Three Poems by Joy Ladin

Lost and Found

You find yourself quite comfortable
in the bony clothes of death,
though you seem to have lost the feeling of,

well, feeling. Light moves through you
easily and eerily, as though life were a window
that was broken when you found it

so you can admire without shame
its fracture-stars
that never set, though you find you get a little lost

when you try to navigate by them
though the complicated waste
of loss and obligation

to the life that reveals itself
when you close your eyes,
the stars, that is, of the foundling self,

aroused and assertive, warmed by the hope
you found you’ve lost
in the bony clothes of death.


Essence and Flow

You live in the gap
between essence and flow,
neither being nor becoming

the essence that is everywhere,
making love or having sex
with every category of existence. Essence flows

over your head and between your legs
and leaves you high and dry, transformed
into something that can’t transform,

a borrowed outfit that doesn’t fit
your hunger to join the boys and girls
so lusciously compatible with existence

they can forget for years at a time
the nothingness that licks
the glamorous lips of essence. You hang around –

why? who knows? –
bearing witness to the willing world
from the unfashionable position you’ve fashioned, silent as a beach

through which the river
of essence you aren’t
flows into the sea.


North and South

Don’t underestimate your need
to cross the line. Frozen
on the wrong side of your desire

to remake the world
inverted in the mirror
of your otherness,

how can you be true
to the truth of being human,
something that bends

in a universe that doesn’t, a messy blend
of guts and spirit, responsibility and shame?
You are only an inch

from the constantly moving
source of life, no matter how passionately
you crush yourself

into the boxes – male or female, north or south, poor or rich, white
or some other social shade – you check
because you are scared

to cross the lines that keep you safe
from more complicated combinations
of love and loneliness,

rocking your soul to sleep
while you stuff your body
into too-tight boxes, knowing no one will mind

you don’t have the guts to live
as long as you stay
on your side of the line.



Joy Ladin, David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English at Stern College of Yeshiva University, is the author of Soldering the Abyss:  Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry (VDM), five books of poetry, including Coming to Life (winner of a 2010 Forward Fives award) and Transmigration (a 2009 Lambda Literary Award finalist).  A new collection, The Definition of Joy, is due out from Sheep Meadow in spring 2012; her autobiographical reflections on gender transition, Through the Door of Life:  A Jewish Journey Between Genders, will be published by University of Wisconsin Press around the same time.  Her poetry, her criticism, and her essays on gender identity have been widely published.

One thought on “Three Poems by Joy Ladin

  1. I read your book with interest. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your example. May your work go well. I have been a teacher for many years and I know how fulfilling it can be. Kol Ha kavode on everything, Iya Fein, Cantor

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