Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "The Curse of Frankenstein"

This poem came out of the October 6, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek, LJ user Book_worm5, and Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "Frankenstein" square in my 10-1-15 card for the Halloween / Samhain Bingo fest, the "secret identity discovered" square in my 11-25-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest, and the "sharing a bed" square in my 10-1-15 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family.

Warning: This poem contains some intense and intimate topics that some readers may find distasteful. Highlight for details, some of which are spoilers. It features graphic description of menstruation and related gender dysphoria, extremely miserable symptoms including cramps and mood swings, inadvertent outing of Victor's trans nature because the werewolves can smell sex markers, Victor freaking out over all of that, and other angst. But the people around him are actually quite supportive and trying to help as best they can. So there is fluff in the end. Please consider your taste and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read.


"The Curse of Frankenstein"


Victor woke with his guts tied in knots
and his whole body feeling bloated and slow.

It had been a few months since
the last really bad cycle in October,
but now the curse of his existence
was back with a vengeance.

Groaning, he hauled himself
to the lavatory where he washed
the blood off his thighs and attended
to other necessary details, trying
not to look at or touch his vulva
any more than absolutely necessary.

He'd have to forego the corset today,
too, because just inhaling made
the wracking cramps even worse.

Victor limped downstairs in search
of hot water and a teaball full of
the fusty but effective herbal blend
of yarrow and valerian that Jozefa
the midwife had put together.

The werewolves were cuddled together
around a warm hearth that smelled
of fresh baking bread, Fridrik
nibbling on Janika's ear.
Victor ignored them.

Just as he was scooping tea
out of its jar into the metal ball,
Janika said casually, "You smell
like a bad season. You know
not to mate this time, right? If you
mate when the season smells bad,
sometimes the pups come out wrong."

Victor startled so badly that he
dropped the spoon, scattering
dry leaves across the counter.
"What -- what --?" he stuttered.

"Janika, you shouldn't talk about
the curse like that," Mircea hissed.
Shandor and Fridrik leaned away.
"You make it more likely to happen."

Janika snorted. "It's not a curse,"
she said. Then she turned to Victor
for support. "Tell her it's not a curse.
I've tried, but she won't listen to me."

"It's not a curse," Victor repeated.
"Menstruation is -- or a wolf's season is --
a normal and natural part of life. Talking
about things doesn't make them any more
or less likely to happen. There are a lot
of superstitions, but they're not real."

The words were true, but
they were ashes in his mouth.
His mind believed them, but
in his heart, it still felt like a curse.

Victor's hands shook as he tried
again to measure out the tea.

It was bad enough for Janika
to bring up an embarrassing topic,
but the import behind it was much worse.

Somehow she had found out his secret.

"How long have you known?" Victor asked
"How many others have you told?"

Janika tilted her head. "Since we met,"
she said. "You dress like a man, but you
don't smell like a man -- not quite like
a woman either. You're just you.
I haven't told anyone -- why would I?
Everyone can smell it for themselves."

"Humans can't," Igor said quietly
as he came in with a basket of eggs.
"Victor doesn't like to talk about his body
because -- well, it's awkward, is all.
So we'd appreciate your discretion."

"So you've known -- you've all known --
all along, and --" Victor's voice jolted to a stop.

"It's right there in your scent," Janika said.

"I cannot bear this," Victor muttered

"Victor, think about it," Igor said gently.
"If the werewolves can smell things
about your body and they've always
known it doesn't match your clothes,
then they're not going to change
the way they treat you just because
it's all out in the open now."

Logically, Victor knew that, but
it didn't make him feel any better.

He dropped the tea ball into his empty cup,
and then concentrated on sweeping up
the spilled leaves from the counter.
They seemed determined to escape,
which just frayed his temper farther.

"Do you want some help?"
Janika asked as she approached.

"I can do it myself!" Victor snapped.

"Let's take Bertolf hunting,"
Fridrik said brightly, standing up.

"Yes, let's do that," Shandor agreed,
and the two men scurried away.

"Difficult month?" Igor said
in a low voice. "Victor, it's all right
if you want to go back to bed."

"Not without my tea," Victor
said through his teeth.

"Someone else can pour the water
when it gets hot, and bring the cup
to you," Igor said. "Go lie down.
You'll feel less miserable that way."

"Fine." Victor banged the tea jar
back into its place and left.

He threw a layer of towels on the bed
in case his benighted body leaked
through the nether bandages again,
then curled up with a hot brick.

Some time later, the door swung open
to admit Janika carrying a tray with
not just the steamy cup of tea but also
a plate of kifli, the pastries already
slathered with cherry preserves.

The warm, rich scent made
Victor's belly growl. "Thank you
for bringing breakfast," he said.

"Does the heat help?" Janika asked
as she set the tray on the bedside table.
"It does for me sometimes, in a bad season."

"It helps a little," Victor said, shifting
his brick to a more comfortable position
so that he could sit up for breakfast.

"I like to curl up with Mircea and Ena
when I don't want the men around,"
Janika said. She shifted into wolf shape,
gave a commanding yap, and then
bounded onto the bed beside him.

The door swung open again
and admitted a river of fur:
Mircea's dark brindle,
Ena's brighter ginger,
Simza's black-and-tan,
and Alida's pure cream.

The wolves flowed up the steps
onto the enormous curtained bed,
turned in meticulous circles to make a spot,
and then all settled themselves into
a furry comforter around Victor.

By the time he finished his tea
and pastries, he was so warm that
he put the hard brick on the floor.

The yarrow had worn down the cramps,
and the valerian was making him drowsy,
so he cuddled into the pile of werewolves
and went back to sleep.

* * *

Notes:

Dysmenorrhea ranges from mildly uncomfortable to life-wrecking. There are herbal and other methods to relieve the symptoms. Victor's tends to flare up every few months.

Wolves may go into season anywhere from January to April. Their keen sense of smell enables them to identify sexual signals and other personal information. Sometimes a bitch in season will refuse to mate, and one reason for that is she may sense something wrong with the cycle.

Transfolk are often deeply concerned with issues of passing. They may feel terrified of being outed, for many valid reasons. Victor is panicky about this, because he's had some awful experiences in the past, so he has a very hard time trusting in the validation that he gets from the people around him now.

Menstruation has often been thought of as a curse. So have birth defects. There are ways to overcome superstitions and other cognitive errors. Even though Victor hasn't managed to shake the emotional feeling of being cursed, he's enough of a scientist to counter that irrational twitch with logic. It helps a little.

Mood swings can make this time of month miserable in whole new ways. Know how to calm yourself. Understand how to support a woman and help her feel better on such occasions. Note that male werewolves are willing to help, but if a female is snappish, they quickly give her space so as not to get bitten. It's submissive behavior, not proactive abandonment.

The history of feminine hygiene products such as menstrual pads goes back through many variations. Victor uses actual bandage material, which is something historic nurses often did, and he is definitely not about to go stuffing anything up there so it has to be some kind of pad arrangement. Cloth pads may be bought or made.

Body image can pose a serious challenge for transfolk. Many, though not all, of them suffer from gender and/or body dysphoria. They may feel extreme distaste about seeing or touching the body parts that clash with their gender identity. Victor's scientific knowledge doesn't make it feel any less icky when he has to deal with his female equipment. Men who menstruate often find it difficult to handle the dissonance, especially when parents or others are actively hostile. Victor's shitty parents made a painful situation infinitely worse, the fallout of which now impacts his other intimate relationships. I was delighted to discover that one seller of feminine products openly acknowledges how menstruation is not gender-linked; some men menstruate, some women don't, and people of other sex/gender configurations may or may not. That kind of validation can help, especially if you're able to find products that suit your identity -- like cloth pads in colors other than pink.

Kifli is a crescent bread often made for breakfast in Hungary and nearby areas. Cherry preserves make a nice complement -- and cherry has antispasmodic benefits.

Contact comfort is why mammals find warm fuzzy things soothing. Cuddles aid bonding and relieve pain. Learn the fine art of cuddling. Victor may be messed up, but he still figured out pretty quick that werewolves are more snuggly and soothing than a brick.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, writing
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