rip out their apology-tongues
I’m so tired of apologizing. Of course, there are legitimate reasons to apologize. If I’ve done or said something hurtful, on purpose or by accident, I do. What I mean is—I know a lot of people who apologize for their entire youth, who disavow everything they once were. There’s an idea I’ve seen floating around, that if you aren’t ashamed of who you used to be and the things you once did, you’ve failed to grow as a person. I bought into the rhetoric, for a while. Thought: Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m not a real adult because I don’t hate my younger self. But I don’t hate my younger self—I have an immense amount of affection for wee Jessie. I was a hellion. My teenage and early-20s theme songs had lyrics like I’m a real wild one / and I like wild fun and Hello world! I'm your wild girl. / I'm your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! I got wasted and picked up sailors on the train to Chicago, I participated in orgies, I ran away with the circus. I don’t do any of those things anymore, but I’m still the person who did them. I don’t disavow it. I’m not sorry. Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention... Or, if you prefer, a ‘90s movie reference: I don’t regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do. Doing the things I did when I was younger made me who I am now, and it gave me a hell of a lot of good stories to tell.
Another thing I won’t apologize for is my old writing—the stories, poems, essays, et. al. I wrote from the age of twelve on. In his poem “I Am 25,” Gregory Corso wrote of:
...old poetmen / who speak their youth in whispers, / saying: —I did those then / but that was then / that was then—
The lit world is rife with writers shunning their juvenilia, and I refuse. There are old pieces I still think are pretty damn good. And much like my youthful experiences shaped me as a person, all the writing I did back then made me the writer I am now. I think of my juvenilia the same way I think of my tattoos. There are pieces I wouldn’t write now had I not already written them, and there are tattoos I wouldn’t get if I didn’t already have them. But I have love for them, all of them. Even the wonky, faded stick n’ pokes; even the shoddily researched anarcha-feminist rants and the cheesy odes to Sid Vicious. I would only retract something I wrote if it were harmful in its language or viewpoint. Disavowing my old writing because it’s clumsy or embarrassing would be like spitting in the face of any success I’ve had. Would be like asking to have my future words snatched by a younger, braver writer.
In the penultimate stanza of “I Am 25,” Gregory Corso wrote about befriending those endlessly retracting old (poet)men, offering them reassurance that their genius can live on through him. The final stanza shows his real motive. He’d ingratiate himself to them:
Then at night in the confidence of their homes / rip out their apology-tongues / and steal their poems.
Songs referenced in this piece (a #minimeowlist):
Iggy Pop - “Real Wild Child”
The Runaways - “Cherry Bomb”
Sid Vicious - “My Way”
You can read the entirety of “I Am 25” here.
Jessie Lynn McMains is a poet, writer, zine-maker, and small press owner.
She’s also a queer womxn (she/her or they/them pronouns), a mama to two wild kiddos, and a witch who practices a blend of paganism and folk Catholicism. Aside from words, music is her favorite thing in the world. She’s also obsessed with tarot, the Midwest/Great Lakes/Rust Belt, ghosts, and the undying spirit of punk rock. Someone once referred to her as the Debbie Harry of poetry, and she still thinks that’s pretty rad.
You can find her website at recklesschants.net, or find her on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie.