torrin a. greathouse

my gender is the-bruise-blossom-its-petals-caked-with-makeup-like-moths-wing-dust-&-still-mistaken-for-a-fist’s-inheritance

for Linette Reeman


have you ever kissed someone // so hard your teeth bled? // left blood & saliva pooled // in their collar bone like a gutter // [all those you have crawled from] // i dare you // kiss me like all this heavy breathing // will be mistaken for ligature marks // your lips a noose how we body into anything // less forgiving than skin //


have you ever wondered why we never speak // of closed wounds? // only press cold spoons to the surface // to calm the blood // & coat this violence in something pretty // when i say kiss me // trauma ward // this is everything but a metaphor // this is the x-ray // calling my shattering fresh // years later // this is blood cooling like oil // on the surface of pale skin //


tell me // how do you learn to love // when you have learned your love is something only taken? // when body is named boy // by foreign tongue // what does it mean to love like woman // except for bleeding? // except for a man // who taught you empty & open // [& grit teeth & never tell] // as synonyms //


i first learned bruise as heirloom // as gift that travels // from father to father to father to ???? // by which i mean: look at this flower // how its roots have nestled // between my bones // hairline [fractures/fibers] // by which i mean: my heart is a bruise // look how i wear it // on my [sleeve/chest/throat/eyes] //


the first time a lover hit me // by which i mean: the first rapist // whose name i knew // by which i mean: i kept saying no // but i guess it sounded // like yes // it must have // the first time they hit me // my lips were drenched in red // & somehow this made me // feel whole //


maybe to be bruised // is to know your body will be named // violent without your lips ever moving // maybe it is to press two [or more] bodies // into each others’ mouths // to hold trauma between your teeth // & name it yours //



rogue taxidermy


[verb.] to take a body & empty it out. to salvage the best parts of it. to replace everything else: eyes, hands, organs, tongue. replace them with the best parts of something else. for body to be stitched up & made new. to create beauty from fragments. something more than the sum of its parts, if the seams are hidden well, if you do not notice the deception. example: jackalope, hodag, chimera.


i have made a rogue taxidermy of this body. borrowed breasts. tucked sex away, a bloody secret. draped body in black silk like second skin. repainted face like porcelain over wood-carving bones. replaced my eyes with black paint & glass. see this creature from every angle. do you notice its stitches?


my gender is my-body-as-a-metaphor-for-metaphors-about-bodies


this body is a metaphor for my body & maybe

this is because it cannot be anything else.

i wake up in the morning & my spine curves

like a flower stem after a hurricane.



body is my understanding of the way tree branches grow

always toward the light. maybe this body is metaphor

because most days it does not feel like man’s body

or woman’s body or body at all,



but a plaster skeleton, examined from every angle,

chipping with each pair of hands categorizing

its malformation. it dreams of being more than just

what you can identify from what remains of its bones.



a lover compares my twisted, yawning spine, my rib-

cage of splinters—church made cavity of white stone

—to a field of trees, cracking under winter’s breath,

& my heart bursts into a confluence of sparrows.



i read an essay once that said we must constantly carve

new metaphors, each breath the afterbirth of the tongue,

that if you let the same one slip stale too many times

from your mouth, it begins to mean nothing.



my suffering refuses to stagnate. one morning it is a sea

of fish hooks dragging the underbelly of the sky, the next

it is a wolf with one jaw, splitting a carcass like bread,

but never able to feed. this morning, it is a cup



empty, as though it was never meant for holding.



portrait of my grandmother as a color-by-numbers

  1. i always begin with the lightest color, no matter which comes first. this keeps the brushes clean & the colors bright. so first comes crisp white, reserved for the starched collar of your shirt & the diamonds dripping from your ears.


  1. lilac next, soft crushed irony. the scent of your fresh turned linens & the color you paint your eyelids in. both one shade bluer that cigarette dust. i wash the brush clean & watch it spread like a funeral at sea.


5 & 6. spread liberally & allowed to mix, goldenrod & dust-storm mingle in your hair. so intimate a deception, layers of liquid gold & copper spread over short hair long since turned iron.


  1. the storm cloud gray of your herringbone suit, tailored thirty years before i was born. does it remind you of when you were young? the skies over Edinburgh crashing like the hands of Greek gods, icy blood lancing into the ground. do the shoulders, padded & wide as a suit of armor, remind you of your father’s coat? how it fell like the walls of a church around you, how you never imagined a humans shoulders could be so wide.


next come 8, 9, & 10. three flesh tones weaving across the fragments of your face. skin once as pale as Saxon snow, now baked brown by California sun. the darker tones cut across your face like a dirty window streaked with rivers of rain.


  1. two thin magenta lines, flecked with red. lips bitten down by worry from three wars & never knowing which mail would carry bomb.


  1. it always begins with black. like the gaps between your crooked teeth & you pupils, mine shaft deep, like the places your father rose from. do you smoke when you miss him? just to feel the good, deep blackness spreading through your lungs, till every breath sounds like one of his.


  1. it is not the darkest, but i have saved this color for last. this pigment like a mason jar full of fireflies, sledgehammer crushed. glass & guts buried in the deepest sea. sharp edges & glinting. the spark of life drifting, broken, into the deep blue. i have saved this color for your eyes, kind tide pools which raised me. yet, in the same breath, these eyes are a Soviet winter, i dare not face them on their own terms.


torrin a. greathouse is a genderqueer, schizophrenic, cripple-punk from Southern California. They are the Editor and Co-Founder of Black Napkin Press. Their work has been published or is forthcoming in Assaracus, Heavy Feather Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Polychrome Ink, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Calamus Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, & The Feminist Wire. torrin’s work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Rust + Moth. When they are not writing or editing poetry, they are trying to survive in america long enough to earn a degree.

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