Untitled, After Rukeyser
I lived in the century after the war.
I’d go out on the street after events
where we stood on the stage one by one
and spoke about one another, and on the street,
after, I heard—mostly from my elders, though not all—
how awful it was to say “after,” but everyone
acted like something had ended.
It was hard not to be dramatic about it.
When my friends lit up in my pocket
we would write one another in lists
about the war, which was still going on.
Some of us were still dying, and we knew
and could say why. Some of us were dying but we didn’t know,
or couldn’t say. After the war, everything had to do with it,
but to say so would have seemed almost rude
or outright evil, or sometimes the only right thing.
We couldn’t tell whether it would be cruel to feel
that we were going more or less insane
from meaning nothing had we been alive
only a little earlier, and now meaning so much,
some of us, to certain men in politely staffed
centrally heated offices. Trans people drank.
Sometimes our aunts despaired of us.
Both kinds of aunt. We ate
pills we thought might bring the past back,
strip the plastic off, blue pills, and felt terrible guilt
at the brevity of certain lists of dead
and shame and grief at the prodigious length
of certain others, and a terrible debt that should have been love.
I lived in the beginning of the century after the war.
Stephen Ira’s poetry has appeared in The Spy Kids Review, heART Online, Alien Mouth, and other venues. He is a co-founder and co-editor of Vetch: A Magazine of Trans Poetry and Poetics. He is currently pursuing his MFA in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.