Belt Is Just Another Verb for Song
“Pain blesses the body back to its sinner”
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.