Photo of a sand castle on a beach in the sun.

‘Hand Built Castle’ by Javier Bateman

A response to Bron Bateman’s ‘In the Country’

Moments of childhood now so easy to understand,
felt rich and huge; a haemophilia, seeping as I
bled, bled, bled.

Eight years old, I met my best friend at a new school.
I was short haired and square jawed,
skinny and small; a wind’s howl.
She said, with nonchalance and smile of too much teeth,
she thought I was a boy in a skirt.
‘Well, before you spoke.’

A well of shame cracked me open,
furious, hot; a living organism
somehow separate and entwined with my body.
But it wasn’t that she thought I was a boy –
it was that I hadn’t passed as a girl.

We, the only girls of our year,
formed a kinship of violence
dissolving ourselves
in childhood brawls
steeped in boyhood misogyny
to claim our bloodied laurel wreaths;
awarded the prize of being
‘Not like other girls.’

Imbued with boldness at school
but indefinitely meek at home.
A family of seven older siblings
yet I played alone in the garden;
filling my pockets with almonds from the kitchen
to feed those friends I trusted;
imaginary—whispers of my own voice.

In line for the canteen, a teacher calls me ‘sir’
and I turn, pulsing with that learnt ferocity,
I’m not a boy!
And yet, in the privacy of a home where I can disappear,
I have a girlfriend online who calls me
who types my chosen name in hearts.

I shake with want.

The irony of it all does not escape me
as I gently, for the hundredth time, explain to my family
I am not your daughter. I am not your sister.
As they muddle my pronouns yet again
with an apology of ‘You’ve been our girl for so long!’

And on the tip of my tongue
are the names I gifted myself
in moments of spectacular privacy.

Azel: Noble.
Issac: One who laughs.
Seamus: One who grabs at the heel.
Javier: Castle, New home.

Photo of a sand castle on a beach in the sun.

About the author

Javier Bateman (They/He) is a queer, trans-nonbinary academic and poet living on unceded Whadjuk Nyungar Boodjar. His bachelor of arts in history often means he takes inspiration from mythology and historical symbolism within their writing and creative pursuits. Javier’s poetry deals with diverse themes of grief, gender and gender identity, love, obsession and occasionally, Keanu Reeves. In his downtime, Javier is often found at home with his huge cat consuming media about sad cowboys.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash.

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