Poem: Iris McCloughan

Schema for Encountering Other Man in Performance

  1. Entrance

Make him stand there, just offstage.
Make sure he’s wearing something simple.

Have him shuffle the feet in a forethinking way.
His feet aren’t feet, per se, but he deploys them as such.

He knows how to inhabit the human
and also how to stand apart from it.

That gap, Brecht’s gift, is the pit of his attractiveness
around which he builds sweet flesh through casual gesture.

The flesh is a peach, by the way,
and we all know what that makes us think of:

the ass, parting it, pushing in, the juice dripping.
Other Man doesn’t care about my shame at the explicit.

He’s waiting in the green room for his cue line
which goes something like How was I supposed to know
there was a cake already? and at that line
(it always gets a laugh) he does his stagy knock
and enters doing his puppety wobble

he takes a beat to acknowledge those watching

then drops his pants, wiggles his sex
at the orchestra, spits on the floor and waddles
down center to take his monologue, which goes:

  1. Monologue

Yeah, good boy, stand up. Turn around, slow.
Hands behind your head, let me see you.

Nice ass, boy, now bend over, spread it.

Wink at me. Wink at me. Good boy.

Stand up, pants off. All the way off.

Spread it. Push it out. Touch it.

Gentle, boy. Tease yourself.

Imagine me behind you, getting you ready.

All familiar text. Though he’s a great director, Other Man’s
no poet. That’s my job. I sit in the house and cringe
as he nonetheless rips into the poetic by brute force.

He makes me want to revise
his words, soften and shape them. Instead
he makes me shave myself smooth

not because he likes it but because I don’t.

He continues as I do:

I know the rules.
Don’t stare lest you lose the future.
I know you’re anxious, and I won’t
tell you there’s no reason to be.

I can be ruthless, but that doesn’t mean I’m cruel
without intention. I know that years ago
they planted in you the desire to return
to seed state, all potential and nothing
but the smallest hint of life.

It’s OK to want to be nothing.

It’s OK to want to lick the soles of my feet,
to suck my tail slowly, to choke
at the work of my hands.

I know your throat is tender and fragile.
I know it’s a spring crop. I know it’s the seat
of the lost language you claim to want to revise.

You’re sweet, boy, you know that?
Thinking you can dye any biological stain
back to clean. You can’t. It won’t hunt.

Lucky for you, I like sweet.

Like to hurt
Turn it

What I want to do to you is dirty.
I picked it up in the back fields
rolling around in the nettles.

Need more
information before you make
your decision?

Too bad, you’ll have to trust me.

Yeah, it will make you question
the darker parts that cling
to the inside of your dermis, that’s the price
of admission. Listen,

you can ask all about that,
but I won’t speak.

If you’re ready,
if you want it,
let’s begin.

I nod assent.
I stand up from my seat on the aisle.
I walk to the lip of the stage and hop up.

I feel the lights, and the eyes of the audience.

I like it.

He starts to instruct me.
I listen, then act.

  1. Dialogue

Always show your face, understand?
Good. Now find an interior edge.

Twitch it.
Hold it tight until you know it.

Release any desire for color, or object.

There’s no need for those here.
It’s just you and me. Breathe.

Sit on the table. Uncross your legs.

Tell me what you feel like, animal
vegetable, mineral.

I say I feel mineral, brittle, latticed.

You want to shatter? Too bad,
boy, that comes later. Here.

It’s a cucumber. Kiss it.

Imagine the field it came from,
gourd upon gourd, an orgy
of vine and leaf, and each
one is me. That’s where you are.

How does that feel, boy?

I say it feels endless, excessive.

After a long silence I say I feel hungry.

No biting.

Hands and knees, boy.

Show me every part of you that could be a hill.

I want you as a gentle landscape.

I want you as a swell in geologic time,
a hundred-thousand-year wave.

Yes, boy, you’ll be music, you know
I’ve rhythm and tonal control.

I’ll make you a minuet, maybe.

No? You want something more
bombastic? Maybe I’ll fold you
into a scherzo, you’d like that?

Or maybe, just to torture you, I’ll make you
a nocturne, damp velvet over a gas lamp.

I’ll go play someone else in the next room
and you’ll just have to wait
here, in this position, approximating
a treble clef, and listen as he becomes
the very thing you long to be. 

You with me, boy? No going away.
Tell me what you want.

I say I want to be that music.

I say I want to remind him of the wind.

You want to make that hollow sound, boy?
List the things you’d activate.

I say treeholes.
I say the courtyards of Paris or Prague.
I say both Paris and Prague, say why not.
I say cornstalks across the Middle West.

Those aren’t hollow, boy.

I say the space between them, in the blue night.
I say red plastic slides on the playground I grew up near.
I say the ear of any hungry man.

Like me?

I say a ragged gasp.

Easy, boy.
Rest, back on the haunches.

Take the opposite arch.

Get me a glass of water.

I cross upstage to the realistic kitchen.
I fill his glass from the sink that’s been rigged
to look like a real sink, though it isn’t.

You like playing this role? You like
all these people watching?

I say I do.

Say you love it.
I want to hear you say it.

I say I love it.
I say I want to turn fully sideways so I can see
how I’m being watched.

Stay right there, boy.

You’ll leave this space when I say.

I say a yessir.

I say thanks.

I’m going to go away for a while,
and I might find another Other Man
to come and play with you.

Understand this is from me,
this further step into making yourself strange.

It’s my gift, boy, and you don’t have to say
how much you want it.

I know the cost and I’m willing to pay it.
I’d pay three times over to see that look
stay sitting on your face.

You ready, boy?

You’re not to move.

I’ll see you later, after whatever-

  1. Soliloquy

He exits, and I say a silence that leaks
from somewhere inside itself more of itself

The silence I say is that of a frozen lake
but it has a flow.

Eventually I flood with the silence
and I approach no movement,
no muscle impulse.

I say nothing. I stay.
The audience is riveted.

  1. Monologue

Other man reenters, speaks
in voiceover as he stares
up into the balcony.

Don’t be perfect, just be good.
Cut the work out of the air where it’s been waiting.

The work will become a predator in the tall grass.
Let the work be indiscriminate in all forms.

He turns to me, speaks out loud.

You are the grass and the fur that touches it.
Snap into order and explain.

I stand. My knees shake
from having bent for so long.

I cross to stand next to him.
I mouth him as he speaks:

You see, I came from a pretty traditional family.
My parents are still together, and though they had some
tough times they’re settling into a mature phase.
They golf a lot, drink wine, dream of retirement.

I never knew I was an Other Man growing up.
I just felt I had a different spin.

I remember hiding in the lilies.
Being an explorer beneath the desk.

I remember trying on the drama
of saying I hate my life
in the midst of a mild thunderstorm.

Like any kid I had my fears for the future.

Like anyone I felt I didn’t fit.

I didn’t know that I wanted to hook this feeling
with the talons still hidden beneath my nails.

I didn’t know I’d one day get off on being
the emissary of wildness

stalking the ordered grid of streets,
hunting for those dying
to be tempted by strange flesh,
desperate to be a ripe peach ripped open.

I learned I didn’t need friends,
not the way I’d been taught.

Didn’t need family, not that they’d talk to me
if they knew what I’ve discovered myself to have always been.

I like being the destroyer.
I like dancing that slow and shuddering dance.

By this time, I’m back down on my knees.

I’ve let the work become indiscriminate.
I’ve taken all forms.

He gestures at me.

You know what it’s like when someone comes to you,
supplicant, on their hands and knees, breath ragged?

You know what that power does to a man?

It changes him. It did me.

One day I was a stranger to myself.
The next I knew all my secret names.
My hours shifted. I got night vision
and picked up a taste for barbiturates in low doses.

This is almost the end of the performance,
and I can feel the audience knows it.
I redouble my efforts, focusing on the work.
Other Man slips into his rhythm, gets going good:

I understood how a little blur is like a sacrament,
how it reveals all these soft places
in the world where you could rest a while,

or bring a lover, or just a stranger
begging for some cover as he flees
his desire to be obliterated,
seeks comfort in the arms of a strict instructor,
an Other Man who comes from a life far away,
who will initiate him into the strobing rites
of denial and consumption.

A high priest.

A surgeon.

A wielder of tools of leather and plastic,
setting the table, laying out the instruments of pleasure
in a way that makes the logic of the night clear,
its progression, the statement of theme and variation,
the operatic structure of this dance around erasure.

An Other Man understands how this dance illuminates.

He understands how it brings the skin closer
to the thing it was made to cover.

He holds his space, center stage. He accepts
the task, which is service to what
the world thinks of as lower than him.

He takes a beat.

The performance careens toward a closing,
toward a convergence.

By now you know it. His secret
is that he loves it.

The lights start to fade. His speech is over.

On my knees, I’m almost nothing. 

  1. Coda

In the dark behind the red velvet,
Other Man leans down, whispers
a real whisper. Just before the curtain
rises, just before we’ll stand for judgement,
he touches my cheek, says:

I know all your secret names.
I know every one.


When the curtain call is over
I’ll take you backstage

and I’ll wrap them all
around your body
as it convulses in praise.


Iris McCloughan is a transfeminine writer and artist in New York City. They were the winner of the 2018 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review. They are the author of the chapbook 'No Harbor' (L + S Press) and their poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Juked, Lines + Stars, muff magazine, Off the Coast, and decomP, among others.

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