Ghost Ride

Joy Priest

I don't mean the midnights I steal at fifteen, floating air & fuel down Dixie Hwy,under the streetlamp's orbed glare          invisible                         after I slipmy 1988 Cutlass Supreme Classic from my father's driveway. & this isn't code betweenmy phantom love & I for when                  we meet                        in a shadownear the Downs & I vanish behind his illegal tint. I don't mean the dips we take, the smokein twisted wisps                                                  hovering                        near quiet lipssheets of white brick beneath the floorboards. Nor the time we get lost & disappearinto the dark part of morning                     hours cuffed                 on a curbfor refusing to let them search our bodies for a wickedness that isn't there, how they came& went that time, unable                              to touch us                     like unclean beingswandered into the wrong realm. A girl I can't remember, is what I mean. Look: me behindthe wheel in a brown boys'                           radiant                             processionof candy paint. Each one the same age, then, as his ghost now. My baby cousin a recklessangel next to me                                                going dumb                   shotgunon the bench seat of my Oldsmobile when he still had teeth in his head, still had yet to touchflame to the underbelly of a spoon.        With the boys                 my sexbecame neutral—a gear I shifted into before throwing open the long coupe door, swingingmy legs to place both feet on                      the risk of                         pavementWest Coast sound bubbling into a night otherwise country & silent, save the slow crunch of tire.I mean, I had to get out, leave                    the whip                            with no direction.

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Joy Priest was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She is the author of Horsepower (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethwey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. She is the recipient of a 2021 NEA fellowship, a 2019-2020 Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, and the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review. Her poems have appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, The Atlantic, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others, and her essays have appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Poets & Writers, ESPN, and The Undefeated. Joy received her M.F.A. in Poetry, with a certificate in Women & Gender Studies from the University of South Carolina. She is currently editing an anthology of Louisville poets, forthcoming from Sarabande Books.

Horsepower, Joy Priest’s debut collection, is a captivating display of might and elegance, a language of astonishing sinew through which the backdrop of place and a compelling life come into vivid focus. Undergirding these poems is a restless, resilient spirit: an urgent grappling with the desire to both remember and outrun the past, with history both personal and communal, and the complexities of American racism in its most intimate manifestation—familial love. Throughout this remarkable debut, Priest shows us what it means to clear the stall, break out of the traces, and run unbridled into life.”
—Natasha Tretheway

Horsepower tells what it is to be a bridge in one's family between racism and a love forged in defiance of racism; it tells what it is to need to both escape that role and embrace it. And, just as importantly, it tells the arrival of a powerful new poet, a poet to whose stories I will continue to listen.”
—Shane McCrae

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