“Driving through Fire,” by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
In a newly commissioned poem, Espinoza meditates on the body—and its survival.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Nov 18, 2022
“‘Driving through Fire’ was inspired by the Southern California desert landscape I have lived in my whole life,” says the poet Joshua Jennifer Espinoza. “The hill is rock-covered, dry, spotted with animal bones and pink petals, small bits of brush, and strange, spiky trees covered in flowers. All of these contradictions seem so perfect to me. Life and death are not opposites, but intimately entwined. In the same way, as a transsexual, I get to be so many different things simultaneously, which is both painful and beautiful.” The author of three poetry collections, whose work has appeared in The Nation, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, Espinoza says that poetry should resist easy categories. “I find comfort in reminding myself and others that things are not simple as we pretend they are, and that the daily frameworks and metaphors we use to understand the nature of existence are not just faulty, but actively harmful. I always want to walk away from writing a poem feeling shaken and changed by it—even if just a little bit.”
Espinoza joins a number of esteemed poets who have contributed original poems to Magazine. We present “Driving through Fire” in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is observed on November 20.
Driving through Fire
I wonder how many of us must raise ourselves from the dead
to tell the story of how we died
to the people who killed us.
I drive on.
I carry Los Angeles back to the desert
where I live and hide halfway up a mountain.
Safety comes at a price, but what no one tells you
is that the kind of safety that isn’t even really safety
also comes at a price.
Everything comes at a price
when you have a body like this—
a body that breathes and moves and is everything it claims to be.
To know yourself
all your other selves have to fall away,
like burning paper that drifts upward
for a moment
before settling into nighttime dirt.
You have to walk over to those parts of yourself
and stomp them out
before they set anything else ablaze.
I’m always talking about survival
as though I survived what happened to me.
I did not.
I’ve been dead.
I’ve died five hundred times.
Sometimes, I’ll wake up and think, I’m dead. I’m rotting.
My arm is going to rot off.
My eye is going to roll out of my head.
will wither and dry
like a rose petal
on the edge of a bathtub.
One day I will finally be alive. I can feel it.
I know I will be alive
because life is beautiful and I am beautiful and I belong in it.
I belong in life.
I may not belong in this life, but I belong in life.
I will make a life that fits me.
I will tape my burning body
to the bloodstream of this world.
When everything ends, I’ll stretch my arms and fly somewhere else.
Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is a trans woman poet. Her work has been featured in The Nation, Poetry, the American Poetry Review, Southeast Review, The Rumpus, Poem-a-day at poets.org, and elsewhere. She is the author of I’m Alive / It Hurts / I Love It (Big Lucks, 2019) and THERE SHOULD BE FLOWERS (The Accomplices, 2016). Her third collection, I Don’t Want to Be Understood, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in 2024. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of California, Riverside, and currently teaches creative writing. Jennifer lives in California with her wife, poet/essayist Eileen Elizabeth, and their dog and cat.
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