I met a stripper on my first visit to the big West,
sitting on a hill in Marin—I was wearing a black red yellow plaid shirt,
she wore something more open, loose,

    Her knees to her chest,
she was pulling at the brown California
grass, throwing it back down.
I loved looking at her plain brown hair falling over the side of her face.
I was still wearing women’s clothes and shoes
but I made myself a believer that day.
Her thick belt, heavy boots—brown eyes.

The way she looked at me until I had to look away.
She was boy and I hadn’t met anyone like her yet,
look at her blue shirt, she opened me, the way
she tore at the grass: hard then threw it.
We walked the hills in Marin, I wanted
to be like her, I wanted to be her.
I couldn’t even say what she had,
but I wanted it.
Our time lasted only weeks, but her face
still comes to me.

I made myself a queen those days,
inside I felt the turning diamonds
of a life not lived/someone’s else’s life,
now mine: holding the vision, heavy as mud,
I thought: Just a push?
Into my own bleeding heart
I could feel the brass screws of the rail’s underside/
a train running without me/
I could feel the spikes and the crosscuts
and I came alive in the fading light and the skyful of birds.

And I did, I did—and it was
fierce and wild, and back-to-the-wall scary,
it was off/on, whenever she was there, I was a blank slate
with a hard body, it was everything I wanted,
someone to kiss me nice and slow,
then slam me onto the ground’s body.

It would be years until I knew her, knew that part of me 
as I searched second-hand stores for men’s clothing/
men’s size 7 shoes, looking for the boy/man in me. 
I don’t believe in salvation, but 
look at her body stripping:

jerking to one side, head bent,
hair covers her face, breasts large and moving, 
her thickness: 
Wet with boysweat between her legs,
a stripshot across a pitchblack stage,
flash of a woman running her show. 
However she wants you/she can have you/half of a whole
body/stripping for you,
the body divided/

  against itself
in beauty: 
I made myself a man watching her:
the stripshot breaks apart
into millions of shotback stars
cutting the night apart
in her crosscut body,
hard and lovely.

Some people say half isn’t anything/
but it will drive an ocean back
to the center.
She’ll take your money and you’ll thank her
in the cage of your body, 
drowning in the stripping/
loving the shotback body. 

Dear ghost of everything you wanted:
Jerking you into pleasure, jerking you
into your own story with a stripshot
of ammo to the vulva, triangle of light,
triangle of her: the wrapper, 3 sides of lust,
the fuckfield, the 4th eye.

I saw the future in her body but I didn’t know my questions:
all that came out of my mouth 
were birds.

(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 38)