godspine (book excerpt)

Terri Muuss’s new collection of poetry, godspine, is available to purchase or order wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher. This follows her first book, Over Exposed, a poetic memoir excavating her own experiences with sexual abuse and trauma. More about godspine follows this exclusive set of three poem excerpts.

I Am the Type To Talk With My Hands

In 1975, my father sits on the fraying, brown couch
counting out dimes on the table in front of him.

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night
and wonder whose house I am in.

From across the street, a black girl with a red bandana
says to my only friend Why you playin’ with that white girl?

In 1976, stacks of magazines collect on our porch.
My mother promises they will be worth something someday.

In 1979, a neighbor tells me all ladies have fine
delicate collarbones and wrists.

I have a crush on the Jamaican boy across the street and my father slaps me
says It was a mistake moving into a black neighborhood.

Often, at school, I can see myself from above and my body
feels like a country I am visiting.

In 1981, I cut my inner thigh with a razor
and the blood streams out like a billowing red bandana.

Hundreds of pieces of cut magazines litter the floor of my bedroom
as I collage the walls with pictures of models’ collarbones and ribs.

After I get my first period, my mother buys me sanitary napkins.
Tampons, she says, are for people who’ve already had sex.

In 1978, I do as I am told and save all my coins in a bank for college.

Blood rushes down my leg in math class
and a boy points at me like I’m a disease.

In college, I learn that race is a social construction and those words
replay over an image of my father shouting the n-word at our neighbors.

After my father enters my room at night to touch
the insides of my thighs, he leaves a shiny dime to remind me he was there.

When I look at my mother, her face is a rearview mirror
and I can only see what is behind me.

I am the only person in my family to go to college.

I am ten when my father tells me
Men want a whore in bed and a lady all other times.

I am holding my first boyfriend’s hand. Two boys throw a bottle at us and yell Jungle fever! He immediately lets go, says No white girl is gonna get me killed.

I eat less and less food in order to feel more and more of my bones.

When I am eleven, my aunt gives me a lacey teddy
and says You may as well dress like a whore if you are going to act like one.

In 1979, the only safe place left is at a small card table
across the street, eating Jamaican food with Mr. and Mrs. Christie.

My house is filled with useless items my mother is desperate to find uses for.

A girl in school says You can’t trust someone who talks with their hands.

Frog Sex Throat

we are wild
eyes, tall cliffs starved

for plunging, water
divided, surface tension lapping

at the junction of body, rip into
almost death. Rain comes

over stone, crackling sheets—
blue sparks. our breath burns

orange, polished and swollen,
the frog of our sex throat pulsing

the stem of jonquil, feet spread,
greener than the grass it came from.

There Is a Light and It Never Goes Out

One morning, it happens:
a riot of forsythias bell the air
& daffodils sing out their lusty throats—
winter opens her dark curtain to spring
& without warning or desire
I remember

you: flowers in your ripped
jean pockets, that spaced
out smile of the newly high. How I followed
you through sterile high
school hallways of prom posters
& sweat glands. You were

a constellation I charted
from my simple post back
on Earth. Being gay didn’t stop
you from kissing me in the back
of a cab saying You are the only girl I could ever
. You taught me how to take the longest drag

off thickly rolled joints so I wouldn’t
cough & gasp for air. When I spun
faster & further out of orbit, you put your nose
to the bone of my cheek & said over & over
on the purple velvet couch You are here
and beautifully alive
. It was always you

who reeled me in when I floated beyond
where astronauts know is safe
& damn it, I was supposed to die first
wasn’t I? It’s what our friends meant when they changed
the lyrics of Girlfriend in a Coma to Terri in a trauma
& laughed sarcastically, casually

taking tabs of E or bumps of K under the canopy
of rave club stratosphere. They knew I was
our group’s biggest disaster. But you, my
beautiful mischief-maker, with your daffodils,
Smiths shirt & smile of galactic
dreams—you were

to be the Keith Richards to my Kurt Cobain.
I was ready to hit the atmosphere hard &
fast & let it all go to yellow stardust while you
swaggered, triceps pushing out from a
t-shirt too small, veins snaking down years
before the needles, spoons & viruses

lay waste to the blades of your perfect
cheekbones. I remember
the mission we set out on together
to float far above the moon
before you became the comet
I could no longer chase.

This morning, you return
beckoning me to follow you
one last time to the end
of 10th Avenue where
Junior Vasquez will trance
us with a playlist

under a ceiling made of stars.

More About godspine

Terri Muuss’s new collection of poetry godspine is published by 3: A Taos Press, and is available to purchase or order wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher. From the publisher:

godspine-Cover 198wIn godspine, Terri Muuss explores the kind of spiritual chiropractic necessary for a final escape from the trauma of sexual abuse explored in her first collection, Over Exposed. From deep forays into dissociative episodes to reclaiming her sex and sexuality, from crafting praise songs to the earth to celebrating the body that has held her through everything, Muuss charts a triumphant course for a restless mind demanding release from the shackles of a devastating past. These poems boldly press and adjust the body of trauma until it aligns with the spirit of survival.

“In godspine, Terri Muuss takes the reader on a journey of survival: the rubbing world of men. What does it look like to make a life after horrors are inflicted upon the body? What does it look like to not only exist but also live? What is it to be a woman in this world, one-in-three of us? In this second collection, Muuss does not mince words: rape is the business, but beyond that, there is a clear and deep industry in love. Muuss tells us that time is not poetry, but in the pages of this collection, time offers us the endurance to become gifts, to become who we are meant to be. It is a prime collection, a salve for those in need.”

—Yesenia Montilla, The Pink Box

“In the beginning there was the word, and the word in Terri Muuss’s poems is so powerful—the images and moments so raw and sensual, so frightful and beautiful and painfully true—they shake us out of our culturally inflicted stupors and induce awe. Terri Muuss is a wonder and an inspiration.”

—Beverly Donofrio, Riding in Cars with Boys 

“In godspine, words hit hard, hit deep, sewn together to make beauty, discomfort and unease and, more than that, to make us brave. Words to make us brave. Poem Written While Listening to Brett Kavanaugh will stay in you, through you. This is the power of Terri, whether it’s She grips a gun or Our moans hold the line of truth, Terri Muuss is a force of nature. Grab hold of her. I did, and I am so grateful, so hugely grateful.”

—Amy Ferris, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions of a Midlife Crisis

“godspine details one woman’s journey away from her own unmaking. In this rattling collection, Muuss guides the reader through the unimaginable, revealing an extraordinary but simple truth: trauma survival is an act of will. With images of a thousand fists in my mouth, Muuss goads the mind’s unrelenting sabotage, proclaiming, I had to exist. The reader can neither shed nor look away from these poems because we, too, exist and resurrect amid these pages. Nothing is left, she reminds us, but to begin it all/again. A remarkable testament to why we have named this survival.”

—Jeanann Verlee, prey

About the Author

Terri MuussTerri Muuss is a social worker, director, performer, speaker and author who has been raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape since long before the much needed surge of the #metoo movement. Terri’s first book, a poetic memoir excavating her own experiences with sexual abuse and trauma entitled Over Exposed, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and named Runner Up for the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Award in Legacy Nonfiction. On stage, Terri has performed her autobiographical one-woman show, Anatomy of a Doll, at conferences, colleges and theatres around the US and Canada since 1998. In 2016, Terri co-edited an anthology of New York women poets entitled Grabbing the Apple and her own poetry has appeared in dozens of journals, including Stirring, Luna Luna, Cagibi, Atticus Review, Paterson Literary Review, Indiana Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art and the inter-continental anthology Veils, Halos & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women. She has received two Best of the Net nominations, as well as two additional Pushcart nominations, for her work. Terri lives in New York with her husband, author Matt Pasca, and her two redheads, Rainer and Atticus.

The poems appear with permission of 3: A Taos Press. Copyright 2020 Terri Muuss.

Appears In

Issue 9.1

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