Who is Diane? Are you Diane?
I channeled Diane—I don’t know from where. I’ve had Diane in me since I was a child. When I was six, I sat on the top bunk and ripped a twenty dollar bill in half (just like Diane would later do). When I stood alone in the woods flinging sticks against an abandoned metal structure, trying to create music from the chime-and-break-and-chime of their impacts, Diane was there.
Aspects of Diane go farther than me. Diane would stand in the middle of the woods spinning around as fast as she could, peeing, watching the expanding spiral of darkened leaves as she spun faster and faster.
I forgot about Diane for so much of my life, so when Diane came back to me when I was 23, it was a revelation. I started to feel Diane’s presence more and more, especially after I came out to myself as trans. I would put on purple lipstick and an ankle-length floral dress and feel like she was near. For a week, I tried to pray to Diane, and realized that was wrong—she wouldn’t guide me, too tricksy, too happy to see me in chaos. Embodied, Diane becomes chaos the way that water becomes the sound of whistling as it boils through a kettle.
Diane is mostly a child, sad, neglected, one who escapes into magic and horror and awe, one whose escape makes these three concepts the same, and one who starts to doubt, through this escape, the fundamental reality of other people. Diane’s doubting goes too far—as she dips in and out of solipsism, as she grows up, she disappears—like dew that catches the sun, is the sun and, because of it, dissolves.
So… I am and am not Diane. While much of Diane’s story is my childhood, Diane is a kind of shadow self at sunset, much bigger than her caster. When I dissociate, where do I go? I go into Diane’s world. All those times I dissociated during my childhood, and adolescence, and adulthood, I gave power to Diane. This book is a celebration of the perverse joy of dissociation. A looking for wholeness and finding it already existent in fracture.
Diane is obsessed with blood, the irrefutable proof of her being alive. She never sees anyone else’s. I never realized that, until this moment. Not once in this book does Diane ever see anyone else’s blood. Diane shows others her blood. In front of her grandmother, Diane holds a piece of glass so tightly that it cuts her.
That could have been an opportunity to state poetically that Diane looks at her grandmother through the glass, but I think that would have been too obvious. Diane doesn’t look at her grandmother through the glass. This is important. The glass has no eye held to it, and no fixed object seen on the other side. When you have a lens to look through, or anything that changes/disrupts perception, but no one to do the looking and no one thing to look at, the lens becomes everything, even as it cuts the one who holds it.
Who is Diane? Are you Diane? I think about something Diane’s mother screams to the universe long after Diane’s disappearance: “DIANE IS HERE!” Every character in this book has some version of “DIANE IS HERE!” Every character, that is, except for Diane.
What does this book have to do with being trans?
Being trans for me, before I knew that I was trans, was to disappear: I only ever felt like myself when I could map onto some character in a book or movie or cartoon. Pippi Longstocking. Kiki. Aladdin. Tigger. Mapping onto girls felt better than mapping onto boys. I didn’t know why. As a seven year old, my ideas about gender were no more complicated than boys are always dressed in flat clothes and girls have long hair and are sometimes dressed in round clothes. It was crazy to learn that my friends who were girls didn’t also have penises.
At six years old, I thought it was an insane discovery to look at myself in the mirror and turn my head back and forth, noticing how my irises moved in my eyes. I realized that adults could see where I was looking, something that I had previously believed to be my own private knowledge.
I’m told by my dad that when I was in pre-school there was a play and I volunteered to wear a dress. He dragged me out of there cursing at the teacher. I don’t remember. What I do remember of that time is having a hard candy in my mailbox, a lifesaver, and my mom telling me I wasn’t ready for it, and I told her I was, that I had had them before (I’m not sure if that’s true though). I started choking on it, and she saved me. Later on I was told by a teacher that lifesaver candies are called that because if you choke on them the hole in the middle lets you keep breathing. I was so removed from myself that I didn’t make any connection that I had ever choked before, let alone on a lifesaver.
This book is about trans girlhood. But what is trans girlhood at a time before I know I’m trans, or that there is even any difference between “boys” and “girls”? What is trans girlhood at a time when I’m only myself when I’m watching TV? Diane allows everyone to be Diane except for herself. She projects herself outward onto everyone. And everyone looks at her and sees themselves reflected back. So, when I say: Diane isn’t behind the veils, she is the veils, this is what I mean.
How did you get inspired to write this book? How did the book grow and change over time? When was the first time you wrote a poem about Diane, and what was that poem about?
My first Diane poem was a found poem combining three texts: a therapy book I was working through at the time, the picture book Harry the Dirty Dog, and a Diane Arbus biography. I cut that poem down into the two lines that would ultimately begin the collection: “Come into the dark kitchen to see Diane on a / step stool cooking meat.” That was in late 2016. I sat on that little fragment for half a year before I started to put together the collection that would turn into Glorious Veils of Diane.
When I was working on Inside Ball Lightning, a book about my grandmother’s death to cancer and its effects on my family, I found myself writing a number of strange poems about this ghost girl who would possess me and make me do innocuous things like play piano. I had no idea where that came from, but the girl felt so real to me that I even made a playlist of songs about her. I thought at first that she might be a poetic manifestation of my grandmother as a teen, but ultimately, she felt so distinct that I realized her poems didn’t belong at all in the collection. Some of these ghost girl poems later became Diane poems. She was essentially Diane as a teen.
Diane’s energy crept in whether I wanted it or not, whether I focused it or not. I was in a D&D campaign and my character was a human-shaped blood elemental, and I wrote some poems from its perspective that became Diane poems. I transcribed my dreams and those became Diane poems. My song lyrics turned into Diane poems. I thought I would write a book about fire, where every poem was in some way related to fire, and those poems also turned into Diane poems. I thought I would write about a fictional version of Diane Arbus’s childhood, and it quickly diverted so much from the character of Diane Arbus that I decided that wasn’t it either.
So I surrendered to Diane. I allowed Diane to exist, and when she did, she gave much more to me than I had ever given to her. Well, that’s not true—because she took as much as she gave, transformed and duplicated what she took, kept some for herself, and gave the rest back to me. We both grew.
Why did you stop writing Diane poems?
I felt Diane slipping from me.
Through the dissociative act of writing the poems, I channeled Diane into the book itself. She stopped existing as an idea I could capture through poetry, and she stopped existing as an energy forcing me to write about her. Now, Diane comes alive through the reading of this book. And exists contained in the time loop of the book. It is a sort of prison/prism for her but also makes her more alive than I feel like she ever was in my own head.
I feel real grief to have lost her. She had been a palpable nudging voice in my head, informing my life and adding color and power to it. Now that she’s in this book, living the same images over and over in different readers, my hope is that she enters those readers and leaves parts of herself in them after the book is closed. In this way, she will continue to grow.
What does it mean that you sometimes use the same poems in different books?
If you read two or more of my books, you’ll notice that each book has a couple of poems in common with another. These different contexts change these poems’ meanings. I see them as wormholes connecting the separate universes of each book. So the books’ meanings change too.
You wrote a sequel to Glorious Veils of Diane?
Yes, Fast Fire, publication date unknown, is a book elegizing Diane.
Sensing that she was leaving me, of course I tried to write more poems about her. The more she left me, the more she left me me. And these new poems became not about her but about my missing her.
When Diane appears again in Fast Fire, she is not herself, but is how I see her. I’ve become yet another character projecting onto her. She has taken on my grief over finishing Glorious Veils of Diane, and my own transition process, my grief for myself, for losing the sense of myself as a split entity and becoming whole.
In this way, Glorious Veils of Diane is the necessary prequel to becoming whole. It is a book of fracture, and I believe that it takes being fractured, and looking at that, to become whole.
What does it mean that Diane disappears? Where does Diane go when she disappears?
When Diane disappears in Glorious Veils of Diane, she is still in existence, but no one else can see her. That’s because they’ve all—mother, father, grandmother—become more whole through their own grief. She is now not just a projection onto them, she is fundamentally a part of them. Forever.
The exception is The Girl Across the Street, the only character who mapped onto Diane without Diane mapping back onto her. As a result, The Girl Across the Street is the only character who doesn’t come to terms with Diane’s disappearance in some way, and for whom Diane continues to terrify.
The book ends with Diane living on, through the terror and imagination of The Girl Across the Street, with a scene of Diane enormous and monstrous and a mist of blood outside The Girl Across the Street’s window. Then there is a final moment of Diane remembering her own reality, and coming back to life, but distorted. Wherever there is this kind of dissociation, Diane exists. Wherever Diane exists, people are changed.
In fact, there is a way in which I am The Girl Across the Street, and a way in which The Girl Across the Street becomes the I which narrates Fast Fire.
Or, because I love David Lynch, if you want to make the book a puzzle-box, there is this: after Diane disappears, The Girl Across the Street sees an opening and takes her place among Diane’s family.
How does the world of this book change over time?
In the earliest poem, set in 1993, Diane stands on her balcony looking over the mountains at the one house in sight, far away. Then that house bursts into flames.
For most of the book, the outside is a suburb: streets and cars and houses.
In the latest poem, set in 2007, there’s nothing outside the house except an endless expanse of marshes.
The inside of Diane’s two-floored house also contracts and expands like a lung.
There are times of incredible destitution—a pile of blankets instead of a bed, holes in the roof, broken mirrors, Diane having a bunk bed but no sibling.
There are times of opulence—a backyard pool, a closet big enough to play hide and seek in, a “parlor,” Diane having a bunk bed but no sibling.
Diane spends a lot of her childhood outside in the suburbs and woods, finding a dead bird, playing with a shed locust’s shell, dancing at a Halloween bonfire with other kids. She plays in her sandbox and she goes to the beach. The world transforms to manifest the way Diane understands it.
When Diane is gone, it takes on a life of its own. Marshes. Marshes. And the sun hitting them.
There are other incarnations of this book?
This project has existed as a graphic novel, a short story, a hypertext game, a 2D exploration game in the style of Yume Nikki, a playlist, and drag. It’s always been bigger than the world of poetry for me. Poetry is just where its roots are.
What were the influences on this project, from a poetic perspective?
I wrote many of these poems thinking about the pressurized image-scenes in Zbigniew Herbert’s prose poems (like “Shell”), as well as other Eastern European poets like Vasko Popa (particularly the Little Box poems) and Paul Celan.
Jean Valentine’s tense and airy dream-logic poems provided a blueprint for designing puzzle boxes through omission.
Letters to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth showed me how poems can form a narrative using dates and context clues to piece plot together.
Welden Kees was one of the first big influences on this project as well, helping me to ask the question, “What does it look like to write third-person poems about people?”
Other big influences were the video game Yume Nikki, the aesthetics of horror movies, and Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful depictions of the way people and nature blur in movies like Stalker and Solaris.
Okay, I was also inspired by Diane Arbus’s photography—her way of looking at others as if they were her own armpit or gums.
Also, trip-hop and a short but intense interest in Wicca.
Last but not least, these poems were informed by my own burgeoning Zen practice and its fusions with Jewish spirituality.
You’re obsessed with the idea of inconsistent psychic powers?
Growing up with ADHD, and as a self-closeted trans person, everything was inconsistent for me. Mostly things were very hard. But sometimes things would turn in such a way as to fall open. For a happy moment, I would burn with engagement and a sense of self, easily be able to direct my energy towards whatever I wanted, because I didn’t feel separate from the object of my energy.
I related so hard in Kiki’s Delivery Service when she started to lose her powers and had to relearn them. I remember the magic of childhood, the raw sense of not being separate from things. I’ve always felt connected to nature. I’ve always felt connected to my friends. As I grew up and became more and more ashamed, and as my tasks at school and beyond began to intensify and my ADHD started to feel more and more problematic, I lost that magic. Poetry has helped me to relearn it.
Rainie Oet is a nonbinary writer and game designer. They are the author of Glorious Veils of Diane (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2021) and two other books: Inside Ball Lightning (SEMO Press, 2020) and Porcupine in Freefall (winner of the Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Competition, 2019). Read more at rainieoet.com.
Glorious Veils of Diane is about the weird way children turn themselves inside out on the world, and a reimagining of the author’s own childhood. Diane is an ever-changing archetype, a self-conscious child who’s seen too many horror movies and is discovering, for the first time, her own blood. A child who thinks she is God, and who sees every person in her life as an extension of herself. A child who is possessed, beloved, and ignored. The book emerges through a chorus of voices belonging to Diane, the people around her, and blood itself. At some point, Diane disappears. The book then investigates that disappearance, jumping back and forth through time, the physical world, and the spirit world. Ultimately, it suggests that Diane is not what is behind the veils; Diane is the veils.
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