Alain Ginsberg is an agender writer and performer from Baltimore City whose work focuses on narratives of gender, sexuality, and mental health and the ways in which trauma informs, or skews them. Their work has been featured or is forthcoming on Shabby Doll House, Rogue Agent, decomP, and elsewhere. Outside of writing they tour the country performing in concerts, slams, living rooms, and caverns. They are a taurus.
Time is a flat circle or a clock or it keeps / slipping slipping slipping and / once I found myself in the reflection of a lake / or myself / and there was the me that loved everything and the one that lived underwater / Narcissus’ wilted bouquet and / maybe I was alone and it was good or / the hands of a clock hold each other 24 times a day and do not sweat and / maybe the batteries should be replaced or I learned about my name / in the library and checked out the librarian and / not the book or asked for their job and / it was overdue and I do not know how to feel about the poetry section in bookstores anymore and / maybe someone who loved me just keeps dying or I am stuck on a roundabout and / it is not a clock always but / it is a flat circle and sometimes I fall in love every time I learn to love myself more and / for this I should be glad but no one can be there for something that is not always there / for themselves /, that cannot figure out what it is supposed to be, and time / is a sheet of ice and time / does not know how to be a round / thing and also a solid thing and every / time I learn more about myself the people who love me forget how / or I am on a cyclical pattern or / 24 times a day I hold my hands together to remind myself that they too can be held, even if they sweat.
say boy say gold say sunset say
i’m here i’m here i’m here &
petals will unfurl / don’t think
about how your palms ache &
smell of fear at night / say boy
instead say rose say pink say
it wasn’t a dream & your bones
will tremble like the wind in
coarse hands / the light will fill
your throat like your body is
stained glass / so say boy say
soft say love / look up & let the
warmth nestle into your chest
I am here, perpendicular to the boy, wholly in my sleep-deprived state. He pushes his hand through his hair and sighs, sighs, says he is still in love. What would happen if suddenly we were adjacent and these sheets became softer? Would he still say that he feels nothing for me at all, not ever? If we watch enough documentary film, I think we can fix this apartment up, make it something nicer than what it seems to be, chipped paint and the absence of water pressure being among the least of our concerns. He tells me how much he loves suspension bridges and I want so badly to believe him. I prefer the tunnels with stairwells, the elevated platforms with open floor plans. We still don’t touch but he has wet dreams anyways. He tells me I look like one of those lonely gays who only masturbate when they’re sad. I think this means he cares.
Alex boards a plane for Reagan National. From Reagan National it’s the yellow line and transfer to the green. An old dude sits in the corner of the car with his big duffel bag, drumming on the duffel, singing nonsense words through his no-teeth mouth. She glances up when the tunnel turns to light, makes eye contact with the old man and he smiles his no-teeth smile, points to himself, his eyes, then at Alex and hugs himself.
Her mom drives them from Greenbelt to the church in Baltimore. Uncle Ernest gives a eulogy except here they call it a verbal witness, just like they’ll call the slideshow a visual witness, because everything that happens here has to be some form of watchfulness. He says that he knew the end was coming because he had a dream his mom was dancing in heaven, awaiting the arrival of her husband. At the end, the congregation prays for the souls of those who doubt.
Back at the row house, everyone eats deviled eggs and those mini-hot-dog-biscuit things, while the young cousins play video games. Aunt Jessie finds Alex hiding on the stairs and tells her not to sit there, everyone can see up her dress. She come downs and watches the kids playing their racing game.
Jason says, “This man is dumb, he keeps getting up again and I run him over all over.” And then shrieks with that unique laughter of a 7-year-old killing something.
Alex says, “Maybe you should just play the game and stop running him over. That kind of makes you the dumb one.”
Jason says, “He never runs out of blood. Blood, blood, blood.”
And Eunice laughs from the word’s repetition or Jason’s infectious delight but Trout (née Troy) is too focused, he is driving very carefully in the lines and never hitting anything, except once he gets too close to a hydrant and it starts spraying water and he bites his lip a little upset.
Alex is standing on the airport shuttle waiting to get shuttled over to the other terminal when this lady walks over, looks her straight in the eye and says, “I’m so glad I found you!” Alex stays quiet, realizing this lady has seriously mistaken her for someone she knows even while staring straight into her face. A guy and his wife argue about whether they have to go through security again at the new terminal and whether they have time for it if they do. At security, Alex had done everything right, stepped inside the scanner, hands above head, nothing in her pockets. She stepped out, and the TSA person said wait, I hit the wrong gender, go back in. And Alex stepped inside the scanner, hands above her head, nothing in her pockets.
Alex calls Honey as soon as she lands. The delay means Honey will have to go right back to work after she picks Alex up. Alex sits at a booth in the bar, and takes her book out of her luggage. She is studying to become an EMT, and has this huge textbook filled with pictures of all the things that could be wrong with the person’s body.
Girls in sheer tank tops and pink lip gloss and gold eyeshadow come in and sit at the bar. They drink sangria and eat Oreos out of a purse. And tequila. They take selfies and laugh loudly. Every once and a while the one with the bangs swings her hair over her shoulder and scans the bar, like she’s waiting for someone to notice her. She announces she has to pee and her friends announce that they all have to pee too.
Alex goes outside to smoke, and on the curb there is a magician praising Jesus with a bird in his hair. He says, these miracles I perform are small compared to the miracles God performs every day. He snaps his fingers and there is a flame and he says but God makes the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening and he snaps his fingers again and the flame goes out. People walking by steer around him and his talk of miracles.
At the end of Honey’s shift, they get into the car. “What did you read about today?” Honey asks.
“Airways and orotracheal intubation.”
“Like putting a pen in someone’s neck?”
“Yeah, like that.”
“How was the funeral?”
“You know. Sad.”
They drive back to the apartment they share. Well, Honey has the bedroom, and Alex, the couch. Except on nights Alex joins Honey in bed.
“You sleeping out here tonight?”
Around 1am her mom drunk dials. “Freddie?” she says. “Freddie, I don’t know where you are. I just went outside to… Freddie?” Alex hangs up on her.
Around 2am, Alex knocks on Honey’s door.
“Yeah, come in.”
Honey in bed with her glasses on, her blond tracks thrown up into a messy bun, in a big white t-shirt inside-out. Alex lays on the foot of the bed, feeling worshipful of this Honey and inescapably drawn to her, the Honey lit by the glow of the lamp on the nightstand, all the weight in her torso and thighs settling into the squish of the mattress and the pillows, all the features in her face blending together un-contoured and un-lined, smelling clean and of the lotion she’s rubbed on her cellulite thighs and ass, her stretch-marked breasts and arms.
“I was just reading about the decline of bee populations. Have you heard about this? It’s so interesting, even the scientists don’t know why it’s happening.”
Alex crawls up towards the head of the bed, and Honey lifts her arm to let Alex slip beneath it and lay with her head on Honey’s chest.
“I’m pretty convinced it has to do with the decline of the feminine. We’re out of balance, you know, like that book I was reading, about the energies and how capitalism has warped the value of feminine energy.”
Alex is just tired and mad at her mom, but stays where she is.
“I mean, it just makes sense because bees are matriarchal of course they’re hurt by fluctuations in the worldwide feminine energies. Did you know female bees are more closely related to their sisters than to their children? Yeah, pretty cool.”
In the bathroom Alex places her hands on her breast tissue and pushes in. Like this it’s kind of like they’re just impressively bulked-up pecs. It makes her shoulders look broader and her hips less curvy. Like this she’s a slim but fit guy, maybe the kind that runs cross-country. She bites her lip and tilts her head down to one side. She hears Honey open the balcony door probably to water the plants and she feels a little guilty for wishing gone what makes her beautiful to Honey.
Alex has a text from her aunt and from her ex. Her ex has the body of a human god and the personality of Chicken Soup for the Soul. He thinks they have connected on a spiritual level because they have loved each other, and that alone makes it worthwhile to keep in touch. Alex still has a picture of his abs set as his picture in his contact info. She’s honestly not sure if it’s more to lust over or be jealous of, or maybe she just left it there out of laziness. Honey’s seen it, but she says it doesn’t bother her, because Alex and Honey are supposed to be together, to be each other’s primary soulmates, and so Honey doesn’t have any reason to worry about Alex’s relationships with other people. Sometimes Alex wonders about why she ends up like this, with people who are convinced of things, fateful people embedded in destinies with a design. For everyone’s sake, she stays pretty quiet. Most nights she sleeps on the sofa.
Her Aunt Jessie wants her help to convince her mom to come back to the church and stop “making a fool of herself over every man who’s got shined shoes and waves.” Alex chooses to ignore the request. Her ex talks about his job and the date he went on and a trip to Boston he wants to take and wants to know how she’s doing too, and if she gets a chance, they should meet up and talk, just to catch up, it’s been so long.
Alex puts on a sports bra and shorts and wanders into the kitchen to microwave a cup of water. She pours a little lemon juice in it and opens up her EMT book. To the section with the horror pictures of what lungs look like coated with tar. She imagines Aunt Jessie texting her mom, wanting help in convincing her to stop “destroying her god-given body with that foul-smelling poison.”
Walking to the bus stop, she lights up while still half a block away. It’s a chilly morning and she can see her breath and now the smoke curl. While she waits, an ambulance passes, sirens on, and she follows it with her eyes, envisioning all the juicy injuries and accidents it could be heading towards.
Banner Productions, 1942
Lugosi again with stare made of kittens
& honey, behind it teeth.
brides prefer orchids
to prepare them
for the long sleep
How he fills the screen with his madness,
a wedding day
a funeral home on call
All he wants is his wife forever
to be young & beautiful.
leave the loneliest
With his charm, he could play devoted Valentino,
but always in his heart, & ours, the Count…
“death do us part”
they say &
then it does
…like a yellowing blurry photograph of bodies
in a place reporters speak of as their morgue.
"These pieces are a minimalistic approach to try and describe some of the indescribable feeling within me. A longing for something I've never known outside of my dreams."
In Los Angeles, it is earthquake weather. It is earthquake weather, and I am falling out of love with you and breaking my own heart trying to pretend I’m not. It is earthquake weather, hazy and congested, thick clots of heat, and I stand in the middle of my backyard watching the tree branches dance in the hot breeze and try to let go. I remember your hot breath on the back of my neck in the middle of the night, remember slow dancing with you below a shamelessly full moon, remember wanting to get closer and closer, close enough to fall forward into the rippling lake of you. I remember your long jawline carving a half circle into my gut, the soft dip of your upper lip precious as a newborn every morning. There is nothing we can do but wait. Dogs bark. My roommate says she can lend me some of her anti-anxiety meds. People say it’s earthquake weather when the air feels velvety and the sun pours down like black coffee, but the truth is, there is no weather below the earth’s surface. We have no way of knowing. We don’t know whose fault it is. We didn’t listen. I sleep with tennis shoes on. I go to a friend’s art opening downtown and look up the entire time, an emergency kit in my purse. The hairs on the back of my arm stand at attention. My roommate and I crunch anti-acids like candy. You wake me at five in the morning with your hardness, fuck me facing the bare white wall. I remember looking at you, talking fast about something in a dark bar in San Francisco, and thinking, this man knows everything, and this man loves me. In my dreams, I am swallowed up by the earth and all you can hear is glass shattering. I get very drunk and call you eight times. You do not pick up. LA is a dry rattling cough. LA is that cottony taste in your mouth when you wake up hungover with your phone in your hand. We sit in silence on the 210, the lights downtown winking at us, and my stomach slices itself into shoelaces of bitterness, tying itself into knots. Your mouth is a long line. I loved you. I loved you so much I took a pregnancy test in the bathroom of a Mediterranean restaurant in Berkeley and thought, if I’m pregnant, maybe we’ll keep it. I forget the rest. The earthquake will unzip California down its center, tectonic plates rubbing together like rolling your shoulders back after a long day, like saying out loud what you are scared to admit to yourself, like I don’t love you anymore, like a long black canyon of silence, like finally: relief.
"Overall, I would describe my work as 'tongue-in-cheek environmentalism', where I pair the clear beauty of nature with the less appealing effect humans have on their environment. I'm not trying to take a stance of an educated environmentalist, but merely a person observing how we leave a mark on the world. In my most recent work, such as 'Artificial Habitat', I make more of a conscious attempt to place these elements into one image, while my other projects are meant to be viewed as a series. 'Artificial Habitat' is an ongoing body of work, documenting the world around me through the lens of a 21-year-old mentally ill college woman on the verge of graduation, and her entrance into the 'real world'."
Yet the sun never dawns.
spill like the broken is
not shattered enough already.
Raises the hands of his dolls,
wraps lust in fingers & plastic.
Smooths over, reaches under
silk barrettes and cotton too
bare. He kneads over the
breasts like clockwork.
The doll never flinches.
here i am sleeping at the altar, drinking the
holy water like cough syrup. here i am beneath
the stained glass window trying to cheat death
i paint my body with the ashes of this holy fire, line
my too-light eyes with charcoal. i am learning how to
see clearly in the darkness. my southern sky
constellation, my nighttime ocean, i am holding you
against me as if i can stop the waves from
crashing. i am controlling the tide for you. i
wash away the blood as if there will not be
more. bathe in the iron, my name becomes a
copper coin on your tongue. blessed be.
beloved. i want you to say this until it feels real
until you know the color of an electric candle
in a room shrouded in darkness. until you learn
your own holiness. beloved. give me your
hand, let me show you this night sky crystallized
i am creating a home in my body for your
heaviness. i am hanging holly and lilies from
the ceiling, singing and closing all the windows
i will trap myself inside, sleep tangled in the arms
of your trauma. i search your hair for rings as if
in a tree cut, charting every loss, every cruelty
every time the weight of personhood nearly
ruined you. beloved, i am beading your resin
tears. i hold them like a rosary, like a lover.
don't search for me, don't ask me why i had to
adorn this shrine with dead flowers, dried
juniper, torn clothing, my own teeth
you know it takes sacrifice to reach sanctity