In "Until the Cows Come Home," Alain Ginsberg's poems navigate youth, trauma, and being trans

Let's just get this out of the way from the start: Alain Ginsberg, author of "Until the Cows Come Home," is not the now 20-year-deceased poet of the Beat Generation who gave us the mid-century psalms "America" and "Howl." The last time I spoke with Alain about this connection to the Beat Generation poet, Alain seemed both exhausted by the connection and troubled by the late poet's legacy.

The young Ginsberg is an agender writer and performer from Baltimore who shares their work in page-and-stage-poetry circles, both here in the city and on tour. Ginsberg's new short collection of poems, "Until the Cows Come Home," is an autobiographical portrait of a young person navigating trauma, the body, and the world around them. The poems in the collection are robust in concept and affect, and although they are sometimes a bit light on image and rhythm, Ginsberg operates in this sweet spot artfully.

These poems are at their best when the language is meditative rather than instructive. In 'I Pass By the Chapel,' readers find themselves beginning in a place of anxiety, perceiving that some terrible thing has happened, but not yet knowing exactly what has taken place. To get there, readers must move through the languages of faith and trauma as they travel through the halls of a hospital:

you pass by the chapel a small room tucked into the wall

almost a secret, a note of bathroom graffiti,

a building built by those who need a god

in place of full reasons to pray

The book is branded as personal reflection on trauma and transformation, on being trans and surviving, and the poems seem to fall all along that spectrum. The lines that become standout moments representative of these themes are those that either resist the stock motifs of trans poetry, or bend them in new ways, such as these lines in 'A Poisonous Thing,' the final poem in the collection:

I wonder if in myth monsters

are always monsters, was the nest

of hair on Medusa's head always venomous,

or did the thick bulb of it fall out

when the snakes came to live there.

"Until the Cows Come Home" dives headfirst into passion and sincerity, connecting Ginsberg's personal trauma to recent history, such as HB2 or the Pulse nightclub shooting. Cisgender readers would be wise to find a window into these experiences, especially by way of work which challenges the opinions of those likely to see themselves in some of the ultimately misguided characters in the poems. It seems inevitable that trans and queer work written in 2016 would intersect with these events, though they are occasions at which the book's magic is perhaps too transparent to the reader. But many are likely to find a mirror in this book: reflections on what it means to be young, trans, and anxious.

"A Barbed Hook" by Alain Ginsberg

the sun is already out we go

onto the creek, the three of us,

and there is never blood at first,

just this slow rot, these worms

in the stomach and we take them,

hooked against the metal and cast off

into the water,

silent and hoping

for a bite, all of us,

but the timing is never right,

the worms swim off

and the sun starts to yell

louder than the lie of us living in this boat

like we care, and you sit there so silent,

like a barbed hook waiting to release

another dead thing back to the water,

and push us in, aching, and there still isn't blood

but this is catch and release

and we were gutted anyways,

another attempt to cull

the memories of we from you,

a choir of crickets at sundown

on the creek, a drowning

of this big lie of us alive

on this boat a family without the rot,

no worms,

just a stomach of barbed hooks,

holding on to an idea,

or a prayer.

 

it is bright and loud and my father takes me

and my brother onto the creek

and I realize this was never about fishing

and there's all this metal in my gut

and there's still no blood,

just these worms with no mouths

they are the loudest things here,

skewered onto the hook,

without saying anything the barbs

in my gut quiver,

none of us reel in a fish

but my father, who has two on board

that he loves to watch squirm

until they stop entirely, and we

learn the meaning of catch

and release fishing, shoved into the water,

discarded for no reason but the sport,

so I swallow all of it that I can, and there's finally blood,

or just the screaming of crickets, and nothing

can stop me from swimming away

but I don't,

just get back on board

like a bad dream,

breaking and released, realized, scary

because a damaged thing can only get number,

and you cannot cull the population of that

which does not die.

 

I am fourteen and alive and my grandma

is taking me to school and she tells me

how to fish, and how much my father

loved the sport of it all, how my brother

was mounted on the wall a trophy,

how he reacted to me, his progeny

by hanging up the idea on a wire hanger,

tried to cull me before I learned to swim,

how the coat hanger, the barbed hook

is still in my stomach,

throbbing a cricket wing chorus,

all of the worms coming

out of my mouth after the rain,

their voices so loud.

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