“Pain blesses the body back to its sinner”
            —Ocean Vuong

Handcuffs around my wrists 
lined with synthetic fur, my arms bound 

& hoisted, heavenward, as if in praise.
Once, bodies like mine were seen as a symptom

of sin, something to be prayed away;
how once, priests beat themselves to sanctify

the flesh. To put their sins to death. Now,
my clothes scatter across the floor like petals

lanced by hail. Motion stretches objects 
in the eye. A drop of rain remade, 

a needle, a blade. Mark how muscle fiber 
& piano strings both, when struck, ring. 

No music without violence or wind. 

I’ve been searching the backs of lover’s hands
for a kinder score, a pain that makes 

my pain a stranger tune. Still, my body aches 
an ugly psalm. All my bones refuse to harm

-onize. Percussion is our oldest form of song, 
wind bruised into melody. Let me say this plainly:

I want you to beat me 

into a pain that’s unfamiliar. How convenient 
this word, beat, that lives in both the kingdoms 

of brutality & song. The singer’s voice: a cry, 
a moan, god’s name broken across a blade 

of teeth. The riding crop & flog & scourge—
a wicked faith. A blood-loud devotion.  

There is no prayer to save me from my flesh. 
You can’t have the bible without the belt.

Copyright © 2021 by torrin a. greathouse. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

Batter my heart, transgender’d god, for yours
is the only ear that hears: place fear in my heart
where faith has grown my senses dull & reassures
my blood that it will never spill. Show every part
to every stranger’s anger, surprise them with my drawers
full up of maps that lead to vacancies & chart
the distance from my pride, my core. Terror, do not depart
but nest in the hollows of my loins & keep me on all fours.
My knees, bring me to them; force my head to bow again.
Replay the murders of my kin until my mind’s made new;
let Adam’s bite obstruct my breath ’til I respire men
& press his rib against my throat until my lips turn blue.
You, O duo, O twin, whose likeness is kind: unwind my confidence
& noose it round your fist so I might know you in vivid impermanence.

From Last Psalm at Sea Level (Barrow Street, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Meg Day. Used with the permission of the author.

I jumped against the sky expecting I would find another sky. A subtlety to sky.
I wanted to get to know the sky better. I wanted to breathe in the air. The sky as a blank space.
Or maybe the opening to a decent conversation.
If you’re using a camera you can pose against the sky and people will think that you’re flying.
Which is very dishonest.
Particularly to the sky.
Have you known a sky? I am trying to make its acquaintance.
The sky I am thinking of is a set piece for honesty.

Look into the night sky. All it is is confused.
The sky is revealing to the people what a sky can really look like.
Not day. Not the sky that’s being suspended over the whole state of Texas.
Just estranged populations.
So many populations running away from the earth.
I don’t know what to do about a sky when it’s like this.

I am more a middle of the day. My favorite meal is lunch.
My favorite tree is whatever it is that is happening in the spring, mainly after a strong rain.
Maybe sometimes when the leaves change.
So long as the place I’m living in is conducive to trees.
Their weights and measurements. Their various relationships with a sky.
Is there a place where birds come from? I think it’s the sky.
A tree absorbs sky. It takes it into its lungs.
How sky is sky? say the trees. And that seems to mean something.

I built a house, and I made sure there was one window.
I nailed a tether to the side of that window. On the outside, I put sky.
I was jumping to the outside so many times I forgot what falling is in a sky.
I am coming for you, Sky!
Do not misinform me or take me into account. I was attached to this house for a reason.
Sometimes I jump, and I am air.
Then I am sky.
I think, “And, now, everything else!” Where everything else is the order of sky.
Air molecules. Air molecules existing. All they can do is keep existing.

Copyright © 2018 Kent Shaw. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.