Karen Poppy: “Diving at the Lip of the Water”
Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor
Diving at the Lip of the Water
I am the wall at the lip of the water
I am the rock that refused to be battered
I am the dyke in the matter, the other
I am the wall with the womanly swagger
I am the dragon, the dangerous dagger
I am the bulldyke, the bulldagger
From “She Who,” by Judy Grahn, at the beginning of Chapter Six of her book, Another Mother Tongue, about the linguistic history of the word bulldyke/bulldike.
The common duiker [a small antelope, name pronounced dyker] uses a pair of glands under its eyes for scent marking with a tarry secretion. Duikers run with a distinctive darting and diving style when they flee danger. This gives rise to its common name which is the Africaans for “diver.”
From the website of Fascinating Africa.
Between trees, within edges
Of forests, woodlands.
Among open clearings.
With scent markings below eyes,
We label another our own.
This is how we bull duikers do it.
We males secrete a substance,
Deftly labeling, marking with
Our tarry, leaf-scented names,
Our territories, calves, mates.
When we run, we dive at the lip
Of the water, be it a field, a deep
Forest, a body. We do this from love
Or fear—which you understand,
For you and I mark in the same way.
Humans cover with other scents,
Afraid of labels or diving into them.
Each marking, energy, power.
Labels we give ourselves,
Labels we use to mark another.
Some names change in meaning,
Mutate over time, original markers
Lost. Some we mistake in origin:
Bull duiker, a male antelope.
Never the origin of bulldyke.
We cull meaning from sound,
Just as our eyes tell us what
We see. We feel. An energy,
A power. You misread her,
By mistake or by design.
We can only guess at origin
Of bulldyke and bulldagger.
Roman times. Harlem Renaissance
Novels. Women singing the Blues.
Dig within erasure and resistance.
I like the Blues best, the song
Written and sung by Bessie
Jackson (pseudonym of Lucille
Bogan)—explicit and raw,
Prophetic dirty Blues, peel
Back the layers, and here
It is, lay of the land. Women
Can be whatever they choose:
Comin’ a time, B.D. women
Ain’t gonna need no men.
“Bulldike is the kind of word
Most women hope to avoid
All their lives, for few things
Are more horrifying to be called,”
But these women hold the dagger.
Surrounded by hostile bulls.
Sometimes surrounded by
Women afraid of difference.
Sometimes by people who
Insist that she must be a man.
We can reclaim the name
“Used on a woman like a whip.”
We can reclaim our own swagger.
Our own swagger can be womanly.
Our swagger can mark our love.
So says my lover, who loves me
Body and soul. There must be
Space for everyone. For women
Who swagger. For all women.
Don’t say she isn’t lesbian because
She loves me. There must be space
For her. For me: queer, never quite
Within borders, between, on edges,
In the open. I want to make that clear.
Embrace and don’t isolate us.
Surround us with love, define us,
Mark us by our love for each other.
I love a woman, but my gender bleeds
Beyond labels and markings, no matter
What I’m called, and what you call me.
No matter what I call myself, I am marked.
I bleed monthly. I’ve been attacked with
Thrown stones, called a dyke. I swagger
Womanly, and I love a woman, but
I am not one. I swagger, and I shift.
We have to love each other.
Those on either side of gender
Binary. Those who transform,
Transgress—and those who
Stay hidden in heavy cover.
Also those like me,
Who don’t fit evenly,
Who shift and move
Without gender, and
Some things, especially hate,
Can mark you. They have
Marked me. Call me what
You will. I love you,
As I do, unconditionally.
I will love my lover,
Knowing her beauty
Shakes the earth, comes
From another place, full
Of energy, power.
The sleek duiker dives
In escaping run, zig zags
Like my lover’s tongue—
But my lover is not afraid.
My body a safe field, a sheltering forest.
She cleanses me, recitations
Of sacred ash, this beautiful
Burning, a pooled release.
When I cry, I am hers, and
I am her. She holds me.
There lived a warrior queen named
Boudica. Bulldike, or bulldiker.
In a last stand, with warrior daughters,
Boudica burned Londinium,
Now modern London, to the ground.
She led a vast uprising when Romans
Invaded to destroy her people.
What happens if we erase her name?
What happens to our own markings
Of energy, power? Let her be named.
Let us dive at the lip of the water,
Into love, and fearless. Let us
Mark each other with freedom,
Like bold Boudica at the helm
Of the chariot, horses charging—
No one holding the reins.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen Poppy has work published in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her chapbook, CRACK OPEN/EMERGENCY, is published by Finishing Line Press (2020), as is the forthcoming chapbook OUR OWN BEAUTIFUL BRUTALITY (2021). Her chapbook, EVERY POSSIBLE THING, is published by Homestead Lighthouse Press (2020). An attorney licensed in California and Texas, Karen Poppy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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