Aerik Francis: Breasts

Aerik “phaentompoet” Francis (they/them) is a Queer Black & Latinx poet based in Denver, Colorado, USA. They are a 2020 Canto Mundo poetry fellow and a 2019 Amiri Baraka Scholar for SWP at Naropa. They have poetry published or forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Santa Clara Review, wildness, Tiny Spoon, Spit Poet Zine, Ghost City Press, & Kissing Dynamite. Find them on IG/TW @phaentompoet

You may also listen to Aerik read their poem here.

More from Aerik on the context of _Breasts_

At a poetry reading, before reciting her poem “homage to my hips” Lucille Clifton added a few comments for context: “I am thrilled with my body parts. People say men don’t write about body parts that much – well, they don’t have the thrilling body parts I have, that’s why….I like to celebrate the wonderfulness that I am.” Lucille Clifton and her poem were very important in giving me permission to write about my own body. These contextual comments especially outline the politics of my poem: I am a person who is read in the world as a “man” and it is important to both talk about how I am also thrilled with my body from this position, but also, that even our bodily designations of gender are fluid and non-binary.

Regardless of gender, mammals have breasts. Humans, as mammals, have breasts. These breasts looks all different ways: big, small, some have nipples – sometimes 2 and sometimes more or less, some grow, some don’t, some are hairy, some are hairless, some have acne, some have sores, some produce milk, some produce acid, some produce sweat, etc. Some people have procedures to add or enhance their breasts. Some people have procedures to reduce or remove their breasts. Everyone’s breasts look different, but it is undeniable that breasts are a common feature of any mammalian body. Breasts are a common facet in our language. We colloquially call breasts many things: bazookas, bazooms, bongos, bosom, bust, boobs, boobies, [milk] cans, chest, cha-chas, chi-chis, coconuts, fun bags, hooters, jugs, jubblies, knockers, mammary glands, melons, pectorals, ta-tas, tits, titties… you likely have your own word you prefer. There is a lot to dwell on with this language, but what I want to center is that we rarely call breasts, breasts. In this way, this poem insists: Call me by my name. See me as I am.

I grew up fat (I just want to add that being fat is lovely – it is fatphobia that makes it hard!). Much of this fat was and is stored in my breasts. We have specific language for this phenomenon as well: man-boobs. All the time growing up, people would make comments, point and laugh. Especially when I was young, this brought up questions about sexuality and gender, sometimes being misgendered and often wondering about the desirability of someone who was not simply just fat, but also possessed breasts. From youth we are taught boys have penises and girls have vaginas and breasts - these are the physical features that mainly distinguish the “sexes”. Certainly now, I know that this is a massive flattening of the complexity of bodies - that people’s bodies and genetics are unique and that any combinations of chromosomes or genitals may be expressed phenotypically. This is all to say that breasts in particular are a charged and paradoxical body part – feminized despite their ubiquity, attractive and/or abject depending on social conditioning.

This poem arrives at the confluence of these dynamics. The poem admits to having internalized a particular kind of disdain for breasts, one developed in fatphobia, transphobia, and sexism. The poem attempts to break free from these systems and espouse a love, a thrill, from my own body in its uniqueness. In this way, the poem isn’t just about breasts, or even my breasts – it’s about me. I wanted you to get a sense of my imagination, my [music] tastes (references from Missy Elliot to Selena to Janet Jackson to Kelis to Ibeyi to Doja Cat to Björk to FKA twigs), my humor, my pain, my truths.

My good friend Hakeem Furious is really what set everything into place. I never considered writing my own ode to my body, never considered fusing these different styles, until I heard him perform “Dread[?]locs” at the Mercury Café. The way he cited and related Morgan Parker’s poetic style to his own situation was inspirational, clever, and beautiful. So much of this poem is inspired by others. I see this piece as my own, certainly, but also as a kind of bibliography or archive or even just a continued conversation.

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