In Their Own Words

Xandria Phillips on “Nativity”

Xandria Phillips headshot


in the dream where I run without breasts I am motivated by flight, I haven’t yet begun to unweld the framework, invent new trauma, whip the stitch arching each bosom as victuals dangled, withheld. when I hemorrhage against design it ain’t incognito. the neighbors walk their dogs past me. that’s me smoking in the alley, letting roses from my wrists. petal to puddle, a misgendering of matter. these hooves unhinge themselves as tiny meteors to cudgel dusk. I redress the splintering woodwork notched to my likeness, venial beneath the pomme and lilac cornucopic delight. to partake in a gender, to do so as a participant, and to fashion one’s self a living process of gender is like casting a net of postures, adornment objects, and grooming techniques into a future tense. where have I gone, and who have I built to take my place? I’ve always been unsuccessful at it. the tossing of it. I throw rocks ahead of me and predict where they will land. by virtue of touch, I am every man I manufactured my difference from. the man slipping in the mirror’s moonshine enters and leaves me between my double take. every night the countryside plays against my eyelids. a recurring taunt against my current location, the finale, currents of corn lapping the sun against my arms pumping with youth. the site of my making.

"Nativity" from Hull (Nighboat, 2019). Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

On "Nativity"

A dream unleashed itself. I was doing one of my favorite things. I was advising a workshop group during a Winter Tangerine Workshop at Poets House in 2018. When I have time, I write with my students and this was one such occasion. We were engaged in an activity called The Orchard, where we use Poets House’s extensive library to find new and exciting words. I can still remember plucking cudgel, incognito, cornucopic, victuals. The process feels a bit like pulling cards for Tarot, with its gathering and meaning making. While writing this poem a reoccurring dream that loped through my sleep resurfaced. My gender was ill-fitting, and everywhere I turned I was grieving parts of my youth. As a child I was dressed hyper-feminine. Perhaps a better way of saying this would be to say that my femininity was enforced at home. I found my place in nature, running through cornfields, sifting for stones in the creek, climbing trees and digging holes. Most precious of all, doing any and all of these things without witness. I left no stone unturned. I miss my quiet wilderness every day of adulthood. At the time when I wrote “Nativity” I was thinking about gathering myself in a sense. How to feel whole in a body that is continually misnamed, and sometimes unsure. I remember knowing the height of this feeling at my favorite thrift store. I was standing in line to checkout when I saw the man standing behind me, reflected in a mirror across the room. He was much too close for comfort. I glared into the mirror with more intention only to realize the man in question was me. In that moment, there was not difference between myself and manhood, and I felt shook by my own self indictment. I should mention that this Winter Tangerine exercise from which “Nativity” came tasked each of us to use our found language to build a creation myth. This poem is a mythologization of self, grounded in dreams and discontent.

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