Anthropocene Anxiety Disorder
I had the same nightmare again.
___The one where all the tattoos slough
___off my body like fresh paint
___after rain & every time, I can’t help
but to think of flowback
water, noxious with benzene,
manganese, sodium, methanol.
___It almost reminds me of fracking,
___how a tattoo needle enters the skin.
___Filthy water plunged beneath
the surface, dark rising up. A pattern
of decay. An open wound in the dirt.
Once, all the water choked inside
___my bathroom’s pipes & wouldn’t flow.
___When I pulled the shower head apart
___ants poured from the faucet as if liquid.
Hundreds. Thousands. A colony
of thirsty mouths that must have
burrowed through the lines.
___I remember this & think back
___to the tattoos we scratched into each
___other in the back of math class.
Safety pin or sewing needle.
Pen ink. Ethanol. Cigarette
ash. The XIII on Jaime’s ankle.
___Uneven crucifix on Mikey’s
___forearm. Test punctures blued
___to nothing in the fat of my thighs.
The whole summer after, I couldn’t
shower. Kept mistaking ink for insects.
A sickness. Something malignant,
___waiting just beneath my skin.
I remember the hands. Manicured finger
-nails. Palms, creased like brown paper
around a cut of meat. Deep callus in
the bed of the thumb. The scent of overpriced
cologne, lemon-sharp. Thick tufts of hair
across his chest. Coiled silver like metal shavings.
His three-day stubble, the brilliant red
rash it left along my collar bone. I remember
the drink he mixed me. The money he paid
me. The taste of his sweat. The meal I bought
on its credit. The small & costly lie I did not tell.
How it fed me. How silence made me a man
by omission. I remember his teeth, the surgical
kind of straight. His cum, how it pooled
like quicksilver on his stomach in the blue
half-light & rivered down his thighs. I wish
I didn’t remember the discovery, years later,
his diagnosis & that I did not share it. Wish
I could forget his name, how his Grindr read
thick, cut, & clean. I don’t want to call this
memory dirty, but I once filled my mouth
with this virus’s name & was taught that it
belonged to a vulgar blood. I can’t rid myself
of the memory, a preacher on campus screaming.
His picket sign that read: Disease Begets Disease.
I wish I could forget the first time I was told
to call this sickness. Told I could be cured.
Instead, I remember my tongue was first named
dirty the day it passed between another boy’s lips.
Remember this man’s lips—chapped & pressed
to my cheek. The wilted sun tattoo across his calf.
Uneven tan line dividing his biceps. The jagged scar
behind his right ear. His favorite drink. The water
from the faucet, his hands laced with ribbons
of steam. His broad palms. Their skin flushed
a guilty red, as he scrubbed each finger clean.
TORRIN A. GREATHOUSE is a trans poet, cripple-punk, and MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota. Her work is published in Ploughshares, New England Review, TriQuarterly, & The Kenyon Review. She is the author of Wound from the Mouth of a Wound (Milkweed Editions, 2020).