by Zefyr Lisowski
Poem Only About Beauty
and feeling, Kat
tells me over too-sweet piña
coladas. I’m hungry
as usual, lonely, threaded
with want. It’s snowing.
My body. It’s numinous.
I know I’m beautiful. I know this
because people tell me I am beautiful.
In a closed door meeting in North Carolina,
a professor compares me to Greta Gerwig.
My first therapist in New York tells me
I look like the famous trans child of a
glamorous pair of local celebrities.
At an academic conference in Toronto,
a painter says I am incredibly
slides his hand softly
over mine while saying so.
Pure. Good. Whatever.
To be beautiful: to survive.
My beauty, I learn, is the kind
that suppresses things.
I suppose most people must see
their notings of it
as a benevolent affirmation.
This person is striving
toward womanhood, so I’ll tell her
the woman she looks like.
Drew Barrymore. Uma
Thurman. Michelle Williams.
Have you ever hid
your body from all that made it?
This is not invitation.
A blanket of actresses, these skins.
A golden, phosphorous-pale field.
Fall passed over the city this year,
which shouldn’t be a surprise
but somehow was. Leaves
frosted overnight. A bird bobbing
its crested head. Every day
I’ve been failing
in my attempts to write
about what most
people call pretty. A man
scrapes trash from the side
of the curb. Snow melts
into dirty pale slush. This too
a kind of legacy. Of course I can walk
over to your place—I’m putting on
my makeup as we speak.
Is there anything else
you want to know about me?
Like, really? I’m listening.
When I turned tricks, fresh out of undergrad,
my beauty’s proximity
to other, more enfranchised beauty was—
oh, men couldn’t get enough.
Celebrity that. You could be
they’d say rubbing one
out, show me your tits.
A sort of mother
of it all, benevolent camgirl next door,
Let’s say I relished
The way a thing can hurt
but affirm at the same time.
The smell of azaleas before
it overwhelms the senses.
They tipped me, of course.
Why am I telling you this?
I made my money. I was beautiful,
A pin-up princess.
A blonde girl but,
you know, less.
To be consumed, unencumbered. Numinous.
My beauty takes and takes all that’s given to it.
I turn on the webcam and keep working.
A house. A yard. Do you know what you did.
2016—dinner with my partner in the park—
boysenberry tea, nettles and agave—a feast for
one and a half. I practice not eating with
abundance. Drunk off approval, I drink myself
thin. I drink myself into shapelessness. I mold
my holes into an invitation generous as a
ribcage. Dumb at 22, there is no one I am
beholden to more than myself—ensnared with
availability, my body an endless grinding
machine. Listen: the more I punish myself, the
more beauty I am allowed. This is how it
works: acted on by a violence I don’t even
know to name yet, an expansion of territory I
didn’t know I owned. I am shaped by the
wallet, the bank account, the shade of hair,
skin, eye color particular to me. An
Beauty’s reach is everywhere and I don’t even
know what I’m doing. I buy a hard cider. I buy
a winged eyeliner. I receive another
compliment and my hunger grows. Are you
there? Are you listening? I want to annihilate
everything yet unanswered.
In other words: I buy a Fenty stick,
brush it cross my cheeks. Walk
to work. Serve a coffee, smile,
buck fifty in the tip jar.
By the end of a shift, everything
becomes dark, body sore from all its work.
Your hair’s incredible, customers say again
and again. Is it real?
And the lights of the cafe click off.
I can’t perform sober, so I buy some weed. I buy
a better vibrator. I bide
my time waiting for men to log on. On Seeking,
all the profiles say trans only
or no trans allowed. I quit seven
months later and can’t
bring myself to fuck for weeks. No,
I take a nude, paste purple emojis
over the chest, post it online. I watch
a movie on Netflix and my ex coos,
points at the lead, says, She looks just like you!
Well water. A horror film. A blanket of
flesh, soft and warm.
I dream about men dying for months.
This too is a kind of beauty.
The secret about me: everything I write
is about beauty,
how I want more of it,
it flung from me like a damp rag.
I want to tear it out,
my red-toothed hunger. I want to tear it
from the clerk at the Rite-
Aid, scraping beauty off her soft pink
nose. Then the eyelashes. Then the gums.
To be beautiful, this country tells me,
is to consume, and never stop consuming.
I want to collect it all
in a hefty bag by the river,
and hold it under til its fingernails
are gone. Til its hair is long and stringy.
Like everything else,
beauty bears the violences making it.
An alabaster skin. A fuckability.
Put down every cent given me.
Open my eyes.
Scribble out what everything gorg-
eous has awakened.
He makes me
a vegan alfredo and we paint
our nails crimson after
finishing. It’s snowing.
Lay me down on a duvet,
lock the door, queue up a movie
It’s 2017. The lights click off,
barely present. There is no invitation
here. There is nothing
but our beauty—
An ex stops eating in childhood, never
starts again. Claims a name
to enter themself years later. Now
they’re an annoying white mystic. Here’s a beautiful thing,
a little stone. Here is another.
The river by my mother’s
house always bubbles
over its banks, ruining her small
patch of azaleas. It happens
again and again, and she never
moves the flowers. Have you noticed me
listening as you talk? It’s because
I care. I look. I brush my teeth.
I’m focusing my beauty
into being a kinder, more patient person.
I do a trick. I practice my breathing.
My body aches. It consumes.
There is nothing patient about any of this.
I do not wish to be beautiful but it has been done to me anyway.
In the end, there’s only work.
Poem Only About Beauty (Return)
My favorite painting is a girl with a nubby little penis
looming over a meadow. Her wings are
dazzling, and every other girl nearby jostles
to look at this beauty. Before we broke up, my ex
said I was the most exquisite
person he knew, but I suppose most people
who notice me do so as a kind
of benevolent affirmation. This person is striving
toward womanhood so I’ll tell her
the woman she looks like. Naomi Watts.
JonBenet Ramsey. Laura Dern. Have
I told you yet about my endless golden hair? Anyway,
now the ex changed his name again and is an
obnoxious mystic. The artist
in question called girls like me peacherino,
which is the cutest little threat I’ve ever heard.