Claudia Cortese


Hormones power the machines. Ohio's air
is on fire. Trees still fat with green
means the fair has returned.

Hair can only hold so many lengths
yet the mullet exists

is one of the world's great mysteries.

Wind tills the small hairs on the backs of my knees
like virgin corn before its first slash and burn.
I wear three scrunchies on each wrist

and want every boy's worship. There's a certain blade
of aliveness that cuts only once. Everything after

is gum pressed to a desk's underside, its watermelon sugars

turned stale in the bored algebras of that room.
For me, the blade opened in 1992.
Spencer led me to the liminal space

between the Tilt-a-Whirl and carousel, muscled
his mouth into mine. Our teeth clanked, and he whispered,

Cup your lips like this, teaching me to blunt the pain

my mouth inflicts. Every autumn, sons grow suicidally
beautiful, gallop terribly against each other’s bodies,
wrote James Wright about his Ohio

of men and violence, but this was June
in my Ohio—the boys still tender

as Milk Duds melted inside the cardboard box
a teen cashier forgot to place

inside the cool concession stand.



Claudia Cortese is a queer poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her debut full-length, Wasp Queen (Black Lawrence Press, 2017), won Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Award for Emerging Poetry. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Bitch Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, and The Offing, among many others, and her poems have won awards from Baltimore Review, Mississippi Review, and RHINO Poetry. Cortese received a 2018 OUTstanding Faculty Ally of the Year certificate from the LGBTQ+ Center at Montclair State University and is the Book Reviews Editor for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio’s Rust Belt and lives in New Jersey.