torrin a. greathouse

Queer Joy with Pocketknife
so i am trying to write a poem about queer joy
without my mouth coming out sounding like an empty casket.
this is to say, i am trying to write a poem about queer joy
that is not about survival. but have we not survived another year?
have we not seen the sugar-wet night sky, all its stars
winking teeth & walked from it safely together.
have we not seen the all too wide smile, heard the preachers
speak from beneath the veils of gutted sheep & call this a halo?
call this gods will? as though we have not learned the howl of a wolf
in any clothing? how the right tongue can make stigmata of any wound,
& perhaps it is a blessing, how each year we learn again the joy
of a pocket knife, of pepper spray, & knuckle-locked keys
or a hand held in public, or a kiss that does not lipstick us into target,
or any part of our bodies we have not had to consider as armor or weapon,
or the way enough queer bodies can turn anything into a dance floor,
a concert hall, how our joy is the loudest thing in any room.
& i say i do not pray, i do not believe in god, but is this raucous not a prayer,
my laughter not a prayer, how we joy any space our laughter can fill into ours?
so is this not ours? another year we passed through living to name our own?
another collection of loose packed joys we glitterbomb into a tomorrow?
a mouthful of names, unwriting their own eulogies, stripping the ink
from my tongue? a room full of heartbeats, joy-lit like a chorus
of fireworks? Is this survival, not the loudest joy we have got?

When a Man Tries to Kill Me in Broad Daylight
my lips tease meaning like a hangnail
or frayed pocket seam’s slow unbraiding
into a single thread, how i long to narrow
this story into a stiff-edged horizon
seen too close to witness its curving
mouth. burning uvula framed by concrete
teeth enameled in glass. i am still
curious as an infant, its slight hand
pressed to the tight luminous curl
of a stovetop. body yet unacquainted
with the scent of its own ignition.
rubber tread becoming steam bitter
with familiarity. the stop sign red
as skyline or wound unraveling
light as the car dust-trails away.
it is a question of acceleration
& intent. how godly a body
to be remade of chalk or salt
framed in an earthly halo, sanctified.
wasn’t my burying always holy work?
faggots burned to heat the church
before i was spoken into driftwood.
there must be a poem in this somewhere.
another man follows me, block after block,
close as if his body were cast by light
glinting the edges of my black dress.
we both must imagine my wardrobe
brimmed bursting with funeral clothes.
once, my mother burned a dog
she peeled up from the roadside
where it was left three days to rot,
a jagged scab unraveling in the sun
i dream its milk-spill eyes & want to die
with this kind of quiet significance.
dress wrapped around me like a mouth
pulling hard at poison from a wound.

my therapist tells me it isn’t just a soldier’s disease. i think of the protagonist
who doesn’t like guns, but still eclipses faceless soldiers into muzzle flare.
my father taught us to spitshine shoes, & somewhere my brother polishes
a rifle’s dark weight. i come from a legacy of bullets. was born a soldier’s son.
now my breasts blossom like hollowpoints. my father shows me their body,
how the metal halos into flesh. my grandfather wears a silver cross
to carry the bullet that could have killed him. this is all my mother wants
in his will. i bear my father’s blood, this too a cross weighing on a tender neck.
after the hospital, after the jail cell, after the psych ward, & AA, & therapy,
my father says this is a soldier’s disease, how he once aimed a rifle straight
at a child’s face, & his mind has been firing the bullet ever since.

torrin a. greathouse is a genderqueer trans womxn & cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Tinderbox, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She is a Best of Net, Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and the author of one chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm (Damaged Goods Press, 2017). When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.