HTML Backgorund Color

  About   /  Archive   /   Seasons   /  Print   /  Tenement   /  Shop


Three Fragments of 

Coming Out/

parts of a multipart poem 


Number 14.

Oil smoke pours up from under the sloshes/ of the wavy mississippi. You trounce your long legs/ past the bank and reach down. You say/ it is a hawk and you pull up/ a burning hawk by its broken beak/   Out there, the land and water/ we cry for what we lost/ but not to each other because/ it’s always been hard for each of us to speak/ the unsaid pasts haunting us/ I hope they aren’t all mine

You pitch back the bird/ The fire cascades in spiral shush on the river/

Used to be the riverwalk/ was burned and barred. We latched/ our way down into the wreckage/ Behind us now is the shining cement/ the slap of flip-flops/ and the happiness of family light/ This makes it harder to love/ unhappier to live/ and you say, wait. hush up for a sec/ Your hands crinkling the deli paper/ say it is time to eat. In the/ mayo the fried nuggets of fish spell/ out a message in our code/ we read and we chew away/ what we have tried to write.

I haven’t tasted the breading in so long.

You laugh at my idiot grin.

The hot sauce burns/ my lips. And I work my feet in/ the river gravel.

At these moments/ I retreat into description. The tiny/ shells, still burning oil/ ruining the clear sky/ The angle of your arm/ the pre-wrinkle of skin/ on your biceps reminding me/ you are older/ The trash you left reminding me/ age isn’t nothing.

The cool race of my pulse/ under my skin like a blade/ dangerous and slippery as a snake whispering/ My throat as dry as a brushfire/ I speak/ My mother was a man once/ She was a man/ when she told me/ she wanted to be a woman/

Bull/shit/ don’t you/ fucking lie/ to me—you say it/ spiked with spittle.

The pause of the world/ the moment the sky breathes/ the air to life/ I hide there under you/ in a place of disbelief/ because once you’ve been unsettled/ you stay unsettled.

I tell the story to the river/ the sky/ the gravel and shells./ You listen along/ I think. Of a time in a grocery store before/ you knew me. When/ I was a child/ And I trailed behind my Mom who was/ my Dad/  that night was one of the first/ times for us to be/ out in the world as she/ wanted to be and would be/ eventually. I got so excited/ by a pineapple on a isle/ tropical as a cartoon/ Running ahead, I didn’t look back/ I called back/ Dad/ with all the wind in my lungs. She/ wrenched my arm and wheezed/ What the fuck/ is wrong with you./ How do you answer that/ I didn’t/ I cried

That story/ shut you up/ the waves lap up and the fire burns/ across the water ahead of us/ a bridge/ to somewhere we could go/ but . . .

Number 1.

Swamp gas signals through/ the trees like rotten teeth in the muck/ but inside faded glo/ -in-the-dark star stickered the ceiling/ Two fawns in a dark room/ gangly legs tangled/ on a patch of carpet/Children on the cusp/ of bare fucking/I wondered how/I could speak to you so you’d understand/ when I said it feels like/ we are the only two/ people in the world/ I was embarrassed and scared/

How I love/ you. My head has grown/ antlers.

The expose of your shiny, ivy belly/ my hand dipping. Bodies dripping/ with self-abuse. You say tell me something/ I can trust. In the puddles/ of our birth/ You can never tell:

In a cold kitchen/ on a saturday/ I was supposed to sleep/ through. I titter-tottered, rubbed my eyes/ in the doorway/ the industrial haze filtered/ by the stained window.  Dad born/ in a red teddy/ head lifted to the anemic day/ A dark nipple graced the lace/ roses across his stubbled chest/ He said, Well/ you’re up early . . .

Lost in a gnarl/ of your new fur/ How do you feel/ older than me? Please/ speak

to cover/up this spill/

Shhhhh is a vibration/ without meaning but/ warmth from your salutary lungs

I nuzzle the sound in your underarm.

You say, After your father/ charged out/ on cocaine/ into the world’s traffic/ you mother changed/ her family name to the name/ of a body of water/ you could never find/ The word sounds/ like a young deer/ watching a bird caw/ as its wings cut clouds in the construction paper sky

These sounds are rings/ loping around us/ dying spin/ not yet settled

In the future you will/ burn this nest. The votive/ candle/ you’ll tip over as you nod/ off into a warm unsafe place/ our viscera a scorch mark/ your blood trailing as/ you crawl to the door  . . .

Outside the mire excretes/ in bleats and creaks and trembling/ we don’t even try to stand/ Once more. One more rolling wet/ lunge of these little bodies into new little bodies/ blinded to the brilliance, the reeking wind/ blasting us forward.

Number 12.

On soggy streets we
wobble over the waters
the dusk crow flock
from a sky spliced dark
and orange, not day, not night
we come up

                                                                     with a case of beer
                                                                     on the dry rot stairs

                                    you are a chef. I love
                                    that you work with
                                    your hands but your
                                    kitchen is useless

your wife and my                                       lover wait for us
in the lemon scent of
rationed power, the flicker
street light window

                                    you hook a pinky over
                                    the switch and smile,
                                    Lights on for guests

Look at you, breakin
the law for me.                                          The beers sweat beads
                                                                    and the cocaine sweats
                                                                    and our sweat is
                                                                    power worn

                                    You knife open cans
                                    carve out picket fences
                                    The nocks and nicks
                                    scarred fingers
                                    grease splatter
                                    periods, still hot

I know they hurt
I covet your marks
of an honest man.

                                                                    belches my lover,
                                                                    dripping glow

The light browns out  
in my eyes, stars of stage an . . .

                                    Have you ever stopped time
                                    becoming the dwindling filament
                                    In a bulb? A beautiful moment
                                    running like a heartshot deer
                                    Blood flowing white
                                    as old dog shit, eyes up
                                    to the dappled leaves

                                                                  These loves beg
                                                                   for a story but listen
                                                                   I don’t know the words
                                                                   for anxiety and I crumble,
                                                                   again, like old dog shit

My heart spurts from
an inherited hole my birth
mother left behind. On
Saturdays I watched a beautician
groggy from dragging the night
before, zap dad’s whiskers away
one at a time. Each one beeped
vanished in smoke. The machine
like a hornet sting on
my hairless arm. I fought
the tears because we were
still men after all. Then later
the beautician is dead
and my dad is a woman

                                     Have you ever had expectations
                                     of a room’s oxygen evacuating
                                     A kitchen tilted like a ship
                                     Teeth Marshmallowed
                                     Chair legs chattering

                                                                       fucking say something

Your breaths suck
like a knocked out kid come
up for air. Dry lips stuck
to dry tongues speak

                                                                      That isn’t such a
                                                                       big deal, you all say,
                                                                       laugh open and free,
                                                                       jovial as crows            
                                                                       calling to carrion

                                        Have you ever felt
                                        total synaptic reverse
                                        squealing, smoking neural
                                        lockup, shaking, pinned
                                        in the powerless aftermath,
                                        as the jaw of life wrenches
                                        round to a meal?

Justin Burnell is Appalachian, White Trash, Queer-spawn. He is writing a book about growing up with his trans mom. His work has appeared in Guernica, the Columbia Journal, Arkana Mag, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. He tweets @jmburnell


Submissions     ︎      ︎

Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

Mailing List