When every social category marks you for harm, you may find it “best to identify yourself with a wound / Preferably before they even happen.” At least, KB’s speaker first confronts pain in this way in their award-winning poetic debut, How to Identify Yourself with a Wound (Kallisto Gaia Press, 2022). Spanning two decades across as many Texas cities, How to Identify Yourself with a Wound chronicles one Black transmasculine person’s nonlinear healing journey. These full-throated poems, while wholly KB’s own, capture the incalculable complexities of contemporary survival.
In “self-portrait as Frank Ocean song about drugs,” one of the chapbook’s earliest poems, the speaker contends with their attraction to “un-out women […] who only see me / with a devil’s sickle resting on their left shoulder.” Their lovers, deeming queer masculinity a corrupting force, retreat into the closet, relegating trysts to car seats and street corners. At the same time, the speaker only pursues women “with daddy issues, unstable self-images, & blunts dipped / in promethazine,” cementing their eventual disposal.
Subsequent pieces explore similar tensions within the speaker’s other relationships. In “First Boyfriend,” the speaker considers their high school relationship’s relative health in contrast to its age gap and explosive conclusion. However, upon receiving a Facebook friend request from their ex-boyfriend, the speaker observes, “he had three children with / women multiple years younger than me.” Then, in “Notes on Sexual Experiment,” they reengage in sexual relationships with men, goading “love to make a mockery” of their lesbian identity. Nevertheless, their curiosity collapses beneath their discomfort, leading them to excise themselves from their male lovers’ lives.
As Tim Kreider aptly declares in his oft-quoted essay, “I Know What You Think of Me,” “We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice.” KB resists this easy sentiment with each and every piece. After all, as the speaker proposes in “Pre-Top Surgery Pantoum,” “To be alive is to be scarred & riddled with problems. / To be dead is to give up on ideas for birth.” Here, KB’s speaker recognizes these contradictions in themselves—and extends this understanding to their subjects’ full humanity.
“you’ll never know what your mother went through” best exemplifies KB’s aptitude for empathetic characterization. Presented in the form of a numbered list, “you’ll never know what your mother went through” explores the speaker’s relationship to their semi-estranged birth mother. In this piece, the speaker notes, “My therapist defines me as a person that mothers all of their partners. I offer selves that I never owned—a name, a tongue, a moment of time—to a partner in efforts to cosplay intimacy.” These cycles of pseudo-motherhood continually manifest in their romantic entanglements, dooming them to failure. It is only through self-acceptance and introspection that the speaker frees themselves from repetition.
Overall, I found How to Identify Yourself with a Wound to be a gorgeous exercise in candor, a perfect display of authentic existence without surrendering to popular ideals of “authenticity.” I especially admire how even KB’s most morbid moments are infused with hope. In “When the Lights Shut Off,” the chapbook’s final poem, the speaker considers their own inevitable death in the context of lineage and community. Arm in arm, they harmonize with a departed friend, “I hurt but I love you much / I promise / better is coming.”
Fox Auslander is a nonbinary poet and editor based in West Philadelphia. They serve as the editor-in-chief of Delicate Friend, an intimate arts and literature magazine, and one of three lead poetry editors at Alien Magazine, a literary hub for outsiders. Their work appears or is forthcoming in beestung, Voicemail Poems, Eunoia Review, and beyond. They believe trans love will save the world.
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