La región bajo tierra

a chapbook


I was a problem before I decided to be a problem. I was tired and I would work no longer, but even before I was tired I was a problem. In the mayor’s office I make my bed and the city cannot kill anyone that day. Let’s all stay in today if we can bear it. My body is a problem solved by fire. Rather than trans I am everywhere but here. I was taken from myself centuries ago. I reside in questioning. If I am suspended in judgment, if I am forever pulled apart then I am without limit. Loved by strangers in dark rooms in every country. The monitor hums with the image of me. A red dress against dark hair against brown skin, faintly. Gloss makes a pretty image, that’s me. Who else could obliterate reason. When recognition of violence is itself held to be violent. Walking I am never alone. There is so much memory in me I cannot access, my heart swells. Pulling my shoulders back and wrists together and my elbows meet, I am another pretty picture. If you could have me, once you have me quartered and polished up, and you are fogging up the screen. When you make me make you, when paying me to tell you to beg for me, this is called joy. Possessing me in pretending to dispossess yourself, it’s pretty funny. How much more is left. Another dress, another hundred messages, perhaps a paycheck. There are numbers mediating but I am another number, it works.


If I aspire to nothing I can still save myself. I’ve got the recipe for burning the uniform off every cop and soldier. A day I spend without running away from my face. The silence of me. The sun goes spilling between the blocks. How fear travels ahead of us. Any other lifetime I’m forgetting. In a single year, I am many. Let a thought go without editing. The real movement to sleep through a night, finally. Elaborating as if beauty hadn’t torn me from me. Worse than speech, more terrible than law. If I can make no mistakes I cannot sing aloud. To be pieced together by your fingertips. To know without a single word. Love of all that needs nothing and has no name.


No rescue awaited me, but I waited. I worked so as not to starve while I waited. I was faithful to a dream within which I’d roll backwards into the most pleasant sleep. That I walked behind my father’s face in another life, it feels impossible. Rather than death I wanted the vanishment of belonging with, belonging to. I would have paid any price to divorce from reality. The way every university swallows its city, memory cannot abide the living. But thinking is the fatal error. What one expects when they step out of the light versus what writes itself upon the eyes. When I hear another voice, why does my heart say terror? Were I not chasing my distortions, what else is there? Fighting every minute, every feeling has brought us to this. I move nearer to myself until I know there was never any distance. The sun finds me at strange times out of the western winter sky. I’m tearing up the floor beneath this floor. To be the brick that shatters every window.


What I want no one can give me. What I asked of you with the sugar melting on my tongue. Marching up the hilltop, my ankles cold and wet from the morning grass. The surface I’ve been searching for a way out. Had I been fit to travel, there’d be no question. Whether I wake myself or it is the hour. The noise of our thoughts gathers over the city, a bank of clouds. If you internalize the mirror, no, your movements will never go wrong. How we’d hear the redwoods creak before their shadows went. If art belongs to capital already, then what about our encounter? Once we commit to action, whatever is on hand becomes a weapon. Without words, the desire followed. It was years before I remembered myself.


I didn’t know I was inhabiting every other moment. I’m taking a break from… doing those things. Writing has made my room part of the big machine. Not sleep so much as praying for the night to bury me. Only the makeup mirror knows my worst fears. I’m in between houses right now—calling all landlords to the guillotine! There is maybe one world or the other. But every day spawns a different me. Blinking in time with the electrons’ spin as if the walls will melt before my step until I stand before nothingness. No more sad stories about my father’s lost childhood, no transposing his loss over mine. I’ll hold vengeance to my chest—and it may even feel good. I become my mother at the kitchen sink whispering rage, rage, rage.


Work negates the poem, but the poem refuses. You look past the page, and now you’re with me in the snow of memory. What writing does not drag the body through a field of stones? The end will come when we refuse to argue. Every book is a map of small violences. The only way to read is to listen and understand none of it. What is one more missed connection between enemies. When my family moved across the border we didn’t know that it had sliced us to pieces. This winter my hair grows longer than ever. Gather, sleep, around me. In this nest I am sinking.


You know the horror. In which the last humans paint themselves with gore to move among the dead: that’s every trans woman putting on makeup to walk to CVS. In front of the camera again; three points, three stars all the same from which I watch myself unfolding. Kiss the hand you hold, my friend. Name property as the perfection of suffering. What searches? Desire will return and smash the plates. I’m worn through with worry so that the ink shows. When the light is lost, fractures reveal themselves. God of every captive soul, living, unliving, where is your anger? To lick my lips, rearrange my pixels, estrogenize my way out of exile. Impossible home in a time of gender.


What I found when I caught up with myself. There I was entering one building after another; soundless, leaving no trace. One wrist kissed against the other. In the last city shaking snow from my hair. Will you caress every roughness of me? Friday evening we lost a house to racists. A prayer to kill the insurers and save trans women. Reversal: now your back holds up the ceiling and my teeth cut through your tendons. I call off patrolling my own body, welcome every failure; panic becomes a room I enter and exit at my leisure. Ice pavement. Voice out of sight. Only in dreams have I held you, little lost vial of estradiol.


I know I’ll die the moment I come to rest. Now I’m mindfully obsessed with the rising and falling of my chest. My heart catches each time my body sinks into the bed. If the night is forgiven, it’s because it returns me to working condition. At the grocery store, sudden vertigo at forgetting which coast I’m standing on. The year expands, the day forgets. Sleeping together we shared the same tongue, the same breath. Into every dream I drag along a typewriter and document, document. Under capitalism, everything has a purpose, even this nightmare… Rather than read, I carve an apple to slices. What violence has brought the two of us here? Speak the name silently. If you had a choice—if you were you and not what looms over you—where would you like to be? Speak the name silently


Once I picked up the first stone, there was no such thing as a locked door. The atm yielded its fortune, the pharmacy found my prescription, the frat houses on Walnut Street ran empty and stayed open. Writing was a mistake. The indent a suffocating garment makes against the skin. I thought, if a plant in a thimble of dirt can survive a room, then why not I? The mirror your eyes make: instant, pilotless judgment. Being present like, I stand and there I am in height, a touch lonely, my joints whispering. Open the camera, and fuck if I’m cubed into a thousand anxieties. Always the arch of the bare foot, curve of my back exquisite and aching to simulate wanting this the way you do. With a book, a pose, a fawning look. As if it wasn’t your death and mine too.


Kill pornhub, pay sex workers, claw through your chest searching for the pleasure that demands another’s pain. Under communism, will you still make someone else clean the house? In this economy, art opposes life. In another poem, my parents make the journey north—again and again, I wring the memory from them; again and again, your heart swells—it’s quite a scene and there’s no suggestion yet that I’ll destroy this country. The clocks are slowing to the words, We are not asking for anything. The flowering cacti of southern Zacatecas call for the return of my body, and I cannot die until then. If there was money at stake I’d be smiling, turning into the light like I’ll never hear from you after this touch of intimacy. Here’s one more story for you to enjoy: the fragments of my skull, how they shiver from the distances I’ve traveled.


On second thought, I should have let ChristianXXX fly me to Vegas so I could throw him off a balcony. Did the unbroken line of colonization not stop for your Marxist moment? How loss has shaped my actions since then. Sliding scale $50 a session to talk about how poverty is dissolving my brain. I walked out of the house where I grew up and it vanished behind me. It’s cisgender people who live in a fantasy—the rest of us grind our teeth to dust and play along with them. The forest is there for a reason. Depression follows—the color spreads behind my eyes, its sigh says burrow, burrow.


I’m writing a letter to you from the future: death is returned to death, since it is no longer a weapon, politics is over. I repeat, the land belongs to the land and it has no purpose. The heat of our bodies in the streets has dissolved every instrument of capture. In this peace, where trans women dancing shed their needles. The meaning of home has always been isolation. Into the sea: the word that is the same in every language. Reawakened, back inside every day I could not locate myself. Every time I’ve been flat broke and said, “Time to end things!” Spontaneous communism among friends—sacred lips of a cruising stranger—the unexpected kindness of women out in the world—no truer god have I witnessed.


To the men at the donut shop who would’ve fought over the price of a styrofoam cup: this is colony, THIS IS COLONY. White woman, your story is your own, it goes no further. Since I was born I could not talk because my mouth was full of blood. Theory of the brick: she who warps spacetime with her presence approaches god in its infinity. Now to absolve myself of shame and survive anxiety. What animal need is sated when I lie down in darkness listening to the voices in the next room? The greater the machine, the deeper its vulnerabilities: see USS Reagan v. Jellyfish; Just-in-Time Manufacturing v. United Auto Workers. I’m on the sidewalk being watched; I’m waiting out the madness that has gripped my heart.


A remnant of sky to breath out of, a staircase that rises but does not open onto any floor. I carry it softly in my mouth from one ocean to another. Is there still time? In Portland where I froze to death in the award-winning park a block from my place, strange men put the word to me—into the sea—and for two years I lived in fear of the promise of that word, that they’d kill me and the city would applaud silently. I’m at the kitchen counter, surprised that I still cannot speak. In the windows of a warm house, they sing wordlessly. Every day is a failed revolution. Neither you nor I will find what we were promised. I can generate a profit if I’m twenty forever: a flash of my shoulder, a hint of collarbone for you to bite into, coming undone on command but gracefully. This final gasp of my hands before bed.


There was a time when I knew how to eat. I went out among the living and like them I understood everything. But when was writing was not the commodification of dreams? To have become myself something sacred. I voted for the wayward shadow to be stitched to my side and it came undone anyway. How the misery of work, each year more and more, brings me closer to my parents until the billions of working people with stooped backs become the same person. When Duckie Thot said, Being free is a good start, I fell off my bed. This is another year that I won’t remember. I surrender all claims to integrity, join the insurgent speech of the insects, plants, networks of fungus in the earth from which I am no different.


Because the mirror follows, I can see myself from every angle. Bold of you to praise the colonial space of the poem, that’s all. Wherever I’m going I’m late and I’m fasting. Custom video where I dangle PAINFUL memories from my PERFECT nipples for a generous fan. Let me make pleasure synonymous with failure. Find a little beat, twist and kick to separate from all that’s separated itself from me. The living will not abolish themselves, they need our help! I have not breathed, I have not blinked; I plan my revenge before the shutter clicks.


First snow, first bell, first rope tied around my ankles. When I hear you’ve fallen out of time, I take my hands out of the flame: with both hands I hold your memory. This isn’t it. How Sagittarian that I cannot hold onto anything. Comrades, I don’t know how to play this game. To speak, “All our missing friends will be returned to us” is to bring the missing closer to us by a breath. To be your most valid self: read this five times out loud before bed. It is lucrative, it is lucrative, it is lucrative to pour myself across state lines the way my stomach pours itself out at the supermarket. Poured onto laps without a pixel out of place: cute, willing, smooth skin of a mannequin, absolutely no waist—so glad I wake up with natural red lips—full, glossy, perfectly lined, generous with spit.


The body was a lie. What is human is a gathering of eyes; turning, turning all at once. Every day for a week I carry myself outside—now to get outside of the outside—I’m going to be alright! Elliott Abrams, génocidaire, back with what the New York Times says, “some call imperial overreach.” This has to be my last life. I’m in a dream explaining why I said that. In your imagining, I’m the fantasy that makes gender hit just right. You always want more. I’ll be a flame this time, I’ll burn you from you from the immanence of capital. What I am fighting for is the end of thought, to sleep for a hundred years for a start.


Are you asking me or my portrait? When I speak without a script I am not the one speaking. As gently as a map folds violence over violence. West Philly is a land of luxury apartments, shops like vaults, an empty house on every block, while every street sleeps a pile of blankets. Otro desierto helado. The promise of a crowbar’s beveled ends gaining leverage. I was born with dread turning in my gut—get it out, no, leave me intact! There will be a warm sweater at the thrift store one day. No sun today but the essence of an orange lingers on my hands. “These trans hands,” I say to my friends, “can do anything”—and we have a trans laugh. I started out differently this morning but could not break with who I was yesterday. Let me have no future and no utility.


WE KNOW, wrote the kids on the gentrifier building next door. Three broken windows and a write up in Philly Anti-Capitalist—I’m speaking in the most literal terms—it is a shadow that speaks to you from a picture, from any work. My first thought with the new sun heavy on my eyes and skin: I am not ready for spring. Wrapped in lace for my next survival scheme, I am counting the number of fingers in my mouth. The number of rooms that I have been. What if we kissed... as the offices of OCF Realty burned? Say there are no more distractions, no more dreams, no more lost decades: what would you do?

for Elysia Crampton 

Trans liberation is for everyone at the Philly Trans Wellness Conference except for dead girls and the dying. Anneliese Singh of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion knows something, she will make it make sense as I am carried away screaming. The soil is alive and it is dreaming of me. Thank you for the research on resilience, it may not help me find a doctor or a therapist who takes Medicaid in West Philly, but I am no authority. What of the novel I am writing in the DMs with the men paying to watch me watch them? It’s the loneliest, violentest thing, a book. Annaliese, at what point did you forget they were trying to tear you from you? What did you taste when you bit your teeth into your side to help them tear you from yourself? When did you first admire the picture on the wall that was a detached wing, translucent, and it was you torn from you and you felt a sudden vertigo and the taste was the taste of a needle wasn’t it? It was cold, the project of granting life and death, it cracked your teeth.


This is the difference between alive and living. I can change the temperature but when the ice melts I am still here, looking away from the person speaking. It’s 3pm on the 1st of the month: the landlord is asking why we haven’t paid yet: it is early but he has to make a payment on his Tesla. How to Get Away with Murder should have been about the null distance between Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and the cop that shot Kaleb Belay on 49th & Hazel. Kaleb is alive, his condition is stable, but his neighborhood remains in the path of gentrification. Dear Jack, I have deciphered the anarchist vagueposting. Whereupon every overcast spring day hollows out my memory. Were you at the march today? Did you look for me on the day I could not leave my bed? It’s ten at night, we’re turning off the lights at home; one more shift and I’ll be finished.


If I am in the ground calling out, there are those who are not in the ground. What is there for us to talk about but the defenestration of every boss? Heaven as a negation rather than reversal: the Bible speaks of a guillotine called, If you don’t qualify for SNAP, sorryyy! Unreality is a weapon. Red pepper, cold and bitter, I will not eat the pepper with my hands. I’ll bite my cheek and sell the photoset and video, the very morsel. Try a little opposite action. It set us apart, your talk about important work: my work is survival with others, beyond me, and perhaps your work is survival not beyond you, but none of us is a project. Below ground in the spring I begin to dream I’ve not lost anyone. My limbs are lost to me, in spring, they tread soil like the tree roots, wishing we could break expensive things. There are those of us who want nothing but images upon images, there are those of us who want none of this.


Caught inside a hundred looping videos, I am one of the girls sliced up in performance. Soon there will be a hundred hundred cutouts of me in perpetual motion, more than I could ever be, they cannot stop grinning. Because my shadow is forever working, I cannot sleep. Dear bitch, I want pur love journey; dear, I apologize for my ignorance. Catching up to myself on the sidewalk, and pushing past that person. It is not that I was the first, but that all others before me were destroyed. Against a background of structural violence; there is no such thing as memory, only the endless parade of reason and the underground of the blessed SNAP recipients who bear every wound written on their bodies, delicate suffering teeth. I want to spend the rest of my life with you and be very happy always and eternal life !!! really. The trees are resurrected. But what has all this lying done to me?


Why did the door close behind you? It was necessary. This Pride month, we honor the sacrifices of heroes like Janet Mock, the first trans woman of color to pilot an F-22 Raptor in a Marvel film and write a memoir about it. Representation matters for every girl who dreams of being co-opted and never begging for rent money. Same, honestly. I am learning to exploit the fragments of my image rendered invisible on the screen; I’ll widen the uneven bit of lipstick, the stray hairs made smooth by the light through the amateur lens and I will make my artist’s retreat there, away from myself, sewn up neatly as the pages of a book. I will not eliminate 10,000 border agents, one for every migrant killed since 1994. I will not march 10,000 border agents into the desert so they return shaking the earth from themselves and they stand sobbing before their neighbors and they will burn their uniforms. Let me get away for a year this time. I’ll bring someone else with me and they’ll bring someone else and they’ll write about us in Out Magazine, dancing under the neon lights in our editorial while the friends we left beneath the ground sharpen and resharpen their knives.

for Layleen Polanco 

A war at home and a war abroad and a war inside our hearts. New York City did everything right and Layleen Polanco had to die. When the monument to Marsha and Sylvia was announced, Charlene McCray, New York’s First Lady, said it was vital to include their stories; vital for the city’s public relations, surely; vital for the undercover cop with a hand up the trans worker’s skirt or the trans worker herself, less likely. A week after McCray was quoted in the New York Times, a week after the plan was unveiled for the city to spend $750,000 on the monument, Layleen who could not afford a $500 bail was found dead in a cell at Riker’s Island. Do you find yourself considering it every time you walk past a law enforcement officer? Wall Street is rallying. The ethicists are not yet debating the moral necessity versus the moral acceptability of killing cops, but we’re out of time. In West Philly, gentrification has razed homes and left behind an abundance of bricks and steel rebar and shards of glass that are waiting for us, they long for our grocery bags and steady hands. I have let go of any fantasy of returning home. Progress is happening all across America with similar results and in a luxury apartment somewhere Jordan Peele is waiting for the chance to say Us was a documentary.


I have kept myself alive for the purpose of keeping myself alive. We keep each other alive though it is never for long: law and order finds a way of killing us. The terrain of the imagination offers no escape. The terrain of the street as absolute death, but how far do any of us get? What animal joy I experience when I sit still and the insect world welcomes me with disinterest and its impossible creatures, red and green and kaleidoscopic, alight on my skin. Show me one more emergency fundraiser and my nerves will never recover. Where is the rupture that will break this country? I’m tired of losing to a system of cages held together by lawyers and clerks with necks that would snap like no. 2 pencils. There is a future where I have dislocated my heart from its hope and this is my last book. There is a future where I have learned the patience of a seed lodged in a piece of fruit. There is a future where every collaborator in the project of the nation will lose their name, and every softspoken curse, every anger will resonate in the air, and the earth will confuse itself with the air and I’ll see you one last time before, perhaps, the earth and sky lose their places forever.