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1 essay
by Gion Davis

Gion Davis is a trans poet from Española, New Mexico where they grew up on a sheep ranch. Their poetry has been featured in Wax Nine Journal, SELFFUCK, Okay Donkey Magazine, and others. Their debut collection Too Much (2022) received the 2021 Ghost Peach Press Prize selected by Chen Chen. They have received the Best New Poets of 2018 Prize selected by Ocean Vuong. They graduated with their MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2019 and currently live in Denver, Colorado. Gion can be found on Instagram @starkstateofmind & on Twitter @gheeontoast.

The Thing No One Wants You to Know

I think the thing no one wants you to know is you can actually run away. You are allowed to go, at least for a little while. You can drive all over the place and end up in California and eat fried cod in Fort Bragg and half-joke/half-serious about moving there even though you know you probably won’t because small towns you can only get to by wild little highways aren’t really your thing anymore.


You are allowed to have the most perfect fucking day you can remember, even though you are tired from sleeping on an inflatable mattress in some stranger’s living room. It’ll be a day where it doesn’t matter that you are trans, that you are newly 28, that you are waiting on the hospital bill from your boyfriend having to go to the ER with COVID after you lost your insurance because you quit your job three weeks ago to run off into the country.


It won’t matter that you’re a poet standing under some giant redwoods and wondering if they ever have perfect days and what those days are like. Maybe just the right amount of sun, just the right amount of rain, just the right amount of passing nutrients back and forth to one another underground in secret, just the right amount of water dredged up from the dwindling riverbed. It’s hard to imagine anything going wrong for them. I stood in the completely burned-out heart of a tree that was still healthy and enormous everywhere except right at the bottom in the middle which was empty. You could have lived inside it. Maybe someone has.


The rest of the west is so dry and sick. The trees in Montana are brittle and yellow. The fire scars jumping the road in Washington. The blown down timber like shiny dog hair in southern Oregon. In Wyoming, there are no trees and it rained all night long. Lightning spread its peachy fingers out for miles across the sky, firing like cannons right over the van and we laughed because there was nothing else to do but hope for the best.


Imagining that any of that even exists when you are in the narrow stripe of ancient redwoods that are still standing in Humboldt County feels ridiculous.


You lie on your back in the shamrocks and ferns and look up and watch the blue jays darting hundreds of feet up from tree to tree, and the gossamer threads of spider webs, and little needles falling silver in the breeze, and wonder if any of your life even exists outside of today in California. If anyone even remembers or cares and if you care if they do or not. And then you’ll get up and wander down to where a river that is even shallower and narrower than the Rio Grande is limping along even though its bed is easily a thousand feet wide and you’ll pick through the toxic algae with your boys to skip rocks.


I think the thing about the redwoods is they are like the ocean in their intense indifference. But unlike the ocean they are individually alive like you are, sort of, maybe. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but they hum in the wind the way a cave might hum. The breeze never touches the forest floor but they are so tall that, up high, the wind is fast and it resonates all the way down.


Adam broke a bunch of reeds off by the river and whistled through them like a pan flute while we asked Alec, who has perfect pitch, what note it was (somewhere between a G and an F). Then we got back in the van and drove down the 1 which is a road that twists through the woods like a loose shoelace in a way that makes you consider how many trees were cut down to make this stupid road in the first place just for what? Something to look at? But then you burst out of the forest onto the ocean and you’re like oh fuck holy shit this fucking road man this is it this is America this is what learning to drive a car is fucking all about. And the ocean is turquoise blue with black rocks and black sand and black pelicans and the fog on the coast is opalescent white and you take a bunch of goofy pictures and videos because you’re so relieved to be done driving the fucking 1 through the woods like that. But you are also five friends who are all a little in love because that’s what tour is like so you hug a lot and hold onto each other and climb up on the guard rail and the top of the van and even though you’re all on your phones, it is profound and tender and silly and precious.


And then you drive to Fort Bragg and go down to the wharf and get a pilsner and fish and french fries and Mike makes Alec laugh harder than you’ve ever seen him laugh while you sit by the water feeling so good and so free because you haven’t even thought about your email for a week. I could say a hundred bitter things about transphobia across the country and hippies and broken vans and broken hearts but today, today was so perfect it was like nothing has ever gone wrong.


If Larry Levis said “My life has no witness / When I whisper to myself” and Lisa Jarnot said “I am loving you beside the man with his pants down on / the highway where you are love itself and dying” and you and Riley and Alec joke about getting matching tattoos in Reno of Frank O’Hara saying “you / wet your pants and I’ll wet mine,” then what else? It’s only been since you’ve started doing the impossible that this secret trapdoor in reality has opened.


There is profundity in diminishing returns, in knowing if you went back with all the same people at the same time next year, it wouldn’t be the same experience. The restaurants that don’t feel as fun the second time you’re there. The people who get older, more complicated, less joyful. The fires that eat up the trees and the floods that wipe away bridges. It is getting smaller, this world we know best. And, in that shrinking, there is also permission.


You’ll get to your cowboy-themed motel in Willits after driving up from the ocean at sunset while the trees and the fog and the mountains and the canyons dripped golden with the weight of late August. You’ll walk to the gas station across the street to buy beer and a church key with Adam whose bed is too short or whose legs are too long. The feeling that has been skulking around the horizon all day, the one that reminds you that you may never see the redwoods again, sits doglike by the door, waiting.


I am not going to live for 1000 years. I am not a redwood tree or a deep sea sponge. I am a 28-year-old trans guy with no job and a credit card who is surprised to still be alive at all.


I think the thing they don’t want you to know about transness is it frightens people because, at a certain point in every trans life, there is a moment where you think to yourself “I can’t do this anymore.” And then you don’t. There’s a giving up, a turning away, an insistence on choosing something better for yourself that most people don’t allow themselves to believe is possible. It isn’t brave, it’s fleeing into the hollow forest of your heart to find the life you’ve come to realize you’ve missed so much of while pretending to want something else. You are running away from your own death that has brushed past you like many tall ferns in the dark. Your life has no witness but you and, occasionally, your four friends who love you. It is devastating. It is the best day you’ve ever had. It is the end of the world. You are love itself, and dying.

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