Liz Bowen is a writer and literary scholar living in New York. She is the author of Sugarblood (Metatron 2017) and the chapbook Compassion Fountain (Hyacinth Girl 2018), and her poetry and essays can be found in Boston Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Atlas Review, Dream Pop Press, and glitterMOB. She is a Ph.D. candidate in English and comparative literature at Columbia University, where she is working on a dissertation that traces disability and animality as intertwined sites of literary experimentation in the long twentieth century. She also teaches undergraduate writing, works on the poetry staff at Anomaly, and cares for a rescue pit bull named Rosie.

This poem was longlisted for the 2018 Peach Gold in Poetry with guest judge Morgan Parker.

1 poem

by Liz Bowen

Piß

Note: It is not recommended to view this piece on a mobile device due to its unique formatting.

 

When I am twelve my mother meets with the principal of my middle school to discuss my piss. Recently students have been told that in the hallways we are to carry foam-green cards printed with twelve checkboxes. When all twelve are checked, we don’t go to the bathroom until the next quarter semester. My mother has never heard the word ableism, but she storms into the office with her heels smoking—

                               \\                                              

                                \\                                             

                                //\\                                           WHAT

                              //   \\                                          MY

                            //    //\\\                                      DAUGHTER

                          //      \\ \\                                       DOES                                              

                         //       // \\                                       WITH                                              

                        ||        ||     ||                                       HER                                            

                      // \\   //     ||                                       BLADDER

                     ||   ||\\  ||      ||                                       IS

                    //    \\ || \\    \\                                     NONE                                              

                    ||     ||  ||  ||       ||                                    OF

                   ||     // \\  \\   //                                     YOUR

                  \\     ||   ||    ||  ||   

                   //   //  //   ||   ||       

                  ||    ||    ||     ||   ||  

                  approximately            how            many            times

 

           is            the            nurse’s            office            adequate

 

aren’t             you            concerned            /////            her          fitting            in

 

            //            can’t            just           be            her

 

peers            of            steel            and            sacrifice            who

 

            work            for            usual            relief:

                                                                                         (re)

                                                                                    ex       pulsion

                   ||    ||   ||   ||   ||

                   ||  //   //  ||  //

                   ||  ||   ||     \\ \\

                  // //  //     // ||

 

My mother explains the failures of my anatomy to people in suits. The way sugar conjures slugs in my streams The way the body tries to push them out with the trash The way held bags curdle toward infection. That is how I would say it but She uses other words. We would both say / She does say / It is OK for small animals to have to piss. 

 

“The amount of water in my body is political.”[1]      

 

Twelve years old and pissing my guts to oblivion. Traffic, piss, repeat. Seagram’s Ginger Ale, piss, repeat. Ten hour drive from Tennessee. Trying not to throw up in the backseat, I weigh 56 pounds, the same as my pit bull. When a dog is sick, she doesn’t go out of her way to tell you. Neither does a twelve year old girl. But the body cries out like a drowning, with flailings you have to learn how to look for.

 

At this time, 2002, there is no Affordable Care Act. My mother on the phone with Blue Cross, asking how I am meant to survive adulthood. I will never afford, but I can always have a job with benefits. (There is no Great Recession either.) My parents save money and I attend middle school. When pain flashes across my bladder like a spotlight on a swimming pool, I learn to ride it. I hold pain and the future in the same failed organ.

 

                 // //   //   //  ||

                 ||  ||   //   //   //

                //  ||  ||      \\  ||

              //    ||  ||        \\||

            //||   //  //        ||||

            || ||  ||     \\       ||||

           ||   \\ \\   ||       ||||

           \\  ||   \\//       //||

            ||  ||     ||||       || \\

I escape my first run-in with a hard-on by fleeing to the girls’ room. I pee for a minute straight.

          //   ||    ||||       ||     \\

         ||    //  ////     //     //

       //    ||    || ||     //      ||

A few years later, my brother and I start typing “piß” to each other in AOL Instant Messenger, back and forth in larger and larger font, brighter and brighter colors, against darker and darker backgrounds. An anti-Penis Game: no sound, no risk, no admonishing public sphere. Delight in the funny fluids of both body and language. ß like two dicks pissing onto the same spot. ß like a stream down a pile of rocks. At this time, I am abusing my organs, treating them as normal people treat theirs / as if they don’t exist. If anything, I reuse the dusty old tubes and syringes at the bottom of my bag. Illness isn’t cute, and I am already a sexual latecomer. Line the eyes and stuff the bra / tuck the disease device under the waistband. Ignore invisible symptoms / hide the others. But still there is pee. Inconvenient in its insistences, its interrupted timelines, its orbit around dependable spaces. I’m bouncing in front of the microphone / I’m crossing my legs at the front of the class / I’m quietly unbuttoning my fly in the car. 

 

I’m wondering if the Aetna representative hears me peeing at the other end of this call. I thought there was no deductible.

 

I’m wondering what if I just did it during sex instead of always tensing my passageways?

 

            (BURN

                        AND BURN 

                                               AND HOLD YOUR WASTE 

                                                                                               AND WAIT FOR HIM 

                                                                                                                                      TO FINISH) 

      //   ||   || ||                                         \\\\

      ||    ||  // \\                                         || ||

     //  //   ||   \\                                      ||  ||

     ||   ||    \\   ||                                    //  //||

    ||   //    //  //                                  //   ||  \\

    ||   ||     ||    \\                                 ||\\   || //

   //  //   //     ||                                // ||  ||  \\

  //   ||   ||      //                                || //  \\  \\

 

Imagine that sprawling lawn saturated with yellow water. Imagine it sloshing up the steps. 

 

                                                            The heiress wincing and trashing her heels. Masses of salt-licking mountain goats making pilgrimage to D.C. 

 

If every one of us sick, unregulated, incontinent found relief in front of the president’s house 

 

                                                                                                                        at the same time. 

 

 

\\   \\    \\    \\                               // //     //  //

 ||   //   //||   ||\\                           //||  ||    ||\\  \\                          

// //    || \\  // \\                        || ||   \\   || ||   ||

||  ||    //   || ||   //                      // //   // // ||   ||

\\ ||    \\  \\||   ||                        ||  \\  ||//   //   ||

 ||  \\   \\   \\\ \\                      //  //  ///  //   //

 ||   ||   //    ||||  ||                     //  ||   // \\  ||    ||

 \\  \\ ||      \\\ \\                  //  //  ||    ||  \\   \\

 //  // ||      //\\ \\                ||  //  //   //   ||     \\

//   ||   \\    ||  \\  ||              //  ||    \\ //    //      \\

||    \\    \\  ||  //  \\           //   //     ||||    //          \\

 

 

SOME RECIPES FOR THE NEW REGIME:

 

 

Piss on a photograph of every middle-aged white man who sleeps with his students. Set an

             intention for all of their computer and cloud data to disappear.

Piss on federal property the day after inauguration. Shield a stranger with your protest sign as

             they piss while screaming FUCK TRUMP.

Piss messily all over the bathroom in the Wisconsin convenience store that sells bumper stickers

             for men who want to shoot their wives.

Take a little too long of a piss because you’re in an apartment full of rich people who say hello

             while looking slightly over your shoulder. You are alone with your piss rat self. 

 

Piss in a bottle to make it to the march on time.

Piss cause you’re trying to squirt.

Piss in the mouth of your favorite museum.

 

Piss princess

Piss wife

Piß Christ

Piss dreams—

                          wake up sprinting

             In the woods 

             in the woods 

             in the woods

 

 

 

Profeß no shame in stopping frequently while walking outside.

You will never sleep through a night. 

 

 

At 3 a.m. you stumble out through the black slugs of the

Olympic mountains and squat a little longer than you need to, looking up. 

 

 

The sky is black with streaks of milk. Almost animal.

 

 

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[1]Porpentine Charity Heartscape, “Hot Allostatic Load,” The New Inquiry, May 11, 2015. https://thenewinquiry.com/hot-allostatic-load/