A Family History Is Sacred

Joshua Jennifer Espinoza

(Place the sky in glass too thick for me to bite through. Give me a void big enough
to contain what I am about to spill.)

On a full moon evening, my grandfather divided the landscape in two.
One side was sunlit, the other bathed in dark purple shadow.
He gripped my shoulder and pointed to the stars. Those aren’t enough, he said.
As we drove down a hillside blooming with faces of women I’d never be
I cried. I’ll give you something to cry about, he laughed, turning the clouds red.
He crested us through blood-rain, still laughing, laughing so hard
his head became a blur of mockery. I am him, somehow.
And yet, not at all. Not at all. I am violet but not violent. I am not regarded
as a person, but a threat. (The first time my grandfather walked into
a building where only white people worked, everyone asked him
what he was doing there.) As we pulled to the roadside, drenched
in memory, I wondered what I was doing with him. What
he was doing with me. I couldn’t possibly dream in enough color
to ever show myself. So I closed my eyes and let the landscape go fully
dark. I pressed my fingers against my eyelids and made my own stars.
I took a photograph of my father dressed as a woman (that my
mother once showed me) and I memorized it upon the skin of
my bones. Now when my sky turns purple and dark and light and blood-red
it is not memory, but song I turn to. I sing the word woman over and over
until I lose the meaning and slip backwards into my all alone body.

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Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is a trans woman poet. Her work has been featured in The Nation, Poetry Magazine, 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 UC Riverside, and currently teaches creative writing. Jennifer lives in California with her wife, poet/essayist Eileen Elizabeth, and their dog and cat.

Vol. 40.1

Tallahassee, Florida

Florida State University

Editor in Chief
Laura Biagi

Assistant Editor
Amanda Hadlock

Poetry Editors
Brett Hanley
Natalie Tombasco
Anthony Borruso

Assistant Poetry Editor
Nicholas Goodly

Contributing Editor 
Diamond Forde

The Southeast Review, established in 1979 as Sundog, is a national literary magazine housed in the English department at Florida State University, edited and managed by graduate students. Our mission is to present emerging writers on the same stage as well-established ones. We publish literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, interviews, and art across our biannual print issues and online. With nearly sixty members on our editorial staff who come from throughout the country and around the world, we publish work that is representative of our diverse interests and aesthetics, and we celebrate the eclectic mix this produces.


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