Journalism in Verse – EST. 2016


Translocation (What It Comes Down To)

in Identity by

Over drinks
in a San Francisco bar
she looks at you, her eyes hard
blue. One day, she says,
you’ll leave me.
It’s possible
you are too old
to be cavorting all day
in bars and book stores.
Your twenty-year-old self had imagined,
by now you’d own a house—
the kind that is clean
and poured with sunlight, children
streaming in and out.
You’ve begun to understand
you don’t want this exactly.


You go shopping for sex toys
in the Castro. You want
to hold her hand,
and kiss her in public
something as simple
as a kiss, could be locked and loaded.
You’ve begun to understand
you are now a target. She is wary
in airports. She pulls away
without warning. They would kill me
first, and then rape you, she says.
In your bones, you know this is true.
You’ve begun to understand
this is not the same
as kissing a husband.


In the night, she wakes you—
her cough, the hoarse hack
of a smoker, and you know then,
she’s sick. Her body burning
beside you, sweat pearls on her forehead.
The fierceness of love
is your bottom line. You have cradled
her body with yours, clutching
her muscles, her bones opening
to you: ilium, ischium, pubis.
You have fingered
the hollow of her clavicle; traced
the blades of her scapula; parted
her tendons. You have licked her wounds.
Even the cat, who has slept between you
all night, climbs aboard her chest
to peer at her face.


In the morning, you bring her tea,
but she wants whiskey.
You forage for your clothes.
I’m sorry, she says.
I know it all comes down to sex.
And this is a joke, because you’ve told her,
you’re only there to fuck. I love
your body, she tells you,
I love that bra. She studies
the way you lift your breasts
into its black lace. She watches you
snap yourself back into place.
She says: I want to show your body
how in love with it I am.
You hand her the full weight
of your right breast.
For next time, you say.


It comes down to the details:
The way she slices
an onion, with her fingertips
clenched as she cuts; the way
her hair falls across one eye—
a mess of curls; how she leans
back into the tub, her eyes closing
to the sound of your voice
reading poetry; her body,
incandescent in the watery half-light;
how the cat folds his paws
beneath him and listens too.
You realize, it’s these
small moments
that are saving you.


At the door, she sucks on her cigarette.
You read the pause in her exhale.
I’ve realized, she says,
why I’m angry. You nod,
because you understand
the unattended child
learns to rock herself to sleep
watching ghosts
from her bed, she learns
to tamp down her fear
and now you are leaving
to return to your children
who clamor at your gate.
Dislocated by loss, their home
is your body. Body of love;
body of sex; body of grief;
body of giving
birth to their bodies.
You offer yourself up,
and in turn they are yours.
You’ve begun to understand
that you have offered yourself
to her, in all these ways
without knowing
if it is enough.


At home, the sun
grows with the day
a slow burn, sloughs off the morning.
Two hummingbirds
buzz—their wings an illusion,
Next, two cranes drift
bone-white across the lake.
It would be easy to say
that this is what it comes down to.


by hunger and unbound
you’ve begun
to understand permanence
as a shift inside you;
the blue-black shock of understanding;
the fierce beating of wings;
the crow of want.
This dark bruise requires
the will to turn—
to know freedom in transience
and how to cleave
to person instead of place.
It comes down to the dim light,
from your opened mouth
wound or exit—
a culmination of longing
trying to launch itself from your shadow
trying to fly its way out.


Charlotte OBrien is a queer writer and artist from England, Australia, and the West coast. Her poetry appeared most recently in Epiphany Literary Journal and Reed Magazine & Catamaran. Her manuscript Bones of Flight was a semifinalist for the Catamaran Poetry prize.

Photo by Trude Jonsson Stangel.


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