“Ambiguous Antecedents” by Scott Beal

Scott Beal


When the kid tells you their new pronoun of choice 
is it
you count to ten. You try to see
the kid as the kid sees itself.
A pile of wet stones. A pall of whetstones.
Morphology with segmented abdomen. 

When strangers hear me speak of my partner
they assume he’s male. When my partner
speaks of her partner,
strangers assume she’s female.
Partner seems like such an unloaded word,
a word that should make 
a harmless click when triggered.

A female client (A) tells her female therapist (B)
about the myriad joys and frustrations 
of her relationship with Nick (C),
and with no interrogation they both agree:
he, he, he, he.  When A tells B
the Nick is a transgender man,
the therapist immediately switches Nick’s pronouns
to she, she. It is a curious reflex,
a perturbation of the X-Y plane.
Nick becomes quadratic, a variable in a problem 
with multiple solutions, neither of which
can displace its opposite.

Redact the last stanza. I loathe referring
to people I love as coordinates.
Someone’s feeding coordinates into targeting systems.
My friend snaps her fingers in her therapist’s face.
This is the love of my life you’re trying to erase.
The therapist snaps back.

No matter how I hated my name
I never dreamed of changing it. It sounded
like a hammer glance off rock.
It sounded like a syllable
repeated by a clock. I almost wrote
glock. It was the suit of plate
I was born inside. Its hinges were fixed.
I would grow into it. Its perimeters
defined my growing shape.

Now it places the lotion in the basket.

Every term I tell my students their writing fails
due to unclear antecedents.

Christian groups oppose the LGBTQ agenda.
They’re trying to impose a radical view of sex.
Kid wants to use the same bathroom as my son.
Kid was born female. This is unacceptable.

When the teen musters the guts to tell you
they want you to refer to them
no longer as Z but as A,
it is not monstrous to wonder, though it is
monstrous to say it, what was wrong
with the name I gave you?

Okay. You weigh it. You’re it.
You’re who everyone on the playground
will be hyperaware of. The one
they’ll do their best to not let touch.

When a person is introduced as he or she,
you code the designation in your brain.
Does the designation change when you receive information
the person is trans? Due to what disbelief?
RuPaul says we’re all born naked,
and the rest is drag.

When you’ve known a person their entire life
so well finally they trust you with the gift
of their one true name, you have to train
your mouth that love’s sound can take new shapes.
Each time you speak of your child
there’s a hitch as you make sure
you remember who they are.

When Prince died I told my kids how he made himself
unpronounceable. They hummed at how the symbol
he invented for his name
blent the arrow and the plus.
Vector/excess. Female/male.
They never considered the nail, the cross.

This morning the artist formerly known as Zoe
would like to be known as they.
If you’re vexed at the fact
that they’s a plural pronoun,
you understand better than you think.

When the kid tells you their pronoun is it
you flinch. You love them so much
for trusting you with this. You want to give them
every inch. But it’s so easy 
to string up a thing by a pulley.
It’s so easy to burn an effigy.
You worry what way it’s trying to pave.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Scott Beal: “When I was nineteen I wrote a poem called ‘Assessment of My Masculinity,’ and assessments of the idea of masculinity have driven much of my writing since. It’s exciting to be living in a time when all the received notions about gender are being challenged, opened, surpassed. I learn new things every day about how it’s possible to be a person, from my kids, students, friends. ‘Ambiguous Antecedents’ is one of many recent poems that grapples with both the liberation and the danger of stepping beyond the binaries we’re coached into.” (web)

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