The Contortionist. 1978. USA. Directed by Joyce Randall Senechal, Greer Lankton. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

“In responding to Joyce Randall Senechal and Greer Lankton’s The Contortionist,” says poet Jameson Fitzpatrick, “I knew I wanted to address the subjects of trans visibility and persistence, of mortality and memory, without defaulting to the most readily legible modes for doing so. That’s important to me as a trans woman writer.” The author of the 2020 collection Pricks in the Tapestry and a writing teacher, Fitzpatrick has long been interested in Lankton, an East Village artist best known for sewing, painting, and photographing often human-sized dolls. “I only became more interested in The Contortionist the more times I watched it, the longer I looked," Fitzpatrick says.

She believes that writing about an artwork is no different than writing about other subjects. “It’s just a version of the challenge of writing any poem—to add something worth adding,” Fitzpatrick says. “The question I have to ask myself of any poem is: how does this poem improve on its absence? I aspire to, without always reaching, the confidence that the poem indeed does.”

Fitzpatrick joins a number of esteemed poets who have contributed original poems to Magazine. We present “If you can be a woman at 20 // can you at 60” in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is observed on November 20.

If you can be a woman at 20 // can you at 60

If the medium admits the gaps, strange angels

registering their presence as flickers,
floaters, other lapses of vision;
if inside black evening gloves
the hands like long-necked birds
might talk in shadow—
as in an early number in the movie, not this one,
where the grown woman plays a boy
you might have seen fly in childhood

as I saw in mine—
That one does not die, but rather becomes.

If watched dance—

By a friend, as a friend
sees you, film in the gate—having turned
the camera on you like a question
tender but indelible
once posed, to record what you are capable of—

It’s like veils you tear off one by one, said Lorraine.

If, climbing over the easy chair, you push it into reclining.
If I want to describe the chair like that as “open”
and you reappear, catlike, to shut it again.
If shades of Irma Vep, if lampshade

If the legs turn impossibly in their sockets.
Like— If it is not necessary to say what that is like,
as between friends. If how high.
If the angle of extension defies all present ability—memory, even.
But to have been en pointe, however briefly…

Veils beyond veils, honey.
I am ever so much more than twenty.

If it surprised you, as you wrote,
to see yourself on tape—
the body proved more plastic than self-evident,
its conclusion not so foregone as assumed

if it might, in the meantime, be stretched towards what animates it—

A moving image.
If its beauty is, in the end, to have been beside the point; well,
one must risk perception.
I am a wild beast some of the time.
A spider, scuttling.

Jameson Fitzpatrick is the author of the poetry collection Pricks in the Tapestry (2020). A 2023 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow, she teaches at New York University.