Pub. Date:
Wesleyan University Press
Trans / Edition 1

Trans / Edition 1

by Hilda RazHilda Raz


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Winner of the Nebraska Center for the Book's Nebraska Book Award for poetry (2002)

This elegant and moving collection grew out of Hilda Raz's experience with her son's journey to a transgender identity. Born Sarah, now Aaron, Raz's child has had a profound impact on her understanding of what it means to be a family, to be whole, and to know oneself. The collection moves between past and present, allowing Raz to reflect on her own childhood, and on her experience with breast cancer to find ways to connect with Aaron. The journey takes us from intimacy to strangeness and back again, from denial to humor to grief and rage, but always laced with love and acceptance.

"Trans" means across, through, over, to or on the other side, and beyond. The book documents some major transformations of body, self, society and spirit that art requires and life allows. The poems themselves are accessible and finely wrought. They are equally testaments to Raz's insistence on making an order out of chaos, of finding ways to create and understand and eventually accept new definitions of self and family. The physical and sensuous language of Raz's poems, and their humanity, keep them intimately bound to the world and to the senses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819565044
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 09/01/2001
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 108
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)

About the Author

Hilda Raz is a poet, critic and Professor of English at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where she is also Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal, Prairie Schooner. She is author of Divine Honors (Wesleyan, 1997) and editor of Living on the Margins: Women Writers on Breast Cancer (1999), The Best of Prairie Schooner: Personal Essays, with Kate Flaherty (2000), and The Best of Prairie Schooner: Poetry and Fiction (2001).

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Today I'd like to write about epistemology or quarks, the habits of the leech — so useful in medical treatment, a horror in the pond — the growth and development of the precious embryo, attended, monitored until the radiance and blood of birth, the crash of hardwood cultivated for lumber, delight as the oak falls through undergrowth, the whine of the saw, the layers peeling off into fans, falling through their own fragrance to muslin pallets, dust in the chilly air raising a grit halo — or the burble coffee falls from into the cup as you pour a refill — all paid for, earned, the morning deserved, the back seat of the car piled with book bags, their bright canvas a rainbow of good work done, evening hours invested, the lucky deposit on cabins in the Maine woods, moose, ponds, gravel paths and in the near distance the salt, the crash of an ocean contained by its verge of rock.

So consider the weight of the child in his mother's arms, the reds and yellows of the photos, the leisurely flow of language, no compression, nothing packed or forced, no attempt to move in, no microcosm/macrocosm, no abstractions tied into the concrete, no natural paths sealed over to retain or meander, no wretched friends to accompany on their final walks.

Consider the tick, then, veinless, says the biologist in the deep voice of the woman he was, useful as a figure for survival, researchers crush them in vises under tons of pressure, in sealed hermetic chambers devoid of air, pumped free of all essentials — and the tick scurries out, alive, cheerful, the size of agrape.

We all shudder, down to the last woman at this table of learning, old friends all, colleagues.

What to make of our profiles: age, religious preference, marital history, hobbies, our experience with Hale-Bopp, did we see the comet at all, note its tail as ... what?

    What Do You Want?

Only when I write do I feel well. Then I forget all of life's vexations, all its sufferings, then I am wrapped in thought and am happy.

Kierkegaard's journal, 1847

Well, to be honest, a lace blanket, holes fabricated as patter, light through tapping out hello and a window wide enough to hold it all up. A filigree shirt opaque at navel and breast. A rosewood trivet of openwork made on the lathe to support a column, to support us. Oh, silly configurations, a pile of light.

The smell of cold air, your skin as you crawl in the pull of the tooth leaving its socket your cheek in my palm our knees firm in their tough ligaments click of rotating ankle, toes sucking mud boots and woolen socks hard from the wash. Your birth.

The end of it.

Drought: Teaching, Benedict, Nebraska

Merce says, it don't do to get too attached to any of 'em, her grandson for example, he's four — you might lose them.

In 1972 she come home from town, some fool party or other, to find her husband lying on the floor under the kitchen table. You can't hide from me, she said, I can see your feet. But he didn't move.

Nothing worse than that except the tornado come right after, her sisters driving out of town after dropping her off on the porch, their car stuck, must have been a swirl in the middle of that wind, the vacuum, that kept them stock-still though the tires rolled, she could see it, until they drove loose inches only farther south, and got away. Meantime she called Mama two houses down.

When the neighbor seen Ma running in the road, she come too. Then the kids from the farm, and Judy from York, her girl just back from the hospital with tonsils, wrapped up in a quilt (like the doctor said). We all went into the storm cellar and Juddy, my oldest, insisted on pushing up the door just as the funnel passed so his boys could see it go — David still on the kitchen floor, they wouldn't let me touch him before the doctor — and all of us there for half an hour till it passed, the sheriff's men stationed one at each corner of the section to watch for the ambulance.

Later on the porch with the family around, all afternoon I leaned over the railing and heaved and gagged — just nerves, was all it was. I hope I don't have to go through that again, but that's what a life's for, I guess, they say the Lord don't put more on a soul than she can bear.

Merce fills my cup with good Swede coffee, starts the breakfast dishes. She's eighty and I'm just up from an operation, come from Lincoln to teach my first poetry writing class this spring. The gray sky promises rain and believe me, we need it. Drink up, she says. And I do.


says Mom, that's tough. My list of near escapes, excuses for late homework, curfews, periods. Really, Mom, I say, I can't. Tough luck. Tough turkey. I do it, wash the car, run to the store, shine my shoes, finish my math, finish my Latin — ad astra per aspera — brush my teeth. Tough it out, the bad back, the alterations, the droops and tucks, the altercations, war, the political party, mayhem, tough titty, tough luck, tough chance. Too bad.

The tough steak breaks down in a marinade of vinegar and spices the muscles give way, acid a broth of change, flavor. Ah, but under teeth delicious resistance.

Melts in the mouth says Aunt Anne grinning at us, three nieces in lawn dresses eating creme puffs in a hot New York deli.

Names My Mother Knew

Hinda for Hilda: her mother and me, and also the cousin with freckles, and the red-haired pixie we visited by boat the summer her mother, Vivian, was pregnant with Peter.

Skeezix, her name for my embryonic brother, awash and safe in her tough interior; then Jimmy, the toddler; James, the professor, and graveside, his full measure, Barton James, ash, buried again, perfectly safe.

Aaron, her daddy, our Papa; and Frank, from childhood her beloved; her sisters Anne, Jane, Phyllis, and the Dolly she was; David, her brother.

The nicknames she called us: Shepsalie, little sheep, for me and the habit before sleep of the catalogue of the loved ones called to God's attention.

Rosetta, who helped her clean Harvard Street; George, who set the screens, washed windows, scared us with his false teeth. Dr. Wollans, who diagnosed mumps; Dr. Kerchel, who straightened teeth; Mr. Thumb who lived in my mouth. She whispered his name before she pulled him out.

Excerpted from Trans by Hilda Raz. Copyright © 2001 by Hilda Raz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You

By Juliana Spahr

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2001 Juliana Spahr. All rights reserved.

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