torrin a. greathouse’s There Is a Case That I Am (2017, Damaged Goods Press) is concerned with the mathematics of the body torn asunder because of gender expectations and the ways in which that body is constantly under attack from those who want to enforce what they consider normal. The poems that make up this chapbook make the personal the political; here the body is one that is subject to outside forces, only rarely finding moments of peace.
The thesis of the collection is set up in the first poem, “Nonbinary Logic or Ǝx” when greathouse writes:
“there is no case where i can be / boy & not boy or girl & not girl.”
The poems that follow show precariousness of the trans body in public; there is fear running throughout because no place is safe. In “Bar Joke,” the narrator states:
“I see everything around me like a knife / every
doorway a weapon / every sharp corner another place / that someone
could make a stain of me //
which is to say / i am afraid of disappearing by morning //”
Even in places that should be safe, like the Gay Straight Alliance at a high school, there is danger in the form of possibly “offending a cis-het ally stitching / their tragedy hungry lips to our / all too bloody skin.” Some sense of safety can be found, however, in other people, usually people who also identify as queer or trans as seen in poems like “Three Queers in a Car in America.” However, that sense of safety can been broken in a heartbeat:
“& Robert shouts / ‘slow down / people like us don’t
survive traffic stops’”
“& i remember just who we are / all queer / most trans / all
“& i am
reminded how our bodies look on concrete / devil red /”
Through poems both lyric—like the 5 poems scattered throughout the collection titled “Gender of the Day”—and narrative, greathouse pulls the reader into the lived experience of the speaker who just wants to be able to live. The poems that include math/physics are particularly compelling in the way they approach the “science” of gender. In “The Uncertainty Principle,” greathouse’ speaker, walking into the bathroom finds that Schrödinger’s principle applies to more than just cats:
“the uncertainty principle says that / until an event is observed it may / or may not / have occurred / a person stares at me / from across the room & my body / splits in two / body wrapped in Schrödinger’s black dress / becomes a blur / while their mind strips me down / to hot skin / pulling back layers / tender like a butcher stripping a body / down to red meat //”
Here the speaker is at the mercy of the onlooker in the bathroom, that tight space where violence may or may not erupt depending on how the speaker’s gender is read.
In spite of the violence, or perhaps because of it, there is still tenderness to be found in the poems that populate greathouse’s collection. “When My Partner Writes,” is a love poem in which the speaker notices:
“this poem reminds me that there are nesting dolls / in all our
hearts / that if you love deeply enough / they just keep
opening / if you truly love / you can always fit more people
The gentleness found in this poem and in others in the chapbook serve as a counterpoint to the violence that pervades the speaker’s everyday life.
Finally, greathouse’s speaker concludes in “The Principle of Explosion” that “there is a line where I both exist / & unexist,” as “boy / & not a boy” and “as girl /” and “not girl,” “which is to say”:
“there is a case /
that I am //”
This affirmative conclusion releases the great pressure valve that is greathouse’s collection There is a Case That I Am.
Avery Moselle Guess received a 2015 NEA Fellowship for Poetry. She’s a PhD student at USD and assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review. Recent publications include poems in Thrush, Rogue Agent, Glass, Rust + Moth, and Deaf Poets Society and creative non-fiction in Entropy and The Manifest-Station. Her chapbook, The Patient Admits, was released in September 2017 from dancing girl press. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is, will be published in April 2019 by Black Lawrence Press.
torrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her pronouns) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their work is published or forthcoming in The Offing, Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, Assaracus, and Glass: Journal of Poetry. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. There is a Case That I Am torrin’s first chapbook. When they are not writing, their hobbies include pursuing a bachelors degree, awkwardly drinking coffee at parties, and trying to find some goddamn size 13 heels.