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About this Poem 

"The poems I have selected for this feature are two related passages from the book-length poem obedience by kari edwards, who was one of the first visible trans women poets in the US. When I heard edwards read these passages at a reading in Brooklyn in late 2005, I was listening to them as an out but pretransition young person having trouble imagining the (seemingly unthinkable at the time) possibility of a life as a trans woman who could also be a poet. kari held space for that possibility in the poetry scene and as a presence to be reckoned with in the larger literary world. I remember she held the stage with a powerful presence, and she read these passages like lightning, pure bombarding waves of sound, as if on the edge of thought almost too fast for us to keep track of what was happening in them, with a momentum and speed of attack to each phrase that transmuted exasperation and sadness into a kind of philosophical, epistemological prayer dancing on the head of a pin, yet leavened with a little mischievous humor. obedience, the book-length project these passages come from, reflected edwards’ increasing interest in Jainism, so there is a meditative spiritual exploration here along with an interest in philosophy and science of cognition derived from her time at Naropa. Rereading these poems in the aftermath of my own recent transition, I can discern a depth of reference now ('the bones of direction') that viscerally acknowledges the fear and pain that trans women feel in having to negotiate a new and strange relationship to time. I think about the young person listening to kari edwards reading these passages, and I think about how much paralyzing fear I had in my own negotiations with time, and how many walls I had set up to block myself from being happy. And I want to go back to the young person who was sitting in the audience that day listening to kari edwards read these poems, feeling so many conflicting things, and tell her, 'See? The future is going to be possible.'”
Trace Peterson

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from obedience [the clock is on time]

the clock is on time
because the stars fall
because all form forms time
              falls on the body
              freezes a book
              beneath the water
because the water is an organ
because all arguments are similar
              similar singularities
because we can never discover the subject
because
because is always an object
              which is an object among objects
              which is neither and or
because we expect to find a similar
              before a different set of circumstances
              being repeated for convenience
              causing a similar
              to seem familiar
              which we think
              has an experimental conclusion
              similar to a set of circumstances
              based on an object
              that falls in the water
              which is a simile
because nothing is like an egg
              or a concept of an egg
because there is no apparent singular
              couched in a connection between
              sensible and secret powers
because the question occurs in a medium
              which is a thing
              among other things
              multiplied times a hundred times
because
              a thought is an object within a thought
              an oncoming proposition
              of a possible position
              a reference to clocks on the body
              as an object without a memory
              a memory without thoughts
because the future will resemble the past
because we want our colors to match
              because on a supposition
              resembling something that could happen
because the hand that shook the hand
              of another mislaid thought
              is based on an object
              that relates to the clock

because maybe
              what matters is a seat
              in a new convertible
because what matters is good theme music
              an antidote to putting the horse before the cart
              or a thought with an anecdote
because the object could swim before it could walk
              like interchangeable silence is a demand
              for milk in your pudding
because we are doing the doing
              which is based on the bones of direction
because matter is everywhere
              and like a hammer
              we feel the touch before meaning
              remember touch through memory
              as an object with destiny
              that wrote an essay
              something that astonished someone
              that's now a thought in time
              that has a past
              that's now newer than before
              before it could ever be a question

From obedience (Factory School, 2005). Copyright © kari edwards. Used with permission of Frances Blau, literary executor.

From obedience (Factory School, 2005). Copyright © kari edwards. Used with permission of Frances Blau, literary executor.

kari edwards

kari edwards

Known for her work as a gender activist, kari edwards published several books, including the posthumous poetry collections Bharat jiva (Belladonna Books, 2009) and succubus in my pocket (EOAGH Books, 2015).

by this poet

poem

the day shifts, we talk to each other the way
we talk to each other, the luster fades, our
bodies fill with sap, there is a shift, joy
reappears before another personal narrative
burns to a heap of citations, continuing in
complicated machinery, becoming blood

poem

running sadness to the ground
divided
running sadness to the ground
strange though
I prefer to play with matches
rough ride midnight's helpless plea
under yesterday's lapse into
praying for an evolutionary jerk forward

oh

poem

the broken pleasure of knives begin, weaves incompressible
intrusion on inescapable spreadsheets

I have a death watch count down, termination amongst the
swell of three-quarter fools who dance reptilian obedience