Poetry Suite by Angel Kofsky

Editor Sam Preminger, Poetry, February 25th, 2019

"I read the story of the Chimera. I thought / same."

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Poetry by Angel Kofsky

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Sundried Caesura

Somewhere over the rainbow
way up high…

If I could be a song
I would want to be my favorite song, so
I would be Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
I’d be sung by Pink, my favorite singer,
because Pink sings like the slow realization
the whole rest of the world knows how
to be happy in ways she never will
and, in this, Pink is the color
of every sunrise, Pink fills the gaps, lining all my dark
clouds and ‘she’
is the color of everything I wish
I learned to love in myself.

I used to fall in love with every woman
I dreamt I might’ve grown up to be
And, in a world less black and white,
I might have loved me, too,
but there is no room for bi in this world of binaries
and the cult of man has always so savored
its pastime of cracking open a boy with the cold ones,
so I grew up to be a played-out poetry trope, cliché
held together by a murky maritime metaphor,
          which is to say:
My ribcage is an ocean of butterfly tears
drowning in their own stardust,
a mouthless caterpillar
who might mill the bitter milkweed it was given
into something sweeter than poison if only it ever knew how,
but no one ever wanted to hear a sea shanty about butterfly tears.
Instead, I learn the song of swallowed tongues,
          which is to say:
My ex fiancé said she could never love a bi man
and even gay men love me better
when I croon them cis and straight, so
I cut my vocal chords
until they bled the way a boy is meant to
and oh, how I bled for them
with their scalpel hands and bone saw bodies
cutting out all the softest parts of me
and putting me back together
into something they could stomach the sound of.

When I was eight years old,
I read the story of the Chimera. I thought
same.
Isn’t it amazing how we are everything at once?
How we do not feel the need to choose
between the lion, the lizard, and the lamb,
and for this they call us disaster
omen and fire breath
as quickly as they call us myth.

My whole life since
I’ve wanted to write us a new verse,
sing a love song to our queer and broken,
but I always seem to get stuck on the last note
it gets caught on all the shame stuffed down my
throat by every hand that failed to love me.
I choke.
Our acapella comes out silent,
this stuttering sobbing breath
and in this all too familiar moment
I hate myself in all the ways they taught me I should.

But there is a place
with ears that love to listen
far from the two worlds who tell me I am nothing
so long as I choose to be everything
and though I have not found it yet,
one day,
far from this city, somewhere
above the chimney tops
where troubles melt like lemon drops

that’s where you’ll find me.

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Sepideh

Deep-sea masters of disguise, the cuttlefish
is the queerest fish I know,
shifting textures and shades
to match the safest places in their environments
and I don’t think they get enough praise
for how wildly unique they are.

For instance, when kept in captivity,
most aquariums have something they call
“cuttlefish enrichment hour”
during which strange objects and puzzles are introduced
to the tank to keep their comically large brains occupied
because if they don’t, and I am not making it up
they will develop ‘cuttlefish depression’
which is like regular depression, but cuter
and with more tentacles.

Despite looking much like a squid
and having a similar ink-based defense,
the cuttlefish never evolved out of their shells,
only, instead of cowering inside, cuttlefish shells hide
just beneath the surface of their skin, like a suit of armor
no one else knows you are wearing,
but you very much are, so you drift,
you float
appearing to be all seafloor and softness
while under it all
you have buried the hardest part of you
so deep inside of your body
you could never come out of your shell
even if you wanted to.

I read in a book once
about how a male cuttlefish
has four sets of tentacles
while a female only has three;
In the presence of a dangerous male, male
cuttlefish will hide two tentacles
binding and tucking them out of sight
to mask their ‘true’ gender
thereby avoiding any possible confrontation
and when I think about how quickly
a bathroom stall could turn into a bar-fight
I have never identified more
with something so small.
Isn’t it always going to be easier that way?

Most days
I try to blend into the background
pretend to be whatever I think
will keep me alive that day,
I tuck
all the dangerous parts of me
close to my chest,
perform a gender that covers
my most vulnerable places
so only safe people will see. I hide
behind a wall of ink. It says I must be a soft thing
– how good I have become at hiding –
but when the nights are empty
I tangle myself, touch-hungry and desperate,
around every strange experience that slips in,
I unravel
people like puzzle boxes,
governed by a single
all-consuming mantra:

Survive.

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La Croix

Descriptions of what La Croix actually tastes like:

          Like a Sprite laughed into a paper bag two weeks ago

          Seltzer water, but bottled on a Halloween
where everyone dressed up as mangoes

          Like someone took a sip out of it
while delivering the eulogy for a grape

          Going on a date with a peach,
then finding out they voted Republican

          Orange, but like, Donald Trump Orange

I’m lying in bed
writing descriptions for a product
famous for tasting like soda with the volume turned down
trying to figure out how to explain my feelings about my
gender and I just don’t get it,
how someone handed out bottles of fruit scented hairspray,
told us these were refreshing beverages
and everybody just ran with it.

I’m in a coffee shop
trying to explain to an irate hipster
how their favorite soda isn’t quite for me,
only to be treated to a lecture about ‘having an adult
pallet’ and ‘giving things another try,’
meanwhile, somewhere,
someone like me is on a date with a Georgia peach
finding out they are homophobic.
A pastor takes a sip out of me
while delivering the eulogy for a boy.
An orange-skinned man pours legislation
down the back of my throat, all as my hand is filled with a can
of something artificial
trying to convince me it tastes like strawberries
because some lab coat in a sterile room slapped that label on it
and if you ask me, they all taste the same.

None of this is to say you can’t enjoy your favorite soda,
but there are so many other flavors to choose from
and the beauty of autonomy is in how the same freedom
which allows you to celebrate your love
of the first flavor you ever tried
also allows me to choose.

So you can drink La Croix, while I drink water.
I can eat my steak rare, while you eat your steak
medium
or you can even choose not to ruin
a perfectly good cut of meat
and become a vegetarian, or a vegan:
those are so in right now! Factory farming, it sucks.
My point is, for me,
the word ‘man’ has always tasted like a heart
with the volume turned down
and also,

La Croix tastes like fucking hairspray.

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A Reclamation of October 31st

Long ago
on Samhain
it was said the spirits of the dead
return to inhabit the places
they were once meant to live,
and so, what better day than this
for the drowned ghost
of a queer southern Baptist
to return to their body.

At first glance
nothing looks as it should
and I get the feeling
I am no longer welcome here,
but you and the rest of your party
seem to have made yourselves comfortable
wrecking the place,
stomping around my insides,
renaming all my furniture,
you paint over all the hints of pink
in my nursery
all the while asserting
my kind are the ones
made of stormy night violence
and thunderclap howls

When I finally make myself known
you tell me you don’t believe in ghosts,
but I don’t recall asking you
and it’s Halloween, so
while you debate my existence
I will get to work.
These ghastly hands
will tear down all the words
you have decorated my home with:
snowflake, biological sex,
boy, and I will bleed
reclamation all over your baby blue wallpaper
when you call this a haunting,
as if I am the one who does not belong here,
I will stay strong,            as in
I will stay kind –
resist the urge to harvest tears for the salt,
to make a fist,
to prepare to battle the only monster I see.

Instead,
I will harvest flowers from the grave,
I will weave them into my hair, like an offering
from all the crumbling tombstones
with the names written on wrong,
and once I am done
I will pick the dirt of you out from under my nails;
whisper spells into a cloud of sage
as I lace up my favorite dress in the dark,
and you, the coward, the wolf in sheep’s clothing
will tremble with fear
like I am preparing for a doling out of justice
that tastes like a reckoning
and I assure you,
I am,
but when the clock strikes three
and you speak my dead name
three times into the bathroom mirror
I will not come for you…

I will come for me.
Offer myself a spectral hand
that says our banshee blast
has always been a salvation,
a keening song for all that has been lost,
and a reminder how we
like joy, like rebellion
like all the other invisible things
which will not be erased,
are not beautiful because we have been sanctioned,
but because we continue to exist
even after we are told we are not allowed to.

Maybe someone should have warned you
how every pen and page is our phylactery,
how people like us
with our poltergeist tongues
with our voices a rattle of chains
can write ourselves back into our own skins
just as quickly as you move to take them from us,
our words, a lich cauldron truth
that will outlive your ignorance,
so even if you try to kill us over and over
and over
and over
our stories will rise from their graves
and we will flood the streets
with the bodies of those who refuse to die.

Because a body is nothing
if not a home belonging to spirit,
and we do not need your permission
to be here.

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Header image courtesy of Matthieu Bourel. To view his artist feature, go here.

2018 JavaSpeaks Grandslam Champion, Angel Kofsky is a nonbinary poet based out of Atlanta, GA, who recently embarked on their first out of state tour. Angel started writing poetry at the tender age of 10 after a battle with a severe illness forced them to come to grips with their mortality. Unable to relate to other children, who weren’t due their first existential crisis for another 10-20, Angel found solace in the secret world of poetry. Kofsksy’s work on stage has been described as “raw, open, honest, and deeply vulnerable,” and through sharing it they hope to create resonance, and help people feel like they are not as hopeless or alone as they feel.

“Growing up queer in the Bible belt could be so isolating. I was taught not to question anything, while I was a mess of questions with answers I was told were all ‘sin.’ No one should have to feel that broken, wicked, or alone, but the beautiful thing is: I wasn’t, and we aren’t.”

Insta: @angelkofsky
Web: Facebook.com/angelkofsky

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Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.