BLOODMUCK Is My Creation Myth

BLOODMUCK, by Linette Reeman. The Atlas Review, 2018. Poetry, 37 pp.

[Content warning: rape, police, addiction, blood, reclaimed slurs, self-harm]

Linette Reeman doesn’t mince words. Every poem in their chapbook BLOODMUCK has bite. Reeman tears apart appearances, in an attempt to break out of what feels like a suffusive and inevitable cycle of trauma. Self-incisive and direct, BLOODMUCK hunts for an origin story for the pain, whether that’s genes or schooling or biblical creation myths.

A prelude line “so what are you? an etymology” suggestively points a path towards Reeman’s methods: pulling apart layers, rewinding to trace the original wound. Wound up so tight, unraveling requires unlearning. A bodily miseducation by dislocation, by necessity extracurricular since what good will a classroom do?

For minorities, the academic industrial complex can be a site of misrecognition. In one such scene, Reeman listens impatiently to an inane classroom debate of the gender of snake in the Garden of Eden. In another poem, a teacher admonishes Reeman for scheduling gender reassignment surgery (the teacher disturbingly calls this surgery “elective”) during finals period. Since academia fails them — in fact suspends them — Reeman must turn to writing instead for self-knowledge. The poetry is a painful birthing in reverse, but it’s a way out of the writhing: “every word dragging research in reverse.”

Following suit, three scenes in reverse:

3. “transgender people were in the garden too”

“AFTER MY HISTORY CLASS DEBATES WHETHER THE SNAKE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN IS MALE OR FEMALE” revises the bible’s binary origin story to make space for the possibility that “transgender people were in the garden too.” Outside the terms of the debate (you can sense Reeman’s dripping impatience with the stifled but venomous discourse), Reeman imagines the snake as “a trans faggot.”

Reeman uncoils received “facts” to postulate Eden as an origin wound site, with still-felt ramifications for themself and their friends. “known fact: my friends call themselves ugly and i / unlearn my own language.” To unlearn this self-hatred, Reeman must start over from the beginning, rewriting a new series of foundational propositions.

The counterfactual “maybe” makes room for the boy-parts of Eve, for the skeleton’s shed skin. This second image prefigures a sensual image later in the book: Reeman and their girlfriend “gulped each other until her roommates / banged on the bathroom door, begged us / to unsheath somewhere else — wincing / her cock towards my mouth, she asked / my body to answer hers in a language / we invent each time we scramble / out of our old skins.” Shedding, no longer sin, is reclaimed as self-invention.

(While we are talking creation myths, I cannot resist gleefully quoting a gem from another poem: “all the creation myths are true the cops / have been garbage since the beginning.” Fuck the copmonsters.)

2. “Pedigree of alcoholism in the author’s family”

In which Reeman combs through an etiology of what’s brought them here. Prison. Alcoholism. Genes. A history of “feebleminded.” Family chains.

In an interview: “As a historian, centering historical narratives in my work seemed really natural and obvious to me. My research process for historical poems essentially begins when I find a narrative within history that I strongly identify with.” By reckoning with medical records, etymological roots, and family folklore in parallel, Reeman works on and against the frame of history through the gears of identification.

The strikethroughs are compelling here. Coverups like wounds cut out, literally knifed out. Knives are an obsession, making regular appearances throughout the chapbook. In addition, formal elements like strikethroughs and virgules mimetically/graphically render “the interstate knife-wounding” on the page. Origin stories can make violent claims on us.

1. “I, Too”

Previously published in Anomaly 26, “I, Too” represents a reparative turn in the chapbook. In this poem, Reeman does the difficult of reckoning not only their victimhood but also their own complicity in a cycle of violence.

Addressing abuse within queer culture, Reeman describes a reflexive chain of broken lovers breaking each other. “o, god of first-dates and subsequent road-trips, please stop letting me be broken by people that have also been broken by people like me.” Cut to the origin of the wound: by the same hand we break and are broken.

But then Reeman’s supplication breaks out of the stronghold of broken people breaking other people by negating the negation, movingly imagining the illumination of a queer world not yet here:

“ o, god of fast music and neck muscles, show me a queer intimacy that does not end in a dawn that dreads the bruises it will expose. give me a community that does not sing in octaves of pungent knives.”

BLOODMUCK is a creation myth for the rest of us, the trans and queer outsiders who have to make our own worlds. We’ll hold Reeman closer than the bible.