I go out into the city and find a tulip tree, the tallest tree I can find, the tree called oonseentia by the peoples native to this land, the tree these native peoples use to build their canoes. I intend to build a canoe of my own. I wait for lightning to strike and knock the tree down, but what comes next is the hard part. The trunk must be hollowed out. Traditionally this work requires a community, but right now I am alone. I will have to empty out the body of the tree myself.
I am alone because I have fled from my inheritance like a monster flees from their workshop. The canoe is a tool for re-turning. Re-turning not as a turning back, but turning again. The trouble with fleeing like a monster is that when monsters flee, they often get lost. I am no longer interested in being lost. So I hollow out my canoe, digging out the yellow wood, and plan my journey ahead.
When I finish, many days later, I set the canoe into the river that cuts through my city, a river called Wapahani by the Miami but White by the Europeans. It was the Europeans who platted this City of Indians, though for a City of Indians, it is home to very few, just 0.3% of the total municipal population according to the last Census. It is also called The Circle City, and that might be more truthful. There are many circles in the city, most of them inscribed into the landscape. When you are here you cannot help but round these circles again and again. An act of re-cylcing. There is much to be re-cycled. After all, the Wapahani-called-White is one of the most polluted rivers on the continent. Its waters are full of plastic.
I let the plastic waters re-turn me to history. Along the journey, I make a map, like a geographer exploring a new territory, just in case I get lost. With a map I will be able to re-trace my steps. The map points to something that looks like a body of water, or a tree, or a home.
Follow the evolution of branches. Start with the smallest stem—
—a zygote. A yoking of past and future a yolking of inheritance. Inheritance is a question of history, but I am a geographer, not a historian. I will always understand place in a way I cannot understand time. The fabulism of terroir will always make more sense to me than the rationality of special relativity, but I am getting older and beginning to realize that even I cannot fantasize the question of history away. I too have inherited a zygote. Zygotes upon zygotes upon zygotes. Zygotes all the way down. Placetime: Indianapolis, 1994.
—an embryo. I was an embryo before my parents were married. They married because I was an embryo. My mother explained this to me one cold winter night when the power went out and there was nowhere for me to run. We were huddled around the fireplace in our coats trying to stay warm. I never understood the logic behind what she was telling me. Marriage seems like a strange solution to the problem of an embryo. Wouldn’t an abortion have saved both my mother and me a whole lot of trouble? But I am not a mother. I have not inherited the logic of that identity. The identities I have inherited have no logic to them at all.
—a species (verb). To classify as a kind. To possess an inherent value. To become kin. Species is a heuristic for identifying bodies. Its basis is in inheritance. When specieing, we can determine the identity of a body just by looking to its ancestors and to its offspring. Species is a process of self-replication; species must pass their identities down. Failure to do this—according to a well-known hypothesis that has tested into scientific theory—will ensure the identity in question dies.
I have inherited many species—white, male, Polish, Hoosier—but I have also made others of my own. Queer, writer, geographer, Witch. I make species like an alchemist makes lead into bullion, but to make a species of one’s own will cost you, and you will have to pay in kind. An eye for an I. A tooth for self-assurance. In my dreams I pull teeth from my jaw and watch them disintegrate between my fingers. No matter. Another opportunity for self-improvement. I attempt to remake my lost teeth in silver and gold. Instead they come out plastic.
—a story. Once I wrote a story about my inheritance, a story whence I come. Like all stories, this one is full of fiction of lies. I am not certain, but I suspect it is a love story. Not a romance, but a love story, a story about love. It goes something like this.
Outside the hanging flowerpots attract hummingbirds attract butterflies attract bees and all that buzzing buzzing buzzing pollinates a thunderstorm displaced air static electricity electric desire lightning strikes an old oak tree in the backyard and I am a baby sitting on my grandmother’s lap we watch through a picture window the old linden tree crack and sway which way will it fall this way or that way that way that way it falls…that way. A bridge across the creek water rushing lawn drowning; my grandparents live in a flood zone.
A flood zone is a human conjuration. Climate change conjures more intense storms which means more rainfall over shorter spans of time; urbanization conjures more impermeable surface which means less opportunity for infiltration; capitalism conjures erosion deforestation culverts levees loss of friction urban sprawl McDonald’s parking lots drained wetlands carbon emissions floods—and all this means Abracadabra! a flood zone appears There Is No Such Thing As A Natural Disaster averted my first brush with death and I don’t even flinch.
The tree in my grandparents’ backyard is the second tallest linden in the state when it falls. They earn a property tax abatement for owning the land around such an important tree. In a moment an ecosystem a habitat a monument a relic a life is lost; in a moment my grandparents’ tax abatement is lost too.
My grandmother likes to tell the story of the old linden tree she will tell me the story when I am older ask me if I remember I look out the picture window at the stump and search for the memory but nothing turns up I don’t remember the innocence of a life before before tornado drills before lightning strikes before thunderstorms what I do remember are the birds. A cardinal lands in the branches of a flowering dogwood that grows just outside my grandparents’ screened-in porch. My grandmother looks up from her crossword sees it points it out look at the bird she marvels overjoyed by the simple beauty of a cardinal in a tree and I look up from whatever I’m doing and ooh and ahh because I am a good grandchild her favorite but I am unmoved. I have seen enough cardinals in trees to get the picture.
I don’t remember the innocence of life before thinking cardinals were boring. Today all I can think about is the fact that my grandparents voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton for president the first time in their lives they didn’t vote for a Democrat and their lives have been pretty long. I don’t understand I ask them to explain. My grandfather answers: I wish Robert Kennedy had been elected. He would have made a great president.
Robert Kennedy was shot 48 years ago I say.
JFK was shot while we were on our honeymoon my grandmother interjects but this doesn’t answer my question either.
As the story goes we were on a beach in Florida we had just popped a bottle of champagne but then a woman ran up to us shrieking about how the President was dead at first we thought she was crying but then we realized she was laughing she was happy about it overjoyed isn’t that disgusting we went back to our hotel room to watch the news but our honeymoon was ruined the President was dead and he’d been such a good president.
I wish Robert Kennedy had been elected president my grandfather repeats. I guess this is his way of explaining his vote. He sounds very weary but I think: I am weary and I think: clearly my grandparents are not right in the head enough to be voting and I think: I’m going to need a plan to suppress their votes the next election and I think: how could grandparents who love their grandchildren grant power to something so obviously against their grandchildren’s interests and I think: did they forget about Mike fucking Pence?
Sometimes—in some retellings of the myth—the linden tree falls this way instead of that. In those versions of the story I die under the weight of a habitat a monument a relic a life. I die while my grandmother holds me and for the rest of her life my ghost haunts her lap. This is the version of the story that survives in neoclassical paintings epic poems history books constellations. This is the version of the story that has everything a good story needs: a tragedy of human hubris a punishment from the gods a moral for living in the Anthropocene. Let me remind you of the moral of this version of the story—
—never make your home in a flood zone.
I am a baby sleeping in a stroller abetting a robbery of flowers flowers that will be used to perfume a space of abuse my mother is the thief and I her accomplice I snuggle with the cuttings of fresh lilac she hides under my blanket and no one in the garden suspects a thing they cannot see past the stroller and my mother is very good at performing motherhood when she wants to steal flowers. She steals them from the campus of her alma mater and no one even notices her shearing the lilac bushes bare like they’re sheep.
My mother does not consider it stealing not technically not when she paid so much to attend this university for a communications degree really if you think about it she would say these flowers are already hers.
Just outside the garden is the university’s observatory a limestone tower rain-stained lightning-scarred open to heaven in a way I will never be. A gardener walks past and my mother gets nervous. We flee into the observatory and look up at the luminaries that hang there—the moon is a waxing crescent the sun is in Taurus the morning star and evening star gaze at each other from across the horizon two mirrors face to face an infinite reflection a funhouse maze a labyrinth of light without end.
What does the goddess see when she looks inside her mirror? Does she see the heat of a runaway greenhouse effect a topology of ancient craters a heritage of volcanism a memory of oceans long since annihilated a promise of lightning and thunder? Or does she see nothing no life just light just her own radiance scattered back at her by a cloud of sulfuric acid the image we mortals call a reflection?
Venus is the goddess of love but I suspect that when she looks into her mirror she finds not love but a desert a desert thick in lilacs. Every year for just a moment my childhood home becomes a desert thick in lilacs. Otherwise it is just a desert. When my mother and I return home from our robbery she fills a vase with water and sinks the flowers into the emptiness the container a bottle a catchment a flask. The scent of lilac sages the room and for a moment our home is a sanctified space but only just a moment flowers perish lilacs quicker than most in a day or two the blossoms will brown the stems will droop vase emptied out into the sink water rushing down the drain my home will crack a desert again.
When I am older I will learn there are better ways of exorcising a space of abuse than smudging it with lilacs but now I am baby and this is the best my mother knows how to do that is the thing with mothers they only do their best.
I become a Witch under the circle of a Bradford pear an auspicious space a fertilized place the scent of the flower of the flowering pear is the scent of semen sweet and pungent it overwhelms this land a subdivision reforested with a monoculture of Bradford pears the cultivar is popular for its showy flowers and rapid rate of growth the developers did not care about the cultivar’s lack of structural integrity and invasive species status so when I enter under the circle of the tree in my backyard a limb falls off and the trunk splits in two the tree cannot withstand the tornado I set loose the circle breaks the magic is lost the tree is felled and dead.
I move on to a neighbor’s Bradford pear seek refuge under that circle send the magic round. But before I can name the spell the neighbor’s tree cracks and the circle breaks again. It is a tricky business maintaining a circle of magic under an unsound tree my affinity has always been for the dogwood in autumn when its branches break out in red houndberries but there are no dogwoods in this subdivision this space has been stripped of its native flora and invaded first by the corn then by the turf grass now by the semen-sweet flowers of a Bradford pear.
The only thing pear trees are ever good for are rites of virility rites of manhood cultivated masculinity. I let a drop of dew fall from one of the tree’s white blooms into my open mouth and it splatters like a kiss lubricates my wooden tongue but something goes wrong the rite does not cultivate masculinity instead it cultivates a garden. I start kindergarten and my mouth germinates a seed. I am rendered mute I cannot say the right words the magic words the words that will make sense of this new school this new space I cannot name the thing.
So the school calls my parents to tell them I will not speak and they decide to take me to a child psychologist even though I don’t need a psychologist I need a gardener someone who can nurse a sapling to maturity and teach me to make words with a flower for a mouth. Instead I meet a man with a mean face and no hair. I remember very little of our meetings except for the fact that I instantly distrust him though it does not matter since unlike me he knows how to say the right words the magic words the words that will make sense to my father. The child psychologist dismisses the idea that my selective mutism might be tied to an underlying anxiety disorder and suggests instead that I am rebellious and disobedient probably because my mother feels guilty guilty for being a working parent guilty for not being a real mother and so he says she compensates by coddling and speaking for me. My father says that theory makes absolute sense to him and for a moment my mother is rendered mute too.
The child psychologist does not heal my rebellious disobedient mutism that work falls to an instructional assistant at my public elementary school she is patient but firm it take nearly the whole year but eventually I am able to speak in class to speak in tonguewood the language of flowers I am blossoming as they say but do not confuse this blossoming for beauty not all flowers blossom as sweetly as a rose or as stylishly as an iris some blooms are ephemeral some blooms wilt to death in the morning sun some blooms are unpredictable confusing abrasive like the blossoming of a corpse flower my blossoming is confusing too sometimes the wood in my mouth tastes like lavender other times it tastes like rotting meat.
Later in elementary school I will read The Wizard of Earthsea and Ursula K Le Guin will teach me the importance of right words magic words the true name of a thing it is in the naming of things that magic is made. Psychologists like all scientists know how to name things this is what gives science its power over nature I wonder what would be different if the child psychologist had named the thing differently if he had rejected the outdated and sexist wisdom on my selective mutism and recognized it—as it is now—as an anxiety disorder not a product of maternal overprotection.
Or what if he had had the vision to see that I was struggling with my own magic my own inability to name the thing? This thing that tied my tongue in knots even in kindergarten this thing I carry in my mouth and other hollows of my body this thing that has evolved inside me this thing I now call——
Lead a goat under the circle of a weeping willow and slaughter it with your magic words let its blood drain out spread some on your toast like honey drink up an offering from the horn of plenty a cornucopia of flesh. Reach inside the hollows of the goat—entrails liver heart lungs—find the four chambers of the stomach ruminate for a while let the gut flora shape you into cud so that when you are ready regurgitate swallow digest and pull out your wand.
If the ritual is performed correctly your wand will be a pussy willow wand a wand hewn from the species Salix caprea a good wand for smacking gender. In the Polish-American culture of the Midwest young boys and girls wield their pussy willow wands on Easter Monday in a post-holiday battle of the sexes Christ is risen gender is destiny the boys smack the girls and the girls smack back the prettier you are the more you are bruised mating rituals begin early in Polish America but a pussy willow wand conjured from the gut of a sacrificed goat won’t abide by the good Christian perversions of Dyngus Day these wands have unnatural perversions of their own they are fermented by the breath of a billion microorganisms their catkins stink of asexual sex their branches tremble with the ecstasy of symbiosis.
Raise your wand let it strike against the patriarchy watch the good Christian forests of Bradford pear burn in the pyroclastic flow of pussy willow magic. Under the circle of a tree of your choosing raise your wand again this time raise it against your father get out a notebook uncap a pen on a piece of paper write:
A Witch’s Hex for Exorcising a Space of Abuse
First: Enter the space of abuse. It will look like a dark dark forest. Through that forest will run a dark dark road. That road will lead to a dark dark house. In the foyer of that house will be a dark dark stair. Up the stairs you will find a dark dark room. In the center of the room will be a dark dark chest. Your father yells at you to open the chest. Open the fucking chest! he yells. In the corner your mother is crying. You crouch down to the chest, slowly lift open the lid, and find——
Second: Write a poem about the space of abuse. This part is the trickiest. Poems have rhythm, but there is no rhythm to abuse. In a space of abuse, everything is tense, everything is enjambed. To write a poem in a space of abuse is to write a poem about happiness on top of a poem about hate. The results are unreadable. The imagery is confused. The language shatters, becomes scribbles, all meaning is lost.
Third: After you write your poem, re-cycle it. Throw it into the bin. Sit. Wait. Let the magic happen. If things get bad seek refuge with your grandparents. There is nothing else you can do.
After being apart for several months I visit my grandparents for a feast of reunion and we give thanks thanks to god thanks for our health thanks for the food on our table they also give thanks for me our feast is a feast of plastic food my grandparents are very old so their taste buds are shot and my grandmother is also pretty much over the whole cooking thing—plastic food is easy for her to prepare and it lasts a long time. Tonight we are having plastic turkey plastic mashed potatoes plastic salad and plastic birthday cake for dessert it isn’t anyone’s birthday but that doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter what any of the food is—it’s all just plastic anyway. Except for the wine. The wine is plastic in its own way the way I am plastic in my genes.
(The thing about my grandparents’ love is that it does not extend beyond the body. It inhabits my insides, encoded in my genes. Their love is something I have inherited, not something we have made, together, in the space of the real world. They love me because I am their grandson. I will never not be their grandson, so they will always love me. I could do anything and they would still love me. This is the greatest form of love, but also the most dangerous. They have locked their love for me away in some heavy crypt in their brains, and no new information will ever breach that space. In that space, I am innocent in perpetuity.)
I puncture a plastic turkey leg with my fork it deflates becomes a plastic pancake. I get up from the table to go get some syrup syrup I made myself from the juice of a thousand crabapples plucked from the branches of the crabapple tree I used to climb when I was younger it was where I first learned to converse with demons and fairies realism withers up in the canopy of a tree the usual laws of society and Nature do not work as they do on the ground instead the space of the crabapple tree becomes a fable a fairytale a story of the Fall although I never fall at least not from climbing I was always a very careful climber but sometimes some of the crabapples fall and by the time they hit the ground they have rotted and burst. Fallen berries are the sweetest. It is the fallen berries I use to make syrup for plastic pancakes.
When I return to the table my grandmother is talking about the Mayflower. I am descended from one of the Pilgrims she says the only one to have fallen off the boat en route and rescued successfully. She speaks of this man as if she has met him she tells us his life story she says his wife was buried somewhere in Rhode Island and that I should go visit her grave sometime but why would I visit her grave? I think but do not say instead I say I will go and bring flowers.
My grandmother tells me no flowers, bring wine.
My grandparents take me to visit their graves and I make an offering of wine Two-Buck Chuck their favorite bought from the Trader Joe’s down the street where the cashier a young man with pink hair and a nose ring told me he liked my glasses but he is only the thirty-eighth boy I’ve fallen in love with at Trader Joe’s so I guess that means he’s replaceable and I need a body any body so I use his fluttered my eyes asked nicely he agreed so I peeled off his body and dragged it to the car loaded it in the trunk my grandfather drove us away straight up the road to the cemetery where my grandparents will one day be buried they purchased the plots many years ago on sale they are always looking for a bargain had them marked with stones engraved with the blossoms of a flowering dogwood tree limestone inflorescence already acid stained by the rain four white bracts which I dye red with an offering of wine spilling it like blood upon the graves side by side a little splashes on my shoes and on the grave next door also currently unoccupied this cemetery is empty just empty seats saved in anticipation of death which may or may not come I am not a Prophet but I am a Witch I’m here to conduct a ritual dark magic Catholic magic Transubstantiation the making of something into something else like wine into blood or bodies into bread I began my ritual earlier this morning at church with the organ music a choir a court Praise God All Creatures Here Below we sang and the earth cracked open step one complete then on to Perkins for step number two communion my grandfather ordered the pink cupcake and the waitress brought a strawberry muffin Transubstantiation the ritual is working the world is changing things are becoming things other than what they are step three is in the cemetery quick excursion to Trader Joe’s an offering a sacrifice a body the earth is open out rush creatures creatures creatures here below worms and funguses and hounds that’s right hounds Hecate’s hounds this is necromancy or maybe vivomancy with resurrections it’s always hard to tell but the hounds rush out and circle the graves they howl until the limestone flowers quiver my grandparents uncork another bottle of wine while I bring the body of the boy who liked my glasses out and throw it atop the graves it is an empty body just a skin empty like this cemetery I let a hound crawl in and zip the body up Abracadabra the body rises a boyfriend my boyfriend my grandparents are drunk so they don’t notice him panting meet my boyfriend I say we are in love and my grandparents are happy which is all I want happy that I am happy though my happiness is a trick like the kind you teach a dog in exchange for a treat so I leave my boyfriend in the cemetery to rot and go home my dog greets me at the door he has to go poo we go for a walk in the park three poos a lot of poo I carry it all home in plastic bags and accidentally toss it into the recycling instead of the trash afterward my dog hops up on my lap licks my face I imagine it is a kiss.
Waste Paper Pulp.
Don’t worry when you trip over the recycling bin. If your body falls inside, just make a new one. There will be plenty of material, and what could be more queer than re-cycling? Re-cycling not as a return, but as cycling again? Things change when a cycle is repeated. The cycle transforms into something like a cycle, but not quite. It transforms into a monster. A monster is just a poem macerated into pulp.
When the monster flees the poet’s laboratory, follow them. Follow them into the woods, let them lead you straight to the abandoned home with the open door. Inside you will find three forgotten meals, three chairs, and three beds. Eat, sit, and sleep. When you wake, you will find yourself surrounded by more monsters. Do not be afraid. This is your family now.
Queers have a funny relationship with family. Many of us don’t pass down our own genes, and the genes we do inherit we remake into something else. There is no gay gene, just genes we make gay. We remake our genes into plastic. Our plasticity is what allows us to adapt. Queerness is just an adaptation to loneliness, after all. We are lonely because we cannot inherit our identities, nor propagate them, and this means adapting new strategies of making kin. Queer kinship is synthetic. Queer kinship is sympoietic. Queer kinship is not sex. Sex is not a very good strategy for making kin unless the kin you want to make is a baby. I do not want to make a baby. I want to make a community of queers, a kindom of re-cycled paper and plastic, and in this kindom I am a Virgin Queen, husbandless and heirless, just one queen among sisters, shamed be he who thinks evil of it.
Mine will not be the first re-cycled kindom, nor will it be the last. A re-cycled kindom is a kindom without end. There is no need for inheritance in a kindom like this. In this kindom, monsters and Witches and hellhounds and grandparents live together, not in harmony, but in affinity, and that is enough.
Kinpoiesis. Kinpoetics. Inheritance re-cycled. Inheritance made monstrous.
Nick Kapsa Vare is a writer from Indianapolis. You can find him on Instagram @nick_kapsa_vare.