Colorado, poetry, queer, transgender, violence
My poetry is rooted in the poetic traditions of queer women of color feminists who argue for poetry as a tool for radical social transformations. Audre Lorde, in her pivotal essay "Poetry Is Not a Luxury," asserts that "Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives."1 Poetry is theory, and I'm also in agreement with AIDS activist and artist Avram Finkelstein when he writes that "art that isn't about communication is about class."2 Poetry is a tool to communicate, to theorize, to bear witness, and to imagine both the past and the future.
Queer and trans people, particularly queer and trans people of color, continue to endure horrific violence and—it seems quite clear to me—both ongoing violence and a backlash against our movements. There were twenty-six known murders of trans people in the United States—almost all of them black trans women—in 2017. The current presidential administration and their vociferous followers are horrific to me not because of a sense of shock caused by their actions but because of a sense of deep familiarity. I already know this story—it's the once-againness of the American nightmare that is traumatizing.
While I don't wish to guide an interpretation of my poetry, I will say that both of these poems are rooted in a particular place and context. I was an undergraduate student in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado from 1993–98. At the time, it was an extremely dangerous place for me as a queer/trans person. My experiences in Greeley were not mine alone—there was a [End Page 93] small, very fierce, group of queer and trans youth activists who created deep connections with each other during that time. We were constantly under attack. And we survived. We were lucky.
In 2008, Angie Zapata was a young trans Latinx woman beaten to death in Greeley. Zapata's murder was the first anti-trans murder to be considered a hate crime under US law. While Angie's murder happened a decade after I left Greeley, and I did not know her, Angie's story haunts me.
Poetry is a way of telling myself the stories I need to hear. Sometimes, those stories are simply a naming of emotional, material, and political realities that those in power want to obliterate. These poems are part of what Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga call a "theory in the flesh" in which "the physical realities of our lives—our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity."3 Moraga, in her introduction to the new edition of This Bridge Called My Back revisits the concept of "theory in the flesh": "The body—that site which houses the intuitive, the unspoken, the viscera of our being—this is the revolutionary promise of 'theory in the flesh' for it is both the expression of evolving political consciousness and the creator of consciousness, itself. Seldom recorded and hardly honored, our theory incarnate provides the most reliable roadmap to liberation."4
I hope the two poems I offer here can contribute to that roadmap through the naming of violences and their aftermaths as we collectively work together for our liberated futures. [End Page 94]
Nothing Like a Love Sonnet for Greeley, Colorado, or Something Like a Love Poem for Greeley Queers, 1993–1998
When I escaped, I smuggled the color of lilacs—the only sweet fragrance for miles—and the bruised and brutalwork as we hunkered down for the next attack.We honed an insurgent mercy, dislodged gravelfrom mangled heartbreak with our love gnarlingdeep in my stomach. I can't forget the stenchof methane. Maybe we don't recover. Like a starlingpoisoned by Avitrol we always wonder Who they will lynchnext? Who snarls in the cab of that truck? What does...