Your mouth is stretched panther-wide
in the last good photo taken of you,
the creases in your forehead symptomatic
of some form of inscrutable effort. You’re on a stage
in a bar singing a song you can’t remember,
insides burning with inflammatory denial.
You can’t believe love left you. And yet,
you do happy better than any drag you’ve seen in weeks,
gleaming like a gem on Liberace’s finger,
shameless in the wan karaoke light.
Regardless of how you feel inside, Diane Arbus said,
always try to look like a winner.
It seems to you there are infinite medals
and behind the medals no other world.
No landing like Mary Lou Retton
arms flung back in a USA leotard
after perfect executions on the floor mat. If only
you could be that headstrong
as you sprint towards the mic.
Here on a hollow stage
your fingers skim the frets of an air guitar.
Once a friend warned,
Every relationship is a dress rehearsal for the next.
What are you wearing?
A dogged smile, a jersey at the end of a dirty match,
too blinded by the strobe in the dive bar
to register the blur of
your teammate’s faces.
Your figure is a cold ornament
embossed with leaves.
(Are they fearful or joyous?)
as you point and sing:
Do you wanna touch me? There. Where? There. Yeah.
Touch your skull,
the mounted antlers of a red stag.
The first meaning of trophy:
all the enemies’ arms,
a monument to parts.
The Bus Ride
When she turns from the window and sees me,
she is as lovely as a thrush turning over and over
seeing for the first time all sides of the sky.
Let this be a ballet without intermission
the grace of this ride beside her on the green vinyl,
soft thunderclaps in the quarry.
Let me be her afternoon jay,
hot silo, red shale crumpling.
Jenny Johnson’s poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, New England Review, Troubling the Line: Trans & Genderqueer Poetry & Poetics, Waxwing, and elsewhere. Currently, she is a Lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh where she teaches writing.