pwb

the way people talk about you to me is something treasured

a presumed stranger to your scandalous bed post

looking more like hungry tomcats scratching board

than somewhere to dream

they tell me your secrets

some that would hurt you

intended to hurt you

but they only cut me

they tell me your secrets

that I so desperately want to cut you with

but that’ll just lead to more scandals, more secrets

and what’s the fun in that?

so I bottle them up like an old sand castle I made at a town fair

the ones with layering colors and obnoxious glass shapes

but the sand is spilling out and turning into a terrible shade of brown

it’s uncanny how so it reminds me of your eyes

ella, darling

I miss your mom, I miss your dog

I guess it’s your mom’s dog, isn’t it?

I miss the way your breath smells like dog shit

I don’t really miss it, but I miss hating it

I miss fighting with you about carrying mints

such a simple fix but you’d never admit

I miss sweating in your bedroom on hot summer nights

I miss sticking together and peeling apart

our bodies were made for each other

like two puzzle pieces waiting to mesh into one

I miss drinking shitty beer that I actually really still hate

I can’t drink PBR without thinking of you

I hope you can’t drink something expensive and bottled without thinking of me, too

I miss combing your hair in the shower

you’re such a little sensitive scalp

bitching and moaning about pulling your knots

but you wouldn’t flinch to rip my hair right from the root

its almost your birthday

I know you can’t see me, but I’ve been searching for you

I scan the streets the seas the subways

always for you

My computer remembers your passwords and taunts me with your happiness

I’m just so curious, baby, you’ve always know that

I get a little tickle in my belly I can’t stop giggling

Maybe I’m a masochist for loving you

Oh god, it hurts when I think of you

It starts in my stomach

A rotten peach pit of loneliness

Craving your once sweet juice and fleshy skin

It travels up to my elbows

They get heavy and lock up against my growing sides

I’ve been eating too much

I’m still cooking for two

It crawls up my esophagus tickling like a thousand legger

You know the ones you used to squish for me when they scuttled around the tile

But a big fat roach pries my jaw open

And it’s too big for you to kill

There’s a big sneeze trapped in my brain

A plethora of never sent “I miss you baby” 3am text messages

And jokes I wanted to tell you about beluga whales

One day I’ll look at the light and let it explode

But only when you’re in my bed and

Old friends still ask how we’re doing

I can’t bear to tell them we’re not we

That I’m just me

You’re not just you, but with someone new

I’d rather lie than cry

Oh god, it hurts when I think of you

But I can’t think straight without you

And tell me baby

Just indulge me

Don’t you miss me too?

It’s almost your birthday

But will she sing to you?

the talk

I don’t remember exactly how my mother and I decided to have “the talk,” but I certainly remember repeating it to hapless Darby Kendall* the very next day. We were at our friend Kathleen McDonald’s* birthday party, which happened to fall on New Years Eve. Everyone was giddy and giggly from apple cider and silly string, and I blurted out, “Did you know that your vagina will bleed?” to Darby on the staircase. I think her mother was sitting in the kitchen directly behind us, and turned just as red as her daughter did.

I remember watching the cartoon Braceface on one of those Saturday morning cartoon programs. We didn’t have cable growing up. In one episode, the main character, Sharon, got her period. I was thoroughly confused: What the heck is a period, other than a piece of punctuation? And what the heck is that weird, white sponge she’s holding? Why did it expand in the water? Why is she in pain? Why are her dad and brother laughing? Nothing made sense. This was one of the last times I was ever truly baffled.

I asked my mother what a period was, and she had a look on her face that resembled the one she made when I found out Santa wasn’t real. “What do you mean? It’s just a period. Like a comma,” she said. I knew she was lying. It drove me crazy that she wouldn’t just tell me what it was. I was probably too young. Hell, I was watching cartoons on ABC.

There was another incident, either before or after Braceface. I was at my weekly gymnastics class, and one of the other gymnasts kept talking about “touching herself” while we did our warm-ups on the low beam. I was the youngest in the class, and just pretended I knew what she was talking about. I got home and uncomfortably asked my mother what “touching herself” meant; I knew it had to be something bad if I didn’t know what it was. I don’t remember what she ended up telling me, but I do know that if I ever heard my mother say the word “masturbation” I would never, ever forget it.

Shortly after this incident, my mother told my sister and I everything. We had twin beds in our room, and while tucking us in for the night she spilled. How grown up kisses are different than mommy kisses. How hair grows on where you pee. How daddy’s parts go inside mommies and make babies. We were horrified. We were confused. We felt dirty. Maybe it’s because I pushed her to tell me something I was too young for. Maybe it’s because we were Catholic. Either way, sex was a shameful, embarrassing, and taboo topic to never be discussed again.

When I found out Santa Claus wasn’t real, I told my best friend, Feng Lin Lu, the next day at school. She was a foreign student from China, and didn’t understand much English. Let alone a blubbering third grader whose entire life felt like a lie. When I found out what sex was, I told the most naïve person possible. I needed a reaction, a response.

 

 

names changed to protect the innocent. 

interview with a burlesque dancer

Nestled between a CVS Pharmacy and a parking garage stand resilient, liquid black doors. Gold Coast tourists and tenants alike obliviously overlook the gateways to an era nearly forgotten by Chicago; it doesn’t help that this lounge is entitled Untitled. Whiskey vaults and thick leather armchairs occupy the elite and the informed. Complementary Marlboro 27s entice the ladies, planted in between perfume and hairbrushes in the dimly lit restrooms.

Clad in pink panties and her boyfriend’s black tee, Amanda Gonzalez* sits at the center table in her Edgewater home, surrounded by glitter, beads and lumps of fabric designing her latest costume. This 28-year-old Los Angeles native discusses the confidence-boosting, depression-combating, female-empowering art that distinguishes her uniquely as Siobast: Burlesque.

Tell me about burlesque.
Burlesque is about the art of teasing. It’s stripping, but it’s not just stripping. Not that stripping is wrong or anything like that, I’m all for it. Burlesque is about teasing and having fun. I’m all about empowering human beings. In burlesque, girls can feel like they are beautiful and empowered. For me, that’s how it started. I would see girls like Dita Martini and think, ‘Oh my god she’s so curvy! And beautiful! And sexy! And fun! And she’s having a blast! I want to do that!’ But also project that for other women who feel like they can’t be models. It’s an artistic outlet and a way to express myself. I try to make other people also feel like they can do this; that this is for everyone, not just one specific body type. It’s not about sex. It’s about whoever puts themselves out there and says, ‘I want to do burlesque.’

What sparked your interest?
Burlesque is something that seemed attractive to me from the very first time I saw it. The feathers. The glitter. The attitude. The teasing. For someone that fluctuates in weight so much and has so many issues with body image and the way I feel about myself, it seemed like a ring to my finger. It just fit perfect. I can get all of the attention I want on stage and then I don’t have to act all crazy in real life. I really like that I can take my clothes off, because that’s just fun. Period.

Do you have a day job, so to speak?
I am a server in a restaurant downtown. It’s definitely just a pays the bills type of job, but I do get inspiration because I hear awesome music, and think, ‘Oh! I should do a classical musical piece to this!’ It’s white table clothes and velvet booths. It’s a great place and I love it, but it’s no Paris Club.

Do you make money dancing, or is it more of a hobby?
I feel like I’m getting paid to party. I don’t make any money to pay the bills, but I make money to be out that night and do what I want, and a little extra for something else. It’s really money sucking because there’s always another costume and another act and another idea.

It sounds pretty addicting.
Oh it is. It’s extremely addicting, in a great way. The artistic outlet aspect is what’s the most compensating from it. It’s almost even a way to deal with depression. I was depressed for a really long time. It’s kind of saddening, but I didn’t want to be here, I hated this place. This life place? It’s awful. People hate each other and treat each other like crap. I’m sitting here by myself playing Farmville because everyone sucks and I don’t like anyone and they don’t like me and it’s so stupid. Then I found this and everything made sense. It’s almost like therapy, making and creating. I’m sure people find this in other outlets. Firefighters, I’m sure, feel empowered. Doctors feel, you know, they’re doing awesome things. But for those of us who don’t have the education, the funds, or downright the brains to do something of that level, there’s little outlets you can find. This is it for me. This is what I love to do. Maybe that will change but for now, this is it.

Are there any public misconceptions about burlesque?
Absolutely. I get a lot of the eye rolling, ‘Oh… you’re a stripper…” Well first off being a stripper isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Not that I’m not, but burlesque is not just stripping. All that sexism and shit really upsets me. If you’re a burlesque dancer, you must be a party girl, that’s a huge misconception. A lot of these women are serious women and have serious jobs. They have their own families and do it because they like it, not because they want to party all the time or be drunk all the time. I personally am. A lot of my peers are not. After the show they put on their jeans, they go home and in the morning they go to the office.

Have you ever dealt with uncomfortable situations?
Personally, it hasn’t happened. The venues I have worked for have been really great about things like that. It’s definitely starting to be addressed, which is a great thing… But which shouldn’t really be addressed in the burlesque scene, it should be addressed in any environment you’re in. Don’t fucking touch someone unless they told you to, you know?

How did you come up with your stage name?
I’m an animal freak. I love my cat and felines have been a big part of my life. I love all animals, but felines are what I’m particularly about. And you know, Kat Von D, there’s a lot of kitties and cats. I didn’t want to be just another cat. Bast is an Egyptian goddess portrayed as a black cat, a lot of times with dark eyes. Which is pretty awesome because I have black hair and dark eyes. If I were a feline, I would be a black jaguar.

*Name changed to protect identity.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

The First Time I Realized I Was White

When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up and become a geisha. They were beautiful and graceful and I thought they were just more prestigious ballerinas. As I grew older, I knew I couldn’t really become a geisha, because I wasn’t apart of that culture. I didn’t realize until I was twelve, however, that I was white, and I would always be white, no matter how much I didn’t want to be.

I grew up in South New Jersey and was very close to Camden and Philadelphia, two cities that are predominantly African American, according to the U.S. Census Data of 2010. My classmates, neighbors, friends and family members were people of color, and it was never discussed nor indicative of the way we treated one another. It was just an aspect of life that is out of our control, so why let it control us.

I’ve always been attracted to other cultures. In third grade, my school got a grant from the government to teach us Mandarin. We had three foreign exchange students, sisters from China who spoke very little English. I absolutely adored them. I took the sisters under my wing. We would play in silence; they were quite shy and I was horrible at the language. We watched classic American movies like Cinderella and jumped on my trampoline together. Sometimes we would do homework at their parent’s restaurant, and I would watch the chefs cook and curse and once we ate a fish with its head still attached. I knew we were different, but I didn’t know how or why.

Whenever there was a new student in my school district, I always found myself inviting them to sit with me at lunch. My biggest nightmare was getting to the cafeteria, tray in hand, with nowhere to go. When I was in 6th grade, I invited Justice to join my friends and I.

It’s hard to remember the details, but I do know this: I did not think Justice was any different than I. We became fast friends, and eventually sat with our desks parallel.

“You’re lucky,” Justice said to me one afternoon. Her eyes were scanning my outfit, which was probably something bright and new from Limited Too.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Because you’re white.”

Her eyes locked with mine and I felt my stomach turn, attempting to process this information. I had never heard anything like this before in my life. Not on television, not in books, and definitely not aloud. It was one of the rare moments in time where I was truly baffled; there was no previous experience or knowledge to give me any indication of what this statement meant.

“What?” I said. It was all that I could muster.

“I cry myself to sleep every night because I’m not.”

I wish that I had said something, anything, to let her know that it pained me to know that she wasn’t happy with whom she was. I don’t think I said anything.

I had spent such a large portion of my childhood wishing to be someone else. Through out the years I had wanted to be Hispanic, African American, Asian, and Arabic. I read viciously about these different cultures and lifestyles and desperately wanted to be apart of them. As a little girl, I genuinely thought I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t get it; I didn’t know what race and ethnicity was and that you couldn’t just decide one day to be Japanese and that’s that. When Justice told me I was lucky for being white, it made my brain hurt trying to understand what that meant.

I was ashamed. Horrified that my ancestors treated a group of people who didn’t look exactly like they did as their cargo. I was so ashamed to be apart of this race and so outrageously mortified that my new friend, Justice, knew more about it than I did, and felt bad about herself. If anyone should have felt bad, it should’ve been me! I was apart of the reason she felt bad! The reason she wasn’t granted the same privileges as I! I felt sick. I threw up my pretzels from lunch in the bathroom and went home later that day.

Justice and I lost touch in high school. She found a group of girls who understood her better than I ever could. The Chinese sisters moved to a different school district and we also lost touch. But every time I go to their restaurant, their mother gives us a few extra fortune cookies.

twenty one guns

Today is my 21st birthday. To be fair, it’s our 21st birthday. To be technical, my twin sister and I don’t turn 21 for another hour; we were caesarean sectioned out (for lack of a better phrase) somewhere between 12:30 and 12:40pm. I’m the older twin.

My mother told me that I would just not come out of her. “You were sleeping in there and depriving Alyssa of oxygen,” she likes to joke. About the sleeping, not the depriving, that is. I was, without a doubt, suffocating her. I loved to sleep as a baby. I was a nurse-favorite in the hospital because all I wanted to do was sleep. Twenty-one years later, it’s still all I want to do.

She says the doctors tried to suction me out of her stomach before they cut her open. The vacuums and forceps did nothing but give me a subtly strange-shaped head and a Mohawk for my very first photograph. I think that’s pretty badass.

When my sister and I were younger and my parents told us our birth-story, my mother loved to be hyperbolic. She still does. The doctors had to cut her open and take every organ out in order to find the two babies trapped in her belly, she would say. I used to picture her lungs and kidneys on the surgeon’s table while they cut our umbilical cords.

When I was born, my right cheek was dented with the imprint of Alyssa’s foot. We were squished in there. I ended up having a cross bite and wearing an expander in middle school and a retainer for years to follow. One day I stepped on my retainer and smashed without a second thought or shred of regret.

My feet also suffered in utero. I walked on my tiptoes from having excessively tight Achilles tendons. My sister used to say I was autistic. My dad used to say I was a warrior. When other kids asked me why I walked funny, I would say I was a ballerina in the womb. I went to therapy for a little bit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but we stopped going. I can’t remember why. I still walk on my tiptoes when I’m stressed out.

I had to go under a “special light,” my father used to tell me. The kind of light babies with jaundice hang out under before they’re allowed to go home. He said I didn’t have jaundice, but I had the special light. I used to think that this light is the reason why I’m so pale. My high school sophomore year science class professor, who was bald and kind and threatened to rip up my biology final when I wouldn’t stop giggling, once clarified that my paleness was not from the special light, but my genetics. If anything, he said, the special light made my skin darker.

My mother attended community college while my sister and I were still babies. She studied biology, too. We were flipping through her textbook once when we came across conjoined twin sisters. Two heads, one body. We were horrified. They had cliché 90s hair with feathered fluffy bangs. One wanted to be a pilot. The other, a doctor.

Every single year on March 18th all I can think about is my mother giving birth. Graphically. I’m not sure what that says about my disposition, but I know it’s got to mean something.