My Mouth is the Mouth of a River

a burning haibun
by torrin a. greathouse

Selected as the poetry winner of the 2020 Beacon Street Prize by Ocean Vuong author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

torrin a. greathouse is a transgender cripple-punk & MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of boy/girl/ghost (TAR Chapbook Series, 2018) & assistant editor of The Shallow Ends. Their work is published/forthcoming in POETRY, Ploughshares, & The Kenyon Review. She is the youngest ever winner of the Poetry Foundation’s J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize.

torrin a. greathouse

My Mouth is the Mouth of a River

a burning haibun

Language is a slick-tongued thing, how you can say thirst & mean instead desire. But hasn’t language always led the mouth back to what fills it? Between the teeth, there’s a dozen paths to every meaning. Do you follow? I can say the oldest profession & mean I’ve made a living in the currency of hunger. A career of making my body into water. That I have heard so many names moaned into my ear & none of them are mine. I suck a man’s cock & it tastes of copper. He cums until empty & I feel coins clinking inside me. My body laments no guilt except for my mother’s shame, though she does not know it. At night, I’ve pulled their memories up, like pills lodged in the throat that my body will not spasm away. Each false name I’ve been fed rising on the crook of my finger, damp & dissolving, a palmful of luminous silt. Men are selfish with the truth, but each is clever as a cleaver. See, every name hinges on the J—Jeff, Jack, James—the simple sidestep from a name known best as client & baptismal. There are at least 100 words for how I have survived & so many of their names lead back to water. Call me siren, nymph of the pavement. We were taught desire is a flame, but it is instead a river. When I was starving, I opened my mouth & said drink.

***

Language is a slick & mean desire. Between the teeth, there’s a profession in the currency of hunger. A career of making a man’s empty coins inside my body. lament for my mother’s shame, I’ve lodged in the throat. false-name I’ve been fed on, my damp & luminous self. See, every name hinges on the simple sidestep. how I have survived their desire’s flame.

***

There’s currency in empty men. I’ve fed my self on their desire.