August 17, 2013

Heidi Shuler

TRIALS OF A TEENAGE TRANSVESTITE’S SINGLE MOTHER

My son’s black ruffled skirt is shorter than the straight denim one
he usually wears. We’re late for school. Don’t dawdle, I say
as he swings one leg out of the truck and then the other, far unlike

how my grandmother taught me—knees clasped, pivot at the hips,
feet land together, and stand, ladylike. Those were Iowa manners;
this is Eugene, Oregon, etiquette, twenty years later. A little copper

cowbell clanks against the glass door of the convenience store
as he rambles in, lanky stride long with steel toe boots and fishnet
knees as far out in front of him as a grasshopper. His delight

in the flounce of his skirt is a grasshopper wishing to skip.
The Maybelline black eyeliner applied like someone not long past
crayons and coloring books is a stealth acquisition from my makeup bag,

returned with a flattened tip, which I dedicated to his shaving kit,
grateful we don’t share a similar preference in hosiery. At six feet tall
and narrow in the shoulders and hips he strikes an attractive silhouette,

despite the signature slouch of a sixteen-year-old still frightened
by the violence of the body’s jolt of height that put him suddenly
at eye-level with teachers, store clerks, and bus passengers. Draped

against a lamppost downtown his accidental elegance betrays him
even without the fake fur coat, his graceful knobby hands flutter
with his story and unconscious laugh. I saw him there one Saturday

evening before we agreed I wouldn’t do this, and crossed the street,
sidled up to his longtime friend from back in the days of Oreos and milk
after school and skateboards carving concrete riverbeds in the driveway,

and I asked this boy in a man body like a lifeguard, like someone
who could protect if need be, You got him? Junior lifeguard speaks
with the unpredictable tenor of a new Adam’s apple, You know I always

got his back, nobody gonna hurt him. As I wait, two fellas in a semi-rusted
Subaru wagon parked beside me eating breakfast chalupas from yellow paper
grease spotted wrappers are watching him in the store. It’s a wager

I hear. It’s I hope it IS a faggot I hear. The one from the passenger side
is up and it’s the copper cowbell clank I hear. I can see my boy in the back
of the store at the refrigerator leaning on the open glass door probably

looking for the blue skeleton drink with the skull and crossbones
on the bottle because he’s a kid and I remember when he was
a very little kid but big enough to run fast and chase the chickens

and then the rooster turned on him and stood ground and danger
was suddenly close, much closer than me, and how would I run fast
enough to grab him up in time ahead of that beak, those spurs and claws?

How did he get so far away, my boy with beautiful brown eyes? Chalupa guy
pretends to peruse the next soda case to get a look at him; I’m too late,
he’s laughing. I run. But when I reach the crackerjacks and close the distance

I find chalupa is laughing at something my son has said. Back in the car,
as if we’re playing a board game, playing battleship on the coffee table,
he mocks my she-mama-bear hurling through the 7-Eleven mad-dash,

Honestly? Was your sum total game strategy ‘kill him’? He laughs again
and bends my rearview mirror to straighten the black satin bow
bobby-pinned in his hair, and scrubs a fleck of lipstick from his tooth.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
2012 Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

[download audio]

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Heidi Shuler: “Who isn’t charmed by magic? I want to play in the magic box where just a few words can say a great big thing—or maybe they say a small thing that gets big because it resonates with many people. It’s beautiful out here. Thanks be for a pen to keep from bursting.” (website)