after antonio salviati
i buy the floral robe from target, buy the matching skirt, but at the new year’s party, everyone keeps saying the word kimono. they ask if i’m in drag, despite my unkempt beard. the only makeup a slash of sloppy eyeliner. i wanna say something smart. i wanna quote judith butler.
in 2018, rupaul—host of the television show drag race, the most influential and widely watched program featuring the art of drag—revealed he would not accept openly transgender contestants to participate on the show.
the candelabra, invented during the medieval period, is replaced in immense spaces (abbeys, chapels, feasting halls) with chandeliers to provide better illumination, but also as a symbol of wealth. their crystal an opulent wink.
the first time i ever attend a drag show, i am trying to impress a girl. she calls me confused when i tell her about kissing a boy. on stage, the queen lip syncs ke$ha because it is 2012 & everyone lip-syncs ke$ha.
in the soviet union, some factories were assessed on how much material they used to construct products, and often chandeliers from those factories were overweighted, threatening always to crash onto the heads of the dancing pairs in russian ballrooms.
the drag queen threatens to topple in ten-inch killer heels. she’s a glam-dammed double dare in a dress. she dances in torch-lush ritual, the dirty stage of the club become atlas for desire.
the first time i hear the word genderfluid, i hear also the story of a teenager found in an alley, two bullet holes in the head, gagged and hooded with a trash bag, body doused with bleach. his name was kendarie.
the chandelier hanging in the columbia museum of art is a crown of colored glass, curlicued with flowers pink-dawn tinged. hand-blown and hotworked in the 1880s by antonio salviati. the glass is a fireworks-splatter of red, orange, blue.
drag, before paraded by mostly cis men in rupaul’s shadow, was developed in the ballroom scene by trans women and gay men and nonbinary people. these were ballrooms without chandeliers, but still plenty of light.
seven summers ago, i meet a huddle of gay men in an apartment in havana. i know nothing yet, have read nothing, and say the word “philosophy,” believing it means thoughts i have when consuming magic mushrooms. the elderly host teaches me about poetry and tells me about his dead boyfriends. the havana flat overlooks the malecon. an opera singer serenades the elderly host. the singer’s voice is fragile and gorgeous as flint glass.
as a child, i cannot stop wondering when a piano will fall from the sky, like they do in cartoons, and crush me. i am not safe here, not anywhere.
i am too old to still be afraid of becoming whatever i am. i am too old to be learning new things about my body.
the first time i hear the word gay, someone describes a boy tied to a fence post and beaten to death. his name was matthew.
in 2012, i’m not very good at grammar yet, so i actually don’t know the difference between what a pronoun or adverb mean. when the drag queen sashays across the stage, i do not syntax desire into genderfucked sense. i am pure spectator, all eyes and awe.
when i visit the columbia museum of art, i sit on the floor and imagine dismantling the artifice from the ceiling, shattering flint glass until elegance becomes dangerous. each shard a translucent dagger sharp enough to hold to a throat.
in the state house of south carolina, men make laws to make miserable the lives of trans people. those men have names. they have addresses.
i put on the dress—brittle, glittering, taboo. hang me from the ceiling, dripping crystal, & i’ll wriggle. never the colorful bait or the hook. i am the fish flopped on the dance floor, like the question of names and pronouns and what’s really under the skirt.
i promise to curse strangers into inarticulate stutter.
months later, i learn, the opera singer is dead. shot in the street. i don’t know why. his name was daniel.
nothing beautiful is safe for long.
in the cartoon about falling pianos, the instrument is also vessel for symphony.
in the museum, in the right context, the chandelier is kept safe behind the stanchion, displayed and gleaming. in another context, the chandelier is just well-sculpted sharp glass.
i sweep confetti after the parade has passed. a storm of glitter and sweat drenches the city.
i want to be brave when my boyfriend holds my hand, but i keep thinking about the men in the denny’s parking lot beating him to death. i want to eat scrambled eggs and not fear anyone’s hand around my throat.
at the party, i try to quote judith butler and say gender is a performance i’ve never been super good at. i tell them i have been dreaming about becoming a chandelier instead.
ablaze, far from here, & safe.
i am searching for one place that feels safe.
Derek Berry is the author of the novel Heathens & Liars of Lickskillet County, as well as the poetry chapbooks GLITTER HUSK & BUGGERY, winner of the 2020 BOOM Chapbook Prize. They are also the recipients of the Emrys Poetry Prize, KAKALAK Poetry Award, & Broad River Prize for Prose. Their recent work has been published in Zingara Poetry Review, Sandhills, ANMLY, Raleigh Review, Jet Fuel Review, & elsewhere. They live in Aiken, South Carolina.