When even language refuses your inclusion, do you shrink yourself into nonexistence—or forge a new way forward? The dynamic speaker of Jude Marr’s debut full-length collection, We Know Each Other By Our Wounds (Animal Heart Press, 2020), chooses to claw their way into nonbinary embodiment amidst a disintegrating world. Journeying across apocalyptic landscapes and half-imagined cities, Marr’s speaker wrestles with constructed binaries in search of genuine connection. What they discard may ultimately free them—though not without personal and political concessions.
In “Taxonomies,” one of the collection’s earliest poems, the speaker argues, “taxonomy is death: Audubon killed / his birds to keep their wings / still: to capture them / on paper […]” Recent transphobic news cycles validate these words as truth. To be classified is to be dissected—and to mark emergent aberrations for slaughter. Thus, for their own sake and others’, the speaker resists legibility through continual divergence from the social order, deviating “until my skinned soles, until / my unchained feet / bleed […]”
Marr’s principled dedication to linguistic fluidity extends to the level of punctuation. Eschewing full stops in favor of commas, colons, and Dickinsonian em-dashes, phrases and images open into one another, re-emerging amalgamated. In “Metaphor as Privilege,” the speaker’s home simultaneously appears as a “prison made of gingerbread: […] / hearth-ash, a blanket of snow, a lit match” and “a pillory with pillows”—hostile in its patchwork familiarity. In this way, Marr’s poetics leave no single image discrete, inviting readers to embrace these concepts’ rich contradictions.
Yet, linguistic resistance alone cannot unmake systemic violence. In “Pacing My Midtown Neighborhood,” the speaker drifts, ghostlike, through interactions with their impoverished neighbors. They glide as “smoothly as a jointed doll” past an elderly man selling umbrellas, an undulating teenager, and a series of “boarded / homes, fragile as leaf skeletons,” unable to combat the town’s encroaching decay. After dissociating through a transaction at the package store, the speaker drifts past an encampment, where they catch a well-dressed individual’s gaze. In the poem’s sole moment of notable agency, the speaker chooses to nod in acknowledgement.
Their passivity persists in “The Man Who Smells of Lemons,” in which the titular plant-human hybrid collapses before an impotent audience. “Exiled from the crowd,” the speaker observes the chaos from a “third-floor window ledge,” watching as a yellow-clad girl-child kicks the “man-tree” to the ground. Again, the speaker fails to move against the “pitiless” masses, only lifting their fist to the lemon-man from a distance.
Marr addresses their limitations in the collection’s titular piece, “We Know Each Other By Our Wounds.” Here, Marr’s speaker considers the marginalized poet, lips “sewn / with twine,” unbound by “a scissor or razorblade […]” Tongue loosened by trauma, the “poet finger-paints with bloodied / drool: fluids pucker and pool / into evidence […]” However, as Marr’s speaker acknowledges, “(print is privilege— / unsown poets make songs flesh,” suggesting even the collection’s existence represents capitulation to institutional validation. Without occasional concessions to an unyielding system, it would be much more difficult to hold Marr’s work in our hands.
Despite these occasional constraints and contradictions, We Know Each Other By Our Wounds provides readers with an intellectual framework through which to interrogate and gnaw away at invisible modes of oppression. Even as their world returns to ash, Marr’s speaker persists, “unmade: I am they, and not yet / dead.”
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.