In this week’s edition of Feature Friday, we are pleased to bring you an excerpt from Gwen Benaway’s third collection of poetry, Holy Wild. A confessional poet, Benaway narrates her sexual and romantic intimacies with partners as well as her work to navigate the daily burden of transphobia and violence. She examines the intersections of Indigenous and trans experience through autobiographical poems and continues to speak to the legacy of abuse, violence, and colonial erasure that defines Canada. Holy Wild is not an easy book, as Benaway refuses to give any simple answers, but it is a profoundly vibrant and beautiful work filled with a transcendent grace.
There has been much critical acclaim for Holy Wild since its initial release, with 49th Shelf recently listing it as one of their most anticipated poetry collections for Fall 2018. Award-winning author Katherena Vermette writes “this book is filled with love — stunning, beautiful, complicated love — love of language, love of bodies, love of love, the hard-won love of self, and more, so much more.” Billy-Ray Belcourt, author of This Wound is a World, adds “'[T]he first day of forever’ is forever, is recursive, is softness, is an intimate life outside of the wrath of men who spoil the categories we install hope in, but, above all else, it is the emotional infrastructure for something like freedom.”
We hope you enjoy this excerpt from Holy Wild. Happy reading!
From Holy Wild:
if I had words for this change, they would be solitary lights
in a spring night by the pond,
small, caught in frost and fog
in the early hours of predawn,
the time my kookum used to say
was when the dead
I would line up the words like waterlogged trees
along the sunken bank, roots slipping into places
my eyes can’t see, heart of an underwater forest
growing in the absence
what sleeps in language is what sleeps in me,
possibilities and consequences
for which the surface has no hope,
an unwritten alphabet of shadows
I learn in secret, undercover from a hormonal moon
in a dark tongue.
what I mean is everything is
as far away as time,
what I mean is I don’t recognize myself,
an unspoken sound in a damp mouth
in a snake tunnel along the shoreline of a life
I can’t describe.
what I mean is I don’t mean anything more or less
than a slow tumble into waters
uncharted by anyone I know,
what I mean is a transition is as simple as pulling bark
from a tree without stripping
what keeps it alive.
my gookum said only
the wild ones are holy.
bush in northern Michigan
is the ancestral field of my body,
a girl who tastes of summer ragweed
in the high heat of noon.
my body grows by night in secret,
wet with yearling dew.
breasts and hips spread
like bushfires in a dry season,
skin pale as moonlight at dawn,
soft as a muskrat’s pelt skinned in March.
my mouth is a damselfly’s wings,
iridescent breath on your sex.
my hips hold a cock the colour
of crushed blueberries, bittersweet purple.
my breasts dart from your hands
like minnows, chase deeper water.
my gookum said a woman moves
like the sway of cattails in a June wind.
I lean to you like an otter dives, slick
and glistening against your chest.
underneath the cedar of my thighs,
past the birch tree of my spine
is an opening, a rattlesnake den,
when you press your body in me,
the sound I make is a blackbird’s cry.
here is the wild heart of me,
rush of heat on your fullness,
this is the holy wild she made me.
a woman’s sex is as sacred as her land,
my ancestors learned from creation,
a woman is as holy wild as
her body’s made to be.
this is a trans poem. it is two poems in one body but truth lives in
the centre. it does not need surgery to fix it. its preferred pronoun is a
multitude. it wants to be fucked but sometimes it wants to fuck you.
I am tired of explaining the fire.
it burns because it must.
each flame is a small destiny
igniting in the heat of our bodies.
this is what you touched,
what seared us in the dark of my bedroom.
twin flames, reaching out.
your hands squeezing embers, sparking.
now we’re immolated,
now we have scars that can’t fade.
graft new skin to the raised edges.
I will not burn for you again.
what we brought is not what we asked for.
someday I will forgive you in a forest,
release the unanswered words.
someday you will forgive me under a mountain,
the wounded echoes.
one day we will walk over coals,
we will call lightning,
learn to pray inside love’s furnace
without being consumed,
but I can only be this sudden torch.
you see me now or you never will.
somewhere on your palm, a streak of me
glimmers underneath calluses.
I brand you as holy.
few parts of me are left unchanged
but this light remains:
wildfire, brushblaze, starburnt,
this girl is a phoenix.
you can’t touch me without burning.
Order your copy of Holy Wild here.
Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published two collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage. A Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. She has received many distinctions and awards, including the Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Her poetry and essays have been published in national publications and anthologies, including The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s Magazine, CBC Arts, and many others. She was born in Wingham, Ontario and currently resides in Toronto, Ontario.