Categories
2021 The Boiler Prize

Aimee Herman

this is how to remove yourself from a body

I told myself that I didn’t know.

I just needed more work to afford living in a city that had a cover charge just to walk down the street. When I was eighteen, twenty, twenty-five, I dreamed of living in Brooklyn. I romanticized its graffiti, poetry flung in the air like bird wings flapping. I thought it would be easy. I thought I could just insert myself into this city and become.

Craigslist was my realtor. It was also my dating service. It wasn’t until many months later that it also became the hook that gutted me from my body. It wasn’t until months later that it drew me in to the seedy world of      It wasn’t until months later that I used it in ways which would later remove me from myself.

Here is what I knew. I knew I was going to Queens to clean a man’s office. I knew I did not need to bring any supplies; he would supply everything. I knew that I was heading into a before and after. I had already had several of these already in my life.

Before.

I am in fifth grade and the only thing that matters to me is Michael Jackson, fruit roll-ups, Milli Vanilli and Barbie dolls. (I know, all problematic.) By this time, I had already received my first “D” in school, fallen in like with several boys, and became a fixed member of the low self-esteem club run by the school guidance counselor. I am in sixth grade, I am in seventh.

There is nothing organized about memory. It is a jumble of disordered notes. It is a William S. Burroughs cut-up. Can it be trusted? Has it been manipulated? My memories mumble inside me. I can understand every sixth word and even that is blurry.

I want to gather all of my memories and hook them up to a lie detector test. Only then can I know what is true. Only then, can I recognize that everything I forget does not stop me from remembering.

Before.

Every sentence I ever spoke cracked open spitting blood and wound and howl and pain when my mother

I’m not ready for that.

After.

I am hungry for papercuts. I crush up my dog’s medicine because I want to consume everything wrong for me. I hunch over my desk where homework is meant to be consumed not nose bleeds, but I snort it up anyway. Repeat. Repeat (in different variations).

After.

I coat every breath in lies. I feel more honest that way. No one understands how painful this is. It is 1993. It is 1995. It is death of River. It is death of Kurt. My friends grow breasts and I grow scars. It is easier to fade away when a body is made of tracing paper and empty mechanical pencils.

A week or so after my sixteenth birthday, I swallow as many pills as my throat allows. The balloons from my birthday are still in my bedroom when they find me. I don’t remember anything besides the hospital. The syrup of ipecac. I stop writing because I need to spell check and learn that syrup of ipecac is no longer available. Apparently, it didn’t work. Wikipedia announces it was “ultimately ineffective at purging the body of poisonous substances.” Could all this poison still be inside me?

After.

I am in my twenties in Brooklyn with a subway map sewed to my wrist. I still get lost; maybe I want to get lost; but to be lost means you had a plan of where to go and I lost that plan.

why are calendars so tragic.

When you feel unsafe, build a metaphor out of your body and watch it become something else. A cash register. A rent payment. An elevator. A garbage bag. A potato chip. A chalk outline on the sidewalk people walk over and the rain removes. A tumbleweed of hair. A cigar box full of scabs and fingernail clippings. A broken seatbelt. A discarded subway map.

I didn’t learn until years later that I could say no to some things. I did not know that I could come with rules. I did not realize that I could hammer DO NOT ENTER signs to parts of my body and still get paid. So, I said yes to everything. I said yes to no condom even though I carried enough with me to feed a country full of penises.

After.

I clung to the remains. And then I climbed to the rooftop of my body and dangled.

After.

I discarded all of my metaphors, let them bloody the ground below me and began to find my way back in.


Aimee Herman is the author of the novel, Everything Grows (Three Rooms Press) and two full length books of poems, meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA) and to go without blinking (BlazeVOX books), in addition to being widely published in journals and anthologies including BOMB, cream city review, and Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books).  Aimee is a queer writer and educator and a founding member in the poetry band, Hydrogen Junkbox.