Greyhound by Aeon Ginsberg (Noemi Press, 2020) was recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Poetry, and from the poem’s first breaths it’s clear to see why. Walking in the footsteps of Nevada by Imogen Binnie and other self-exploration-beyond-transition transgender narratives, Greyhound follows its speaker through the bus system into somewhere new, a phenomenological reorientation where “me being a bitch is not a possibility / but a definitive fixed point.” (30)
Greyhound is, quite literally, an epic poem from the beginning of its semi-circular journey: while Ginsberg does not end up in the same place where they started, moving from the concrete notion of getting on a bus to an ending defined by its definitions of prisms, desire, and the self, they journey through the psyche and reorient themselves through new relationships to both animate and inanimate others. Much like the wheels of its titular Greyhound bus, the one poem that luxuriates through 63 pages cycles through and circles back to a few major thematic categories: travel, transition, platonic intimacy (with others and the self), dogs, and sustenance.
The cycle reveals itself through what could most aptly be called a wheel metaphor. No one concept is explored in its entirety before the poem glitters in a different direction, shifting fragments, yet no concept is fully dropped after it has been introduced. Like a spoke of a wheel, each of these major themes and concepts hold the poem together and are featured in succession: travel, and then animals, and then definitions, and then transition, and then intimacy, and then travel again. Nothing is left alone to rot.
One of the blurbs for Greyhound mentions the work’s similarity to Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, going as far as to use Ahmed’s metaphor of a desk as a way of making orientation tangible. This relationship between Greyhound and Queer Phenomenology cannot be understated: “Even my prescriptions / have my name in parentheses. / This makes sense too—that my identity / is on the periphery of a perception of it.” (8). From the beginning of their poem, Ginsberg identifies this transient relationship to space that queerness both allows and requires and dances with it. Phenomenology, particularly the queer kind discussed by Ahmed and other scholars, relates to the physical location of and relationship to objects from one to another. Through their exploration of relationships, striving to find home, and renaming (one of the most fun parts of early transition, that rebranding of the self), Ginsberg uses phenomenology to lay the asphalt of the open road ahead of them. “Why do all the words relating to my body / have to do with movement?” they ask. “Passing privilege, / transitioning. One thing, and then another thing.” (13) This movement and the way that travel has infused the trans lexicon is cleaved open in one sharp stanza.
But Ginsberg doesn’t stop there. Rather, this troubling of travel through language also clearly shows their love for the possibility that physical travel allows. “I tell another trans person / I feel most in my skin / in Greyhound bus terminals. / Neither of us talks / about what it means to only be seen in a liminal way— / to only be seen when we are in movement, between two points.” (19) Movement is not always beautiful, though, they remind us. “…the conversation must recognize / movement that happens without our urgency— / in fact, regardless of our urgency or agency. / The movement of militarization. / The movement of police. / The movement of borders. / The movement of bodies.” (55). Not all bodies are allowed to move in the ways they need to, and the recognitions of the world’s glittering nuance becomes a call to action. It takes a certain level of freedom to be able to live alongside the wild road as Ginsberg has— something they both recognize and willingly admit within the poem itself.
Alongside the strength and depth with which they tackle the complex ideas of bodily autonomy and power, among other concepts, in this poem, Ginsberg is also hilarious. Their dry, witty humor cracks through just about every line. “When I get a car,” they state, “I will never wear pants / again and no one can stop me.” (28) Their legs are “two kissing hairless cats,” they “have 20/20 Gender Vision.” At times, their humor is self-deprecating, but what trans person, who’s felt free under the weight of systemic oppression, isn’t? The humorous moments are extraordinarily dry, but linger nevertheless. It serves as not only a reminder of their humanity among the nebulosity they present themselves as, but as a source of strength and self-protection in the face of a world that continues to try and beat us down.
A Greyhound: the dog, the bus, the bus as related to dog, the dog as related to speaker, the speaker as related to bus. There is no singular subject in this long, complex, gorgeous poem; rather, every permutation of speaker and self works as a spoke in the wheel, pushing the poem ahead as it lays down the road it drives upon. I, for one, hope to be along for the ride, wherever Aeon Ginsberg is taking us.
Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA candidate at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, and Unstamatic Magazine.