Periodic #3


“Periodic” is a monthly column by poet Franny Choi. Every month, she writes a short column on the first day of her period—a check-in that might cover issues of gender, queerness, writing, health, and/or love. This series is an experiment in occasional writing and an exploration of what it means to write about menstruation with a queer imagination. 

This month, I got my period the same day as the release party for my new book. There’s that tired comparison between writing and reproduction—creation, procreation, and so on. So where does that leave shedding my uterine lining? The making of the not-making?

In Detroit, I stood on stage, faced a room full of people, and said, Thank you so much for helping me welcome her into the world. Meanwhile, inside me, a different room was filled and filling. A space filled with cotton; the spaces in the cotton, filling with blood.

In Providence, Ceci says they like using a menstrual cup because it makes the blood feel less like trash—just something to collect over the day and then, at night, to tip away into the toilet bowl.

You should never delete your drafts, I tell my student when she says she feels nervous about editing. I show her how to save one version of her poem so she can feel safe to cut another into pieces.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a long time to stop flushing my tampons down the toilet. All that blood in the trash, all that having to look at the awful little corpse I’d made, all that wrapping it in toilet paper. So much easier to let it drop into the water, get swallowed into oblivion.

I hate the phrase kill your darlings.
How could you kill something you’d call darling?

If you call something a pad then it’s easy to start calling what marks it writing. (This is a fine metaphor, though after a while, you start to ask: so what?)

At Central Michigan University, I am trying to respond to the question How do you write about trauma. I’m saying a version of the answer I know how to give, which is about writing the poems you need to write at every stage of the process, though you may not share them.

The early poems are necessary to make the poems that will survive, I say, but for me, eventually, the goal is to make something new.

I keep using she/her pronouns for my book. It’s beautiful! Sam exclaims when I first show him on FaceTime. She’s thicc! I say in response, holding her up.

Beautiful! someone says at the book release weeks later, bending to admire the pink cover.

Thank you, I say, like a proud parent, and also (it’s important to say) not like a parent at all.

I’m awed by my queer friends who shrug at the thought of ending their lines, who can list the cold facts of apocalypse, overpopulation. I write a poem about the ecstasy of replicating queerly—lineless donors, fractals in a petri dish, tethering by choice. I’m not a cow, I tell my mother. Then, I imagine being old and childless, and I want to bury myself. I want to tip myself into a bowl and flush.

What I should have told the student is: I don’t know how to write about trauma. I only know how to write the poems of my life.

I save all my drafts on my hard drive, which means I find myself having to give them all strange titles: “February sonnets.” “One day it won’t be dipped in silicon and gold.” “Blue Planet Coral Reefs – More Lyrical.”

Meanwhile, in my mind, the pile of tampons that clogged my drain stands next to the list of baby names in my Notes app. These are not the same thing. The two images mirror each other perversely, limping and out-of-sync. Any attempt at translation fails.

Being queer and ambitious, I want to think about menstruating as something other than evidence of a failure to conceive. Something other than the bloody shadow of a child.

In Ann Arbor, at a job talk, Sumita puts an old poem on the projection screen. Line by line, she goes through every moment it fails to live up to the ideal, imagined poem. She clicks through revision after revision of this failed poem—some that attempt to repair its flaws, others that turn away from the project and run toward another goal entirely. Each is a brief document of her thinking at the time; the forms being investigated, the questions grappled with, the spaces filled or shrunk from.

A room, she calls the poem. A room I go into to think.

What I should have told the student is: The early poems are necessary to make.

In Detroit, I looked around at a room full of people and smiled so much my face hurt. Fati and Cameron read poems I’ve heard a million times. Jamila sang two songs that have been playing in my head since she played them for me a year ago. I cried and cried to hear my friends’ beautiful voices, the extraordinary luck of their voices in the air.

The poem in the book says “with saliva and thirsty nerves.” The poem in my mouth says “with only your saliva and thirsty nerves.”

I spent a year interrogating every word in my book, making sure it was the exact right word. Now, in rooms, new words leap into shape, announce their becoming with sound.

If there’s no such thing as a finished poem, then there’s no such thing as a draft.

In the poem of my life there is a room. The room is the room inside my body, where I go to think; to fail at thinking.

I make a word to stand for an image, and it fails. I make an image to stand for my life, and it fails. I make a draft to stand for a poem, and it fills with blood. This doesn’t make it trash.

When I go into the room of blood, I am filled. I make a not-making. I save one version of myself so that I can cut another into pieces. And somehow—what extraordinary luck—something remains that refuses to be flushed. Somehow, something of us survives.

Franny Choi