“mirror, mirror, what do you see
make me a woman / but make me free”
What do you ask daily of your looking glass? For the central figure in Kai Cheng Thom’s “Everyday, Feminism”, the prayer is for powerful femininity, but also freedom. The two rarely come yoked. It’s not a lesson in which the poem’s protagonist needs much education. In most places they walk, the world casts daggers at them, like the man sneering “ni hao, faggot” on the metro: a reminder that the intersections of racism and queer hatred often combine to create multiply-bladed aggressions.
Here is what the poem encapsulates pitch-perfectly for me: the complex, gross nature of these hatreds, how portioned they are in disgust, repressed or poorly-concealed perversity, self-loathing, sanctimonious hypocrisy. What I also root for in “Everyday, Feminism” is its sense of how suffering meted out to the female-identified falls with cruelty, and unevenly-tiered injustice. Listen to the poem explain it, in clear, vodka-sharp language: “every / way you look at it, the body’s a battleground / for any woman, though / not every woman / is my girl-in-arms.”
How, then, do you map your womanhood onto your own body, when so much of the world is convinced you shouldn’t have it? Watch the poem turn to the mirror of its own intuition, as an answer. The subject cradles their lover in their arms, remembering the words of Audre Lorde. In the word of that Lorde, they muse again “on how for some, survival is a revolutionary act”. That the body has endured the mockery of metro men, of the world’s hegemony, bladed and blunted, against it, is its own fierce, unfuckwithable act of getting through. The mirror of your own indefatigable fire cannot lie, no matter how many people try to burn you at their own, lesser stakes.
Read “Everyday, Feminism” here.
Kai Cheng Thom’s debut collection of poems, a place called No Homeland, was published in 2017 by Arsenal Pulp Press.
This is the thirteenth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.