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When I first began to read Ryka Aoki‘s Seasonal Velocities (Trans-Genre), a brief collection of poems, stories, and essays divided thematically into seasons, I did not want to finish. It hurt too much.
The beginning section, winter, hit me like dirty slush. Hell no I’m not reading this, I thought each night, as I moved through the book in paragraph increments. I have enough of my own crap, my own flashbacks of vicious parents and animal guts. How could I possibly make room to hold this, too? I read slowly, trepidation increasing alongside guilt. Had I become so hurt and gray-hearted that I couldn’t stand to hear how someone else was wounded, too?
I trudged in iron-lined boots through Velocities’ winter. Every now and then I came upon a poem, a poem sharp and clean and cold, clear like the first breath drawn at the beginning of a long walk through fresh snow. I paused in these poems— frozen, glittering in a shaft of sun—grateful for the spell and release of Aoki’s lyrical poise.
Then I ‘d turn the page through the slush again, the cracked ice and frozen dog shit, the yellow, reeking snow. I turned slowly through the book until the winter finally waned.
Then came the mud, the shoots and buds of spring. Unaware I warmed to the work, slowly began to melt. I turned and turned still slowly, but gaining speed. My heart began to trill with excitement; my body relaxed; I muttered things to myself. Bunnies fucked everywhere; I paced. Aoki’s poems burst like buds to flower in my brain. I realized that what I was holding was a raw and great gift. The pages flew beneath my fingers- butterfly and bird wings, the quick and rapturous forming of lips around words.
By the time she introduced her penis in the transcript of a performance art piece (summer, What’s Not to Love?, page 78), I was half in love with her, or her book, wherever or if ever one ended and the other began. I was sweating by then- sunlight, blue skies, summer heat. I realized that the book—the book that I’d hated at first, the book that I thought I’d never finish—was swiftly drawing to a close. I smelled the damp of turning leaves and feared the return of the chill. I slowed, afraid to cross, afraid to end. Ambivalence.
Allow me to insert here, in the pause before the fall, that I am trans, and that Ryka Aoki is trans, and that I usually avoid reviewing books by trans authors. To be succinct, often times they are either too close to home, or so far to the side of anything remotely like it, that I most frequently want to bite the author. It is nearly impossible for me to separate myself from a work by a trans author, and so it seems unfair to speak on them.
Further, I am a survivor of trans on trans violence, and I associate the trans community more with the violence and desolation of winter than the swollen, seed-fat mud of spring. This makes me a bad community cheerleader. Somewhere in the space between my trans boyfriend’s fist and my face, I realized that it wasn’t only cisgender people throwing trans-hating punches. Standing shocked in the whistle of impending impact is still, rather unfortunately, how my body anticipates a trans community event. If Ryka Aoki had come to my town to deliver her above-mentioned blue dildo performance piece, I would have been too afraid to attend. I fear my own community, which is sad and rather ironic, as my family is one of very few where all immediate members—all parents plus the kid—are trans.
Aoki’s book is strong, raw, brave enough to comfort and melt my own fears a bit. As Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaws once represented the lure and possibilities of trans community to me, alone and scared as I was in some unswept corner of Bumfuck, GA, Aoki’s book represents the possibility of healing, of hope and redemption, of reunion, as she puts it: not outreach, not inclusion, not access—not knuckles and mandible, nor the silence that swallowed—but reunion.
Seasonal Velocities, even with the sharp and brutal chill of its winter, is or will be an iconic book—a book of complicated histories and alliances, of being an outsider amongst outsiders, a book of the coming together of things seemingly separate that were once one. If mud is the primordial state of creation—the leaping ground for seeds, creatures, civilizations—then Velocities is a bit of cold water trickling through the slowly warming ground, softening and enriching it—turning and turning, wings, words, the wind we make ourselves.
My thanks to Ryka Aoki for writing this book, and to Trans-Genre for publishing it. My thanks to Velocities’ winter, but most especially to the flourish and generosity of its spring, the heat of its summer. This is a beautiful book, even when it’s fucking ugly. This is a book that I will offer to my trans child to read as he grows older, a child who at 8 has already had to bear more winter fury and crossing winds than anyone ever should.
Seasonal Velocities is what I want my son to hold of the trans community, the poetry of raw and reunion that I wish for his heart. Earnest, unflinching, exquisite, centered and sharp in its own uncertainty—this book is his community legacy that I am proud to pass down. For my son’s heart, for mine, for all of our winters, thank you, thank you, thank you for it.
by Ryka Aoki
Paperback, 9780985110505, 139 pp.