The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

All Issues
JUNE 2023 Issue

Trans Genital Mutilation
SRS in Five Easy Steps


i threaten my clit with a knife i fashion from
momma crying / her head denting the drywall/ an empty pantry /
bills left unpaid on the kitchen table
instant ramen for dinner with a bit of spam   again
i watched daddy skimming maggots from boiling noodles onto his tongue
so as not to waste free protein
the razor on my face is daddy
cutting my mother tongue from my throat
& shoving our rapists' language between my gritted teeth
as if i could speak your filthy pig-latin with a clean accent
like air raid siren raising the alarm too late
momma asks me why I can’t speak Vietnamese
blood on the floor bodies left behind in panic
our rooms hemmed in bladed wire strategic hamlets
concentration camps by a different name
the only gift momma had left—a story:
to avoid capture [to avoid rape] the sisters bit off their tongues
hands clutched & leapt / into the red river
drowning themselves to escape / disgrace


my country is a bayonet parting me from my breasts
my commander says if there were a button that killed every pashtun
he'd tape it / down on my knees at the bullet's crack
my white uncle promises to pay off college as long as i keep my head down
ass up lips strangling the barrel of my pistol round in the chamber safety off
three years later in the cancer ward i'll wish
i pulled the trigger to stop the memory of
nonconsensual bottom surgery for a child cleft in twain
entrails painting a hundred meters of sand
villages kissed by fire / like quarterbacks
concussion-racked civilians
left air struck bleeding from the ears
tell stories momma told me when
she begged me not to sign that dotted line
i see her in another mother screaming over her gutted child
in the lung-shot teacher / his son clawing the dirt
wailing like momma did that time she wouldn't sign & i ran from home
don't go please don't go my afghan comrades say / sai gon 2021 / kabul 1975
i find momma’s eyes in every face & find another reason to hate myself again
she’s the girl telling me i never should've come here / she’s the teen boy
spitting at my feet
the children i'll never bear / my barren womb slinging rocks
at up-armored convoys
she glares up at a sky infested with B-52s pregnant with orphan-makers
her hands working the fields feeding
kalashnikovs burying bodies bearing bombs tearing out her
broken heart watching limbless dying who won’t admit they’re dead
her shell-shocked cousin's nightmares wake the whole family
and each time he punches the wall
she wonders if there’s anything left of him


blood money is the rusty needle that makes the husband stitch so i can be broken     again
blue bloods smearing red stripes staining white sheets screaming battle cries
one nation under god [is dead] long live adam smith & his prophet ronald reagan
capital gains cream-pie trickle down my thighs
momma used to tell me to keep my head
down always smile never speak your mother tongue
for if they discover what you are
nixon will order more strikes on hai phong
i didn't know what she meant until this fatherland reached up my skirt
china doll walking while trans just a pair of legs catcall alarm fearing acid in the face
she fled one war just for us to fight another another & another more
so i won't be surprised when i die in the same tax bracket as momma
when she came here
& work started at midnight yellow gloves round toiletbowls
knees bruising the tile floor
to survive in the west is to remember that white supremacy
isn't a burning cross on the lawn
but momma crying
into her hands when the last paycheck won’t go far enough
to survive in the west is to remember that genocide
isn't a gas camp chamber
but your teacher correcting
your english when you recite the pledge of allegiance
to survive in the west is to remember that capitalism
isn't a monocled millionaire
but the men on the screen paying you
fifty dollars to eat your own cum on camera
to survive the west is to outsource your labor from your soul
& make a plantation of your body
& a colony of your heart
& never mind the policeman in your head


in my head i can't tell the difference between
The NYPD & the taliban
my rapist & my every single ex-boyfriend
the men who tell me they love me & a politician buying votes
& isn't that some kind of castrating blade?
if i want it to be over & stare at that dot on the ceiling & imagine myself far away
will that make it so?
but the bank account's bleeding out & the helos aren't coming
no one is coming, soldier
cowboy up embrace the suck
jesus won’t save you
darling, you are your own mutilating touch
you don’t know what you want / let men want for you
you invite them inside
you—wounds plastered with in personals

you keep accidentally writing poems
when you should ask
for the one thing you need
you are a bird's bones
under a closing fist / ask & you'll sing forth
enough torch flies to burn the tally til mourning
your eyes take what he wants
but please ask nicely
& how many will read a poem when all you want
is enough erasure to fool yourself into living a life
each man in your bed a lighthouse beckoning night
a flame / a lamp against whose side you fling your moth body
you can fool myself into tasting something wet & alive
fool your fragile frame
say no / say don’t / say exactly what he wants to hear
say his fire won't
devour your beating wings


to those who can't grasp the difference between a a product on the shelf
and a girl walking home alone at night i ask
why does masculinity feel like / every man I meet is holding a
gun to his own cock
i tell best friend i am too many years
past my premeditated expiration date
the ex-boyfriend fucks me and does not love me but says it often enough
i keep opening my legs
the ex-roommate slut-shames me but puts his ear to my door
and jerks off to me anyway
the ex-friend tells me / i like it / when he pins me to the couch
no matter how often i say i don’t
i tell my therapist i have trouble developing healthy relationships with men
i tell myself i want to have healthy relationships with men
i need to have healthy relationships with men
who don’t read poetry but can close read every line of my body
and who needs to eat / when the price of a sandwich always includes
a proposition for sex
and shouldn’t i / have a little empathy / when the man / who does not ask / opens me up
with his fingers in the darkest corner on the dance floor / & cries to the man who
does not love me for getting caught with his hand up my skirt / violating his bro’s
property rights
and why do i want so badly to be pretty / why do i dress like that / go out alone at night  like
twirl my hair on the tip of my finger / & laugh at jokes that aren’t funny / & adjust my
oh-so-red lipstick
like that / if every time a man tells me / what he wants me to be / i feel father’s fingers
pressing his prints
into my throat / & i am sixteen again and crying in best friend’s room & nothing
she says
will stop me from believing
that i am the scalpel on my sex
boys will be boys / and i won’t be surprised when i am / one out of
an ever increasing statistic
1 out of 6 women / 1 out of 4 trans folks / 1 out of 1 trying my best to keep
the razor from finding my skin
so why is the only woman who can save me just as fragile
as my sense of self-preservation
but best friend always makes me tea / always lets me finish my sentences / always lets me
be exactly
who I never
let me be
[ this body is a stranger
she surprises me with the morning
gifts of filling of lengthening
of gasping proclamation
of softening dewy pored
screaming into the pillow
when she likes you back
likes you
likes you
like you
like her ]
best friends scent still on the sheets we shared
wondering whether we'll be the ones who make it out alive
but i still wonder if i'll ever be
as pretty as she says
no matter how many times
she tells me       i am


Dahlia Damoiselle

Dahlia is a poetess, writer, educatrix, and sex industry worker who still smells like she’s in the dungeon.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2023

All Issues