Blood to Clay to Wood
a poem by Uma Biswas-Whittaker
TW: Implied gender dysphoria and transphobia
Ma used to tell me about goddesses on earth
and the souls that wandered just above.
“I hear they are free, but they come back for us
in the shape of trees and seas and doves.”
I’d watch the sculptures sitting by the stove
and try to catch the clay turning into wood.
I was quite jealous of the goddesses, of how
they changed all the time, in ways I wished I could.
A body of a goddess is so impermanent –
giver of life, carrier of it too.
“Please, goddess,” I said at night, “tell me
how to change, how to be like you.”
She must have loved me, or maybe
she heard them when they said, “It betrays her.”
Perhaps she felt guilty for putting us in these bodies
or regretted what we were.
The clay cracked before my eyes
and I knew that she had heard my prayers.
The sculpture ran off the counter and shattered on the floor
and a figure rose out of the wreckage there.
She was a woman now a man now neither and now all.
They stood tall hit the ceiling broke the kitchen tile
granted me a wish, exchanged a secret,
and all I could do was smile.
When I was in high school, I was open and honest about my identity as a queer, gender-non-conforming person. However, other Asian students often informed me that I was “betraying my culture” by being queer. At first, I was hurt by their words, but I soon found myself amused by this utterly ridiculous claim. I was raised in a Hindu household, where I heard stories about gods who often changed genders and loved other deities regardless of gender expression. This poem is both a fantasy about gender identity and the freedom to express it, and a response to the homophobia and transphobia I have seen from too many members of the South Asian community.
Uma Biswas-Whittaker (@umaghh) is a Bengali-British student, currently reading English and Classical Studies. They enjoy writing poetry and prose inspired by ancient mythology and its themes: gender fluidity, diasporas, deities, and power.
Cover Photo Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons