Which One Is The Bridge
by Charles Theonia 16 poems
As they cruise through 21st century Brooklyn, Charles Theonia’s romantic, hopeful characters have a lot to endure: ice cream trucks packed with undercover policemen, white cat hairs on immaculate all-black outfits, and wrenching romantic disappointments on permanent rotation.

Full of tragedy, absurdity and emojis, these delicious poems remind us that even when love keeps veering in every direction, we should never stop chasing it.

Charles Theonia is a poet and teacher from Brooklyn. Which One Is the Bridge is their first collection of poems. With Julieta Salgado, they co-edit Femmescapes (http://bit.ly/femmescapeszine), a zine of queer and trans affinities with femmeness, and they keep a mostly-poetry blog at https://qu-arles.tumblr.com.
1. This Morning In The House It’s Me
Charles Theonia
2. Husks
Charles Theonia
3. Figs
Charles Theonia
4. The Bath, The Journey
Charles Theonia
5. Tundra Studies
Charles Theonia
6. Embrace
Charles Theonia
7. Why Not Love
Charles Theonia
8. Fire Island
Charles Theonia
9. San Francisco
Charles Theonia
10. Lilacs
Charles Theonia
11. When You're Trans in the Brooklyn Summertime
Charles Theonia
12. Grass
Charles Theonia
13. I Was Never Sure
Charles Theonia
14. Which One is the Bridge
Charles Theonia
15. ∴ ∴ ∴
Charles Theonia
16. This Morning Your Horses
Charles Theonia
and the lonely ghosts, always moving
the french press from where you’d put it
or leaving the light on in the staircase
again, just so you notice, precise like cats
knocking coins o the desk – nudge nudge
clink – cause you’re still not out of bed.
Every day is a watch or the ring
you never take off and the line
it’s made when you nally do.

We have one night left for me to tell
you what I’ve learned about myself.
Not long to wait and chicken out
and stay a girl until you’re gone.

In the morning when you leave
I put Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits
on repeat and sit on the porch
with my percolated coffee
(can’t find the french press)
and strands of mango
in my front teeth from breakfast.
Is there anything more out there?

The fruit peel, the sun
in mid-gallop, sticking
to the edge of the knife.
On my way to the video store sheets of ice
cover puddles like wrinkles patterning
the corner of an eye. I’m on my way
to return Paul Newman. He’s kissing
parking meters like they were girls
he’d been circling all night, then deftly
beheading them.

More ice on the bus shelter glass.
One panel reads, “your gay” scratched
through the thin crystals. Mine?

Still it’s not hard to see the two of us instead:
only days ago. My shoulder encountering
yours on the sofa during Cool Hand Luke.
Or early the next afternoon before I left,
as you pressed me up against the door
and said it’d be a shame for me to lose
my breasts. I stepped back
outside into the first inch of snow
that had gathered since we came in.

Already the snow was melting.
A clump fell from the branches
of the tall bush by the front door.
They shook up then down
a trampoline evening itself out
after its jumper has jumped off.

It was a short walk home.
It would have taken more
blocks to figure out
that I’d escaped without losing
my head. My glasses fogged
when I got in from outside.
April means it’s almost time
to leave. It’s the feeling that
this afternoon like everything
else is escaping me.

A yellow beetle inches upside
down along the edge of my desk.
With each step forward the bright
wing-covers shift from side to side.

I give the desk to it. Get outside
and head down the reedy path
towards the fire pit and the stiff line
of alders beyond, empty except
for their small grey cones holding fast.

Earlier I’d gone the same way
with Aracelis who told me about
the fig tree she’s leaving, behind
her apartment in Crown Heights.
Like I’m leaving this place, its long
skies, its llamas and rusty sumac.

How to account for each small thing
we love and which can’t come with us:
the brown and purple figs, thick
and good. This growing sense
that loss isn’t some inlet we rush
into, then out of, back to normal;
that it’s been there with us, and all we get
to keep is the desire for something
just as good. What if the next
house has creeping bougainvillea,
an avocado tree.
It is very late.

  Before you leave for good I dream
  I returned to Mars where we’d been before.
  I came to a cluster of rocks we’d arranged.
  Flat rusts and browns, they rested
  on their sides, circles cut from their centers.

I am drunk and wrecked, crying in bed
as you say you have finally seen
that I am not a woman. What comes
first is the clear relief of being known.
But desire trips us up — how I want and you don’t.

  Beyond the rocks stood the strange world
  of red dust, canyons and clouds,
  and it was wrenching to see our work,
  here in this since-unvisited place, but so
  lovely that any sadness swiftly passed.

In the morning shower we wash each other briskly,
brother cats in the wet air, and then we part.
The day after a blizzard.
Among the uncollected trash bags
there’s a mop planted by the curb
proud flag staking claim to its grey peak.
We stay inside and talk fathers.
Chrístopher says dealing
requires the patient willingness
to be deficient.

And it’s true, my dad
takes issue with everyone.
I remember him screaming
at Chuck Knoblauch,
calling him a knucklehead
for fouling up the double play,
and setting off the cackling,
sound-activated jack-o-lantern
on the mantel.

I’m no exception.
I say
please   Charlie   they
and Dad says
police   fascist   grammar
until we’re screaming
in the still snow of the street
not yet waiting for patience.
On Cortelyou summer children shriek and hurl
ice left after the market stands close up.
Cold crystals scatter across the steaming sidewalk.
A dirty white cat ducks under a dirty white van,
and I hug the edges of the low brick buildings.
In their departure one older boy wraps
his arms around the waist of another, head
tucked down into his slim shoulder.

The rent’s too high to live where I grew up.
I’m here, two subway stops removed, unsure
how I’m any different than that young
white woman who yelled down at me
and my new bisexual friends being teenagers
too loudly below her Park Slope window.
We screamed Fuck off Go back to Connecticut!
the worst insult we could conceive of, and ran off
into the park to drink Mike’s Hard and worry
some more about touching each other.

At least I do no yelling now. I am
a quiet, unknown neighbor to these boys:
a slow and unremarked-on violence in itself.
I’m stuck standing at the curb, searching
for an alternative to being useless.
Their bodies press and arc into a deep lean,
dark slender trees bowing in a big wind
as their motorcycle curves the corner.
Crossing the train tracks after the grocery store
swiss chard rustles in the crook of my arm.
There’s pale green lamb’s ear coming up
soft and sturdy between the reddish metal
and the splintered wood of the railroad ties.
It’s rainbow chard: I imagine a bright field
of its pink and yellow stems swaying. I read
that chard’s a mood booster and rolled my eyes
at my own susceptibility to quests for Wellness.
But then I bought some when I saw it,
and here I am, pleased even before eating.

Why not love my own groceries for a minute?
When I am home there’s a lot to let go of:
the tension that collects between my shoulders,
water gathering before it drips
from clothes hanging on a line.
his loving, absent as it is.

Femmes on the internet,
you are so helpful in all things!
I scroll down on my phone and
you share rituals for release,
your long experience with boys
who disappear so far
into their own desire
they don’t even show up
to touch you anymore.

You tell me how to breathe him over a bowl
of salt water, then pour it into the yard's firm dirt.
Still, the day extends, greens tucked
into the crisper drawer. Still, the moment
before I begin to want a shift.
I wanted to touch everything in Cherry
Grove: someone’s elaborate ass, tattooed
with an expressionless pair of eyes —
a small elegant woman sleeping with
a pit bull in her arms on the afternoon sand.

We all walked purposeful up to the waves,
my friends, our chests unbound
under the warm grey sky. I thought of F
who slept in their binder our first nights
together. The terrible crush of rib and lung —
the other clutch of fear at its removal.
These we place each time on our isolated scales
of desire and inhibition, ensuring we’ll stay
just as we are. But not today.

(Later Reina tells me about this same beach,
her sense that only a certain kind of girl
was wanted. I’d felt so easy in myself
I didn’t think of who was missing).
Inside the Columbarium I climb slowly up,
circle the dome and peer into the vaults:
glassed off dioramas of loss and left behind:
eyeglasses folded up,
cigarette tucked into the brass handle,
photos of young men
beautiful in each other’s arms,
now decades dead. LEDs flash Terry Terry
Terry forever. I lean close to read Gavin’s
letter to Hugh about the space between
one’s belly and the other’s back and what
was held there once. This morning I’ve come
from an unfamiliar bed, sunburnt,
hungover, lip split from their teeth
so that every further kiss hurt sweetly.

José Muñoz explains: we disidentify
with what won’t hold us, but which
we cannot leave behind. Standing here
it’s like I’ve felt my affinity with them
would somehow ungirl me.
Then I consider men at the age they’d be
if they had lived and I think it’s easier
to love the dead, who haven’t had the chance
to abandon us. What do I know.
If I’m honest I haven’t tried to love
anyone, alive or dead, or at least I’m sure
I didn’t start last night.
Under the damp canopies of Ditmas Park
I turn my head up to the lilacs heavy
with rainwater and their delicate smell.
I’m carrying rose quartz in my hip pocket
so I can feel *embodied*. The last time
I saw you it was summer and our clothes
stuck to us. Now it’s spring, when the air
begins to warm and wetten, and a physical
existence begins to feel at least possible again.

Lately, all my friends want to talk
about masculinity, which is tempting
to reject altogether,
like, I’m supposed to be it
but have no interest in its restriction,
its dull refusal of excess.
Still I could just be bitter
because everybody seems to think
I’m some strange, wispy butch
who forgot to stop painting her nails.

We group-text selfies for affirmation.
Kai’s reflection startles
after a dramatic haircut and they’re sick
of everybody projecting boi-ness
onto them, and will this make it worse?

            – o bb

let’s never care –

            – 💖

I’m here to meet Paco
in the empty apartment
we’ll live in together.
They say they’re in search
of a masculine gentleness.
The super guided them here
over the phone to a hidden key
You will be in a strange hallway
you will turn completely
past the gilded lobby
there will appear before you
a door, reach up with your fingers
and feel. I decide to allow
for complexity.

It’s my familiar way: leaving
the building and thinking of you
in Buenos Aires I realize I don’t want
to ask when you’re coming home
or where home will be for fear
of becoming expectant.

The wetness of spring
is light and weight at once;
the blades of grass are bent
by gleaming beads of rain.
I walk by a bunch of teenage boys
leaving a track meet, loud, sharp and salty
and as we pass, one of their hands
brushes mine. I am always
expectant anyway.
It’s hot out already, your shorts
keep getting shorter and your hair
is finally long enough to pull
into a top knot.

A man on the street wants you to know
you woulda been a magnificent woman
if you’d kept your original attributes.
You blow him a kiss and say, too bad.

When you’re trans in the Brooklyn summertime
you and everyone you know arrive late
to the long expanse of Riis beach each weekend
and cram yourselves into the leftmost corner
where you finally don’t have to think
about anything but the aesthetics
of what to wear swimming.
You’re all of you uncovered
to the open air and there’s no need
to look too closely as the light divides
behind the bathhouse ruins
because everyone else is as beautiful
and uncertain as you are.

When you’re trans in the Brooklyn summertime
your roommate introduces you to a total babe
who lives three blocks away
and you hang out like all the time
for the three weeks before they move
back to California because shit
is unlivable here. Really, it’s not just
the rent: one time they spotted cops
driving undercover in an ice cream truck
and you get it: how’re black queers
supposed to cope with knowing
they have no recourse
even against the ice cream guy?

The thing about this city
where you were born and live
is everybody seems to leave it
but in the span of everything,
the fact of your sadness
means something good has happened,
even invisibly,
like when astronomers decide
a constellation is extinct,
and they won’t look for it any longer,
the stars that make up the fox,
the bee, the telescope or printing press
don’t just stop being.

Keep the fireworks they gave you
as they left, called butterfly and flowers.
You can already see their sparks
though they remain unlit: first
crackling with electric purpose
then absorbed into everything else
in the moment of their darkening.
Ted says plucking
the feathers from a chicken
feels like pulling up blades
of thick grass.

Sometimes I depart
from myself, other times
I don’t. What I want
is you to tell the difference.

Just like that we were making out,
hardly inside the door, and when
you asked I said there was
nowhere you couldn’t touch.

You said really, disbelieving,
then we both felt sort of sad.
Just like that, the old, tall grass
pushed up between us.

I imagine Ted running
his fingers through the warm,
soft feathers of the living
chickens, remembering.
cloud
        cloud
                          cloud
                cloud

passion flower, or some kind
of flower, I should ask
my mother

        heart that
        reverberates

a face, blushing, with soft eyes
        perky plum

sweep of the polish brush up
                    the nails

crystal ball
        cloud   cloud
bow
        cake w strawberries

the high priestess wearing orchids:
on her iphone it looks like a bride,
how embarrassing, I had meant
        pink rain princess

the vortex, or portal, I was never sure

wave          wave         wave
         wave         wave

the love hotel

        a cloud       a cloud

pink poodle, chick
new from the egg

sun that sets into the water without
changing the sky
The landscape: winter reeds that hold their shape. Some half-remembered fact about the ocean floor. How it’s young, constantly turning itself over. A fact about albatrosses. How they don’t senesce and will go on possibly forever as they are until they run up against sickness or injury. Abigail brings a tincture for my bad skin: burdock, dandelion, goldenseal, what am I so afraid of, I think the same thoughts recurrently for years and do nothing about them. Just list what’s wrong with what I am, then what would be wrong with what I might become. In speech therapy I blow bubbles into a cup. By the end of each session my voice has deepened into a dark well lined with moss, full of cloudless water. It doesn’t last. In regular therapy I talk around myself and uncover nothing. I guess I will become hairier? I guess I will wait more.

Abigail and I prance on the ellipticals.
She wears floral print and jewelry to the gym
and we are already the weirdest
hairiest not-man people here.

Growing up I thought the Brooklyn Bridge was whichever of the two you were taking towards Brooklyn. Sometimes Julieta lays her hand flat on my chest and I can’t hide anything and it overwhelms me. Which one is the bridge towards me, any or all of them? It is fine enough being like I am of course nothing will be perfect but where to be satisfied. Like how I love lintbrushing myself in public. I can be neatened absolutely anywhere in a small victory of order. But my cat has a perfect white fluffy belly and almost all of my clothes are black, so order is impossible. All that would mean is not having to spend any more time cleaning myself up.

The winter light doesn’t warm
just harshens. Stark, ungentle.
I guess I wish the world around me
were just really, really different than it is.
my boyfriend and my girlfriend
text each other all the time now
it is so nice
like if the house and the cat
could open up about how
they appreciate each other –
the sunspot on his parquet floor
the way her fur warms the wood –
and then send you screengrabs
walked beneath my window,
woke me with their warm, short
gusts, breathing come with us.
What I called love was letting
the loose dirt of someone else
crumble over me. Then you
called me out the window —
it’s not something I dig into
alone anymore.



Let’s dance in the mirror
and ’90s-montage
our outfit changes.
Spinning to Mazzy Star
in your red velvet,
pleather, mesh.

Let’s get our lace wet. Come,
braid my hair, get me ready,
brush gold into my eyebrows
until they glitter with malice,
sharpen your wings before
we put our bodies
out into the streets.



Baby blue wax accretes
on the wood of my desk,
gathering itself in invisible
increments. Wanting
to meet you all the time
is a sweet allowance of myself.
Without knowing it I’d sensed
that need was dangerous.
Now, I can see it building.
You say what I am, and I
have a chance to become it.