Counterpoint For Prophetic Voices 

Poetry / CJ Scruton


:: Counterpoint For Prophetic Voices ::

god and satan are not a part
of your body // yet
                                                                                  in most bible stories //
until they agree to invade // test some things out // see what will move you what will pull or break // if I say you’re not there // loudly // eventually it will come to be true // if you floated in a saltbath with headphones and a mask still there would be voices music // would you // listen // tenderness unnests in the body from places // we can point to // endocrine system // brain // cardiovascular response // we call heart ache // the feeling of clenching fistsized // reminder you haven’t taken // breath of real depth // for weeks // listen // to me I’m telling you // there is stone where once there was shade // you were not wrong not // about this // I told you // love is not a dead letter we hold // unreturned // when there’s nowhere // to arrive

From the writer


:: Account ::

A good account traces an arc, a motion, a work’s act of arriv­ing. But after years, I still don’t know what to do with the fact that I don’t have a clear arc in my life for arriv­ing to queer­ness or transness. There are fuzzy sto­ry-mem­o­ries, out-of-sequence images I can recall, but the real­i­ties of my own body and iden­ti­ty often feel almost as if they snuck up on me, a res­cu­ing hand held out in waters I had no idea I was sink­ing in. It’s a sto­ry of bod­ies, a clear one—to me—but a sto­ry that most sto­ries would miss since the words for it tend to make them­selves elusive.

Through the process of tran­si­tion, I’ve increas­ing­ly been drawn in poet­ry to forms that sug­gest gaps, missed trans­la­tions, mean­ings that seem obvious—and per­haps are obvi­ous, by log­ics out­side human language—but that don’t always get to be record­ed clear­ly in writ­ing. That resist this urge to tell the sto­ry per­fect­ly, choos­ing exact­ly the right words.

It’s an exer­cise in trust, in vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty: know­ing that I can’t say the full sto­ry, and know­ing what vio­lence can occur when oth­ers are allowed to write the sto­ry of mar­gin­al­ized people’s bod­ies for them. Know­ing how often peo­ple want to write a nar­ra­tive that’s con­ve­nient for them first and fore­most. But through these poet­ry exper­i­ments, I have also been accept­ing that open­ness and ques­tion­ing is often the only way to escape pre­scribed nar­ra­tives for what our bod­ies can be and do.

It’s an intox­i­cat­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty to try and estab­lish trans rights in clear, “log­i­cal” lan­guage that will make trans­pho­bes under­stand or change their minds. Except that pur­suit doesn’t work. Even when we express our­selves as clear as day, they act as if our bod­ies and sto­ries are blank pages for them to fill in. The pres­sure to assim­i­late, to express truths in a way that will be accept­ed, acceptable, will nev­er actu­al­ly work. The extend­ed hand we reach for here is not a life­line, but a snake, a tensed coil of fangs.

The prob­lem I’m try­ing to parse out, then, is find­ing lan­guage open enough to leave room to explore my own feel­ings and embod­i­ment with­out total­ly suc­cumb­ing to the fear of such vio­lences. And some­times, this requires fac­ing those fears head-on. What if I am the mon­ster, or let myself be? What if I want to know the past and future of my body, but admit this knowl­edge is impos­si­ble? In my poems I’m explor­ing what hap­pens when I lean into the lack of clear, sin­gu­lar nar­ra­tives for queer and trans embod­i­ment but also invite more pos­si­bil­i­ties of being known by myself and oth­ers in community.


CJ Scru­ton is a trans, non-bina­ry poet from the Low­er Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er Val­ley cur­rent­ly liv­ing on the Great Lakes, where they teach and research ghost sto­ries. Their work has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Shenan­doah, New South, Quar­ter­ly West, and oth­er jour­nals. Their full-length man­u­script has been a semi­fi­nal­ist for the YesYes Books Pamet Riv­er Prize and a final­ist for the Wil­low Springs Books Emma How­ell Ris­ing Poet Prize.