You Say Wife

Dear Kay—

A letter in seven arguments.

1. On Lies

In another poem a man compares me to pussy, and then it happens again. Rosario says straight men don’t even like pussy, an attack so devastating I took it vicariously. Cause of death: personal correspondence. Do I care about straight men? The question is maybe misplaced.

Anyways they care about me. That coy interval between gays and trans women is good for a couple things, one of which is giving the lie to hetero protestations about themselves. I don’t even believe them, culprits of their own desire, though as Cam says I think they believe themselves.

This thing is multiform, contingent, ambivalent and I call her my sex. Even if I make choices I still like everything. I like myself and you, but the hole we share accuses us both. I’ll call it autofiction; on its head it accuses the world.

2. On High School


3. On Being a Wife

Q: Are you polymorphously perverse?

A: No, I am betrothed to the present.

Consider the wife. Desperately Seeking Susan: Rosanna Arquette, wed to a jacuzzi and skimming the personals, rearranges the opposite side of the bridge. Anybody can be Madonna, so everybody’s a wife in Fort Lee. Even the tubs dull the senses into a staycation. Arquette wants to be a club kid too, and briefly succeeds—at the precinct, in a gutted loft. Get into the groove and rot there, oh comely bohèmes! You’ll even like it.

You say wife like style or you say wife like rifled through someone someone else’s stocks or you say wife like wages. Wearing only animal print and plump in the right places. Dear Kay. Suspicious, you delayed wifery. Now you wear it like a polymer mink. Anybody can be a wife in the country like everybody’s a piece in town.

Q: Does everybody feel this way?

A: I suspect they do, the fuckers

4. On Joie de Vivre

It comes out of me like ohhhhhhhh

5. On Beauty

“By origin or not I am ‘of’ the city until I can’t be—a choice, as choices go, made within constraints, one of which is surely beauty.” I’m saying beauty like a person, not aesthetics like a grad student, though for my sins I’m the persona of a grad student and I’ve been one for long enough it feels like a condition.

You say aesthetics like style or you say aesthetics like a pretty face or you say aesthetics like a brand. Brecht says you can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of cops. An aesthete says you can’t write poems about sex if the city’s full of brands. Or: art has no vocation after 1991. Or: beauty is a fixing for the wealthy, a commons in a paywall. Do I like this world and what it’s full of? Like hell but there it goes, spitting you in the face and waiting for you underwater. You don’t refuse to breathe, do you?

Meanwhile behind this handwringing the hushed suggestion that women, gays, transsexuals are especially to blame for the miseries of brands, or what the metropole inflicts on everybody else. Hello, I hate it. Or: how interesting, the smack of the feminized in buying and selling.

Dear Kay, hi, I’m waging a sub rosa war. Who loves me will know what I mean.

6. On Grief

It comes out of me like god fucking damnit……

7. On Lies

Desire is the suture of a new (say it) world–I’ll fuck you till your dick is blue–following Jackie’s lead it won’t be one of winners in a virtuous game, or letting agency skid off your ethical shoulders, or of sharing your toys based on a common Rx.

What are you and what does it mean for me a question nobody could stop asking if they wanted. Re: perversion you meant to say and follow it with something about bodying forth the new but Rachel heard one word played together like a chord. Say it’s the same old sex bent double. It’s mine now, and goes between me like a stent.

Dear Kay. I’m writing the same letter always, let me try it again. Here’s a fable in the perfect tense: some friends—perpetually adolescent and vengeful, with a weekend off and no particular reputation—make the drive to bully a medium-famous writer. He’s speaking at a private college for a couple hundred bucks a pop, the subject “modernist difficulty” or you get the idea. They’ve got a megaphone, which they use to frighten local wildlife. The poets they intended to swirlie have all scattered to satisfy their appetites on bowls of seasonal produce. Or maybe the Rimbaldian creatures enjoy their promised encounter after all, irritate the Tenure out of every mom and dad. Campus cops usher them off the handsome private greens. Over fries the maudit kids hum some poems about difficulty, poetry, and rent, which makes them feel a little better–even triumphant!

Two of them are dating, and sort of clocky. En route back to a dingy apartment in the ‘burbs some guy on the train resents the way their faces look, how they touch each other. He’s got a couple slurs to share—his parting shot to “stay away from that AIDS.” Which missile, however graphic, lets something slip.

I’d like to say that he got his but actually he disembarked at Newark without consequences. It’s a shame for words to be more vibrant than sex—and sexier, too, says my enthusiastic boyfriend. Write back with something genuinely new, I won’t be disconsolate or have anything unkind to say, palpating that world in a caress, your palpatrix on call,


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Kay Gabriel

Kay Gabriel is a poet and essayist. She's the author of Elegy Department Spring / Candy Sonnets 1, an Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow at the Poetry Project, and a PhD Candidate at Princeton University.