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Transgender and Building Their Home: The Poetry of C.J. Strauss

Introduction by Annie Iezzi

The way that a person decorates their living space reflects what makes them feel safe, happy and welcome. An entrée into artist and writer C.J. Strauss’s Barnard College suite last semester places one idea at the forefront: solace in queerness. From the poster that reads “No Sexism, No Racism, No Homophobia, No Transphobia”, to the DIY rainbow-colored print announcing: “Give Head, Attract Women, Ball Always,” to the work of LGBTQ+ artists adorning the walls, no space could be better suited for the drag brunches that C.J. has a penchant for hosting. 

Similarly, C.J.’s poetry surrounding queerness and gender identity, while often not safe-feeling at all, decorates a space for the soul to live in. At the very least, it gives a floorplan of their house, their journey of building this body that they call home, and all of its constant renovation, its visitors, and its residents. They invite the reader in, to see rooms that are still under construction and some that have been roped off entirely, but this doesn’t change the fact that C.J.’s poetry allows readers to know them as if they have stepped into C.J’s own living room. So read on, and maybe knock on a few doors you haven’t opened before, or wallpaper your home with C.J.’s work. 

And if you enjoy the poetry below, consider visiting C.J.’s micro-residency with the Poetry Society of New York for Pride Month at Books Are Magic, June 29-30.

Atoning for a Ghost

I’m a man if I say I am

right now I bounce beds

break hearts with my hands

it only rains inside my head.

I turn beach glass into glitter

I turn hovels into homes

she loves me when I hit her

I think I’ll die alone.

I scam for the gag bad 

I love my dad

I wish I were dead

I make myself sad.

I bend it back for bottle blondes

they’re never Jewish, sorry mom

forget what I said, I like to play dumb

I’ll put out for anyone.

She says that I’m a hostel

I speak in novel tongues

I might copy my keys but

they seldom stay too long.

Winter was forever

then forever turned to some

we mix agony and pleasure

I’m kind of over being young.

Squeezing lemon into water is

a brave and desperate feat

but it never really mattered

so I fuck myself to sleep. 

Crashing leather into pavement

a plot dramatically mundane

she blocks my cell phone number

we never speak again. 

********************************************

But Doctor I Am

What’s the point without a needle

what’s a shower with the lights off

what’s a fig except the source

what’s five six in leather boots 

trying too hard, technically 

it is comprised of, 

or defined by

complexes like 

the Waldorf 

on Park Ave

I think that’s where the salad comes from

the one with mayo and grapes 

so slimy and crisp. sickening.

could you imagine being so delusional?

********************************************

Lost Time

No girlhood, no boyhood

a foolhood hardly foolhardy.

Heaved heavy into porcelain

left closet cloistered.

Oh what they wish they could have known.

********************************************

A Cheeky Little Sonnet

Bent backward as a copper crane

The eyes wet shut on combo shots,

Never were the charm so plain

Could such a spell forget me not. 

Upon thy breast the heart is fain

And pleasure piqued with potions wrought;

What testament to ill refrain?  

The foolishness her taste begot!  

Bone-tight brunt of fable-fingers

Her honey-hoaxed and specious ichor: 

Upon thine wilt the wet but linger,

Though Sodom’s stare did spouse turn salt, she savored still to lick her.  

Seizing the sable rein, strapped solid as a prize buck,

“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “I’m stupid horny. Wanna fuck?”

********************************************

Portrait of the Artist as Lengths of Rope

Smuggled shelf to self-insert,

pocket prowler, prowess.

She taught me to

Ignore the cameras.

It was innocuous at best,

A winter romance. Warm body

to wet against. The wolf awaiting,

to make waste of your effect.

It was immaculate at first,

Swiped from a craft store.

Delighted in dresser drawers. 

One-time cat trinket, I think

It was okay to mingle meanings.

Later it turned to a game of trust.

Time to try something new.

Arrested wrists, red to blue.

We took pictures to remember the view.

At last it was a noose. A symptom of use.

Drama hogtied to a deadbolt.

I studied myself in the mirror

Half from pity, half from fear.

In-deftly dangled, but definite

As the doorframe.

I prayed to make peace from pain.

What fine refrain—

The time and again

To savor and labor

And save her the blame.

A game, all of it.

To be alive, in a way.

But if I were truly earnest

Then I wouldn’t be C.J. 

********************************************

C.J. Strauss is a queer artist and writer currently pursuing a B.A. in English at Barnard College. Their art and writing has been published both internationally and domestically by Lunch Ticket Magazine, Utterance Journal, the Rise Up Review, Vade Mecum Magazine, The Free Library of the Internet Void, The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, RATROCK Magazine, the Claremont Review, South Broadway Ghost Society, Echoes Literary Magazine, and the Barnard Bulletin. They want the reader to know that they post mostly pictures of their dogs on Instagram @cjsxyz. For non-dog related content (or dog-related if you wish!), visit C.J. at their micro residency with the Poetry Society of New York for Pride month at Books are Magic.

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