers who looked stunning in drag and the ones who looked desperate: all of them spent nights tricking for sex and change, while I wore long-sleeved thermals and construction worker pants and avoided human contact like a boy who was allergic to his own skin. Chocolate held onto my wrist. The U-Haul was only a few feet away from us, daylight exposing its small dents, the scratches on the airbrushed mural of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Chocolate knew how unpleasant it was for me to feel her hand around my arm; she thought she was doing me a favor by pulling me physically into her world.
Several yards away Audrey stood surrounded by a small crowd of female performers, women with slick pompadours, dark ties and huge dildos stuffed down their trousers. At night all cats are gray, sure, but in the sun you can see not only their colors, but the startled expressions of their faces as they slink away in a sort of instinctive panic. Audrey was more girlish than her drag-king buddies; there was a gracefulness in the way she put her hip forward while she stood, a coquettishness conveyed by the bend in her wrist when she let one of them light her cigarette, a stylishness to her clothes, despite the fact that they were covered in paint. I watched Audrey try to laugh mannishly. The girls loved her, swooned over her jokes and her paintings. “Why do you have to leave?” they must’ve been asking her. “I’m going to graduate school,” Audrey would have said, not sure whether to punch someone’s arm or kiss a cheek. She’d just finished her joint BA/BFA with Reed College and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, a five-year program which Audrey, the little genius, managed to complete in only six years. Audrey had become a friend out of default soon after I moved back to Portland: she was a regular at LaBar, and she went to college with my housemates. Her studio was near the cabaret, and she used to come in after midnight, splattered from the thick self-portraits she painted on glass panes and mirrors bought at second-hand stores. She never went home with any of the women—not as far as I knew—always pretended to be otherwise engaged.
From “Scenes from the Next Life”
by Albert Goldbarth
At other times, an unwrapped mummy held
a surprise: parts of animal skeletons,
which were mingled with the human remains.
This was the way I served the Pharaoh, God of the Two Lands,
this was how I provided the God a service for all of my days
in his protection: I was keeper of one of the houses
where the soldiers and the overseers would come for their beer
at the end of a shift, when the Boat of the Sun descended
into the nether part of its journey. As they labored
in the hard press of the light, I stayed inside, and cared
for the rough clay cups and the customary onions.
As they broke themselves, and healed, and toughened,
laboring with rock, with war, with the chase, I grew
increasingly soft: my belly, like a ball of paste, could take
a seal-imprint. I was proud of this, I added to it
with lotions, I was a lotus in dew. And then I died,
and awoke in this skin you could thump on like a casket.
This is how much time is between us: you
believe in a flexible, self-willed destiny. Yes, and whenever
the animal rises up in you, it’s only in a dream, and not
as a blood tie, not as your deity finally
taking you into its own beast fist. For me.... How,
you may ask, did I afford my luxurious lotions
—and the pendant-eyes of lapis with which I purchased love
from the temple girls? It was easy: I watered the beer.
I watched for customers who dozed, I filched their pouches,
or better, I had the girls do it. And over the days,
the many days, what you would call my heart became
a tooth; my heart became a chill, acidic hunger;
a belly; a jar of sour green need; a stone of a heart.
And after I died, they gave me the breast of the crocodile.
From William Dunlap: Portfolio
Rembrant and Titus — Father & Son
11 x 30 x 20 inches
Habitat/House Place/Home Front
95 x 116 x 28 inches