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Dawn Lundy Martin
Dawn Lundy Martin
Co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation in New York, Dawn Lundy Martin was selected by Carl Phillips for the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for her debut collection A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering...
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The Letter Q: Dawn Lundy Martin

by Dawn Lundy Martin

The Letter Q (Scholastic, 2012) is a collection of letters written by queer writers to their younger selves, making imaginative journeys into their pasts, and addressing the often difficult coming-of-age experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Inspired by its strength, bravery, and heart, asked several poets to respond with their own letters to their younger selves.

Dear Young One,

You have come to me in a small sarcophagus buried in my own chest. To write to you I have to first excavate you. Dig out. Now, feels like lions screaming there. Then, the looking. To look one's own self in the face and to see that face, from before, its gentleness (seems a gemlike stone removed from sand), to see it, and then to love it. A want to protect from harm. This is the primary motivation. Protection, however, even in retrospect will not be possible. I know this.

Is looking at you, into you, like looking at the face of an other? It is and it is not. It's more a split, as if the same self can exist simultaneously in two time-geographies. A difficulty in holding these selves here, in this time, in this place. I want to talk to you about shame. I can feel your shame when I look at you and this is frightening to me now (an urgent reminder that I have something to tell you). Trauma is the ground being removed from the self. Shame, in our case, is what's left in the body. When his hand comes or the lips and legs come, the body remembers and invites, but the invitation is a familiarity only. Your body is trained in it. You know what to do there, who you are there. Feel the skin light up. Feel the magnetic pull. It is a pull that will draw you for some years after an excision—nooses around the wrists, the ankles, the neck, pulling toward. The word "seizure" comes to mind.

So when you make the transition from girl or boy to young woman there will be almost no recognition there. You will think irrationally that the body is a mutation or a punishment. What you do not know is that it will take only a few years before your body feels more like your own. No more compulsion to hide. In a hilly west coast city, you will know the bodies of other women with bodies akin to yours and, as the cliché goes, it will all feel like home. We will hold this shame tight, you and I, and pet it gently, will make it so soft and sweet, it won’t look at all like shame anymore, will morph into love. This is not our shame in the first place. So it becomes. And becoming in a kind of happening.

How to become when one is at the blunt end of a dowel? You will not ask yourself this, explicitly, but you will live the question, will feel it pressing up against your very being, growing a thick layer beneath your skin. No one will see this: the question, the dowel, and that will make you feel extremely alone. Yet, you will strip down that loneliness. You will make it naked and raw and invent something in its place. Like a body placed in a limestone coffin, the inner skin-sheath will gradually dissolve. You will live among the misfits—the offshoots, the dykes, the polyamorous, the colored girls like you, finally, and the fairies and their consorts. Eschewing convention will fuel a useful and life-saving transformation—from the known to the unknown. Here you will dance wildly. "Like some wild flower." "Everything that moves is filled with eros."

A photo: you are three or four years old; you're standing on a stoop, wearing a dress uncomfortably, and looking down away from the camera. The shutter opens, closes. Shy girl-boy. Affection for the self can be terror. I will not lie to you. This, my love, will take some real work. Do you hear that voice? That singing? It is me whispering some poems into your ear. Or is it our mother? Unsure. At any rate, the poems come early and persistently. They come even though it's unclear why or from where or who cares. These poems, at some point, will be more true than our face. Then, at some other point, we will integrate the poems and the face, and the only fear will be looking back into the past. This, we will have to address together.

Today, we are running along the beach on the East End of Long Island. Everywhere else in the country it's swelteringly hot. It's hot here too, but for the ocean breeze. Our head is turned up toward the sky. "How will I survive," you ask. You will survive, I say, because you have always been a daydreamer. And to daydream is to imagine another possibility. You have always been bright, gorgeous, and shimmering with hope, and you laugh every day. Here you are in spite of everything, exploding with love.



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