Introducing Dena Rod – Manifest Differently Poet

Dena Rod is a trans-non-binary poet whose work has been widely published and highlighted in My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora, The Rumpus, and more. Their debut poetry collection, Scattered Arils, is now in its third printing from Milk and Cake Press. A fellow of Kearny Street Workshop’s Interdisciplinary Writer’s Lab, Dena writes to illuminate their experiences in the Iranian American diaspora and queer communities through creative nonfiction essays and poetry. Connect with Dena at their website,

to be femme

 if you look at me and see woman
i love to disappoint

because the ruffled edges of my being push further
than the blades of hair on my face

you see
there have been so many times
i have been told i am not woman
that i finally listened

even though the femme desire
to put on the most fluorescent
pink lipstick from the lauder
counter making my lips
as puffy engorged pussy pink
as i wanted ruled supreme

as if dressing like a pretty thing
meant that i wanted to be inducted into the
hall of womanhood

as if diamonds couldn’t be a boy’s best friend

because i saw Kelly Bundy
and the power she wielded with her blonde hair,
white teeth that glistened over her scarlett lipsticked smile,
heels that clicked and made heads turn
to watch her legs go up
her leopard print mini skirt,
and that was a femme fatale if i ever saw one.
she had power over
those dumb dig ol’ bicks
despite not knowing everything

and why wouldn’t i want the same
for myself? to become a beautiful
deadly thing? to invoke the power
to bring men down
to their knees
begging for succor?

so i pulled my jorts up to my waist to cut my crotch
in two, swished my butt back and forth as i walked,
and cocked my hip to perch my hand just so.

a limp wrist that didn’t get diagnosed until twenty years later.

when you look at me and see sparkle,
a decorated painted face, and see woman
i love to disappoint

you see here? these specks of reflective light
glitter flaking off like fish scales on a sun dried salmon,
dust on my bones, cheek, and brow
looking like a fairy kissed me and i do mean faggot
because during Pride on Castro Street,
someone on roller skates and booty shorts blessed me
with a rainbow feather boa and said “this is for you”
and we all crushed together
like the different pieces of plastic sparkle
we were told not to be

how when i told a twink that i loved
feeling the bass at badlands thrum
in my heart he looked aghast at me
and said “oh my god that’s the gayest thing i ever heard”
and he didn’t mean same sex attraction.
he meant that kinship of no fats, no femmes, no asians

how the same light that
bounced off the disco ball at badlands and
rebounds off my face is the same shine
from a chandelier,

and when you see that reflective shine
that lens flare in the mirror you are seeing me
is the chandelier a woman?

no, it only casts light, shadows
where your deepest fears dwell

where the transest thing i ever heard
was “even right before i went under, i had doubts”
because those other voices we heard
whispered “what if you regret it?”
but it wasn’t enough to erase
what we remembered was etched inside our bones
and that remembering told us our futures
and what laid out on the path before us after we awoke
was better than anything we experienced before.

because we stunned ourselves
eating lotuses spilling lies
telling us pink and heels meant Barbie
instead of

-Dena Rod 


Led by Clarion Alley Mural Project, Manifest Differently, a new project developed by Megan Wilson and Kim Shuck. Over the next year, 2023/24, we’ll be working together with 38 diverse, multigenerational visual/media artists and poets to interrogate the history of Manifest Destiny and its legacies of inherited and perpetuated violence, trauma, and addiction. The outgrowth of resistance and resilience – giving fire to movements for social/ culture change.
The project will be presented in 2023/24 at three locations – Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), Artists’ Television Access (ATA), and Minnesota Street Project.