Stacey Waite’s poetry rebels against and with identity, against and with the body. Waite’s poetry rebels against how outsiders perceive both as working together or against one another. This poem speaks to those moments of rebellion, and does it with humor and candor—an essential part of Waite’s poetic charm. Waite’s chapbook Love Poem to Androgyny contains a series of “mistaken” poems that contain similar moves—poetic writing which continually shifts between humor and the serious reality of identity, the recurring question of “who am I?”
Here, the poem closes with Jimmy. Waite writes, “And when Jimmy is done, he nods. He wants me / to keep him secret, to pretend neither of us had ever been born.” Well, Jimmy, you’re not a secret anymore. Stacey Waite has blown open and documented the whole experience—documented your hands, your “holy-shit-it’s-a-woman” face—in this very personal and rebellious poem.
On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Man by Security Personnel at Newark International Airport
It’s like being born again, these metal detectors
are like traveling through the womb, the buzz
goes off to indicate the birth of trouble.
And the gender of trouble matters because
when a woman goes through, Jimmy yells,
“Female Search” and a large woman appears
from behind her security table. So when I walk through
and my wallet chain sets off the womb alert,
I wait. I wait for “Female Search” like I wait for the bus,
that hopeful and expecting look. But Jimmy takes me
himself. Jimmy slides his hands down the length
of my thighs, he pats his palm stiffly against my crotch.
He asks me to remove my boots and jacket.
And so I do. And at first, the woman in me goes unnoticed.
But when I hold my arms straight out
and he traces the outline of my underarms, he makes
that face, the face I’ve seen before,
the “holy-shit-it’s-a-woman” face,
the “pretend-you-don’t-notice-the-tits” face.
Jimmy’s hands change from a tender sweep
to a kind of wiping, like he’s trying to rid my body
of the afterbirth, he is preparing to peal off the skin of my body
as he would the apple he brings to work for break time.
Jimmy stares hard at the metal detector,
with a kind of respect like the arch of it became holy,
transformed me on my walk through.
Jimmy is nervous for the following reasons:
he has just felt the crotch and chest of a woman who he thought was a man,
he can not decide which way he liked her best,
his supervisor might notice he has not yelled “Female Search”
which he knows is grounds for some sort of lawsuit,
he’s angry, his blue uniform makes him angry
so that when he is patting her down now, he does it with force,
he wants her to feel he is stronger than she is,
he wants the metal detector to stop being a gender change machine
from which this woman, who is also me, immerges,
unties her boots slowly, follows all his directions.
And when Jimmy is done, he nods. He wants me
to keep him secret, to pretend neither of us had ever been born.
Rebellious Women in Poetry (brought to you by rebellious women) is made possible by rebellious women. This poem is reprinted from Love Poem to Androgyny, published by Main Street Rag, with permission of the author. Stacey Waite is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. Waite has published three collections of poems: Choke (winner of the 2004 Frank O’Hara Prize in Poetry), Love Poem to Androgyny, and the lake has no saint (winner of the 2008 Snowbound Poetry Prize from Tupelo Press). Stacey’s fourth collection, Butch Geography, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Visit www.staceywaite.com. Introduction is by Jessica Dyer, a writer and editor who lives, writes and teaches in Chicago.