AMERICA (I'M PUTTING MY QUEER SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL)

John Elizabeth Stintzi

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The night America took off her mask

we slept together poorly. I'd woken up early

that Tuesday, dragged myself to a gymnasium

in Jersey City to cast my vote into the void.

I came all the way out to Hampton Bays

to see her: her picking me up in that old

Mercury van, her bringing us back to her place.

As we watched the footage of the country

reveal its frightening hue, we were shocked

but not. A few days later I came back.

 

My nails were painted blue the week after

the mask fell from America's fist, the week

when the victorious hatred began. I walked

through Hoboken to work one morning

worried ten tiny splashes of colour on my body

might be enough to get me killed.

I realized then I had a choice: stay

queerly small and queerly quiet, or become

emboldened too. That like a true American Nazi

I could drop my mask and live life alive.

 

In the months after, I dismantled the mask 

piece by piece while America lifted her skirt

to let free her pale hounds. I dipped my head

in cerulean dye and felt mortality pound

through every vein, felt myself climbing

to the paper surface of me. I let my body fold

and unfold. I let my body be loved by

a woman I loved more than air could explain.

I let myself be a foggy pile of indeterminate

me and I learned to love myself like that, too.

Despite the fear of the mortal danger

I grew bold in a way the system hated.

I decided that if this world was going

to kill me I'd die against the grain.

I decided that if America confronted me

with her rancid mouth screaming

I would stand as tall as her and scream back.

 

My nails, bright and tiny nodes of resistance

in the land of the craven, my hair, glowing

like a backlit sapphire in a home aflame,

I looked in the mirror and sang the words

of a new, loud anthem for this new, vast me. 

John Elizabeth Stintzi, "America (I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel)" from Junebat. Copyright © 2020 by John E. Stintzi. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
 
Source: Junebat (House of Anansi Press Inc, 2020)