Poetry: Selections from Jess Tower

gendered locker rooms


strange beautiful intelligent: an entirely too-lacking

description of trans

When people ask if I’m trans, I say no but thank you

for the compliment

Years prior, I gently iced into fluidity, then, suddenly

became dilated with fire & emerged

purple silk

large kiss

no fear of the cross

the thank you approach turned

the no approach


I became a fluid woman

For the cis - I’m comfortable with myself




the fact is my individuality forgot how much

superstition becomes galvanized with complex horror

until one laugh about my leg hair became far too many

& I had forgotten myself


I then forgot all too much about gender until

I found myself walking into the

women’s locker room, angry; then & only then,

the beginning of this poem happened.

discovering my father during a disability recertification phone call at age 28


how many daughters will need to be pleasantly out of frame

for the men who left them fatherless to have enough

of assessing the degree of evil within the mothers?

The evil continuing onto the hims, harshly, because

the once-fathers’ stiff spikes only wire through the uterus,

retaining the baby’s genes & unfortunately,

retaining even his scent on the baby until the daughter
is hated by the mother, too, her once-glorious she

turned mistake turned wished-for-skeleton


her(s) eyes closed, once   unsuccessfully

there was no help back then I did what I had to


I don’t mean she tried to kill me, though sometimes I do wish on shooting stars


the unsuccessful-mothers bear drug-trauma formed into babies

until they no longer know who they were once sang sharply once stand-up kind

until they can’t even tell the daughter her father’s name



In Count Nine of a nine-count indictment, defendants-appellants Novia Turkette, Jr., John Vargas, and eleven others were charged with conspiring to "conduct, and participate directly and indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of (an) enterprise, which would engage in, and the activities of which would affect interstate commerce, through a pattern of racketeering activity."

This appeal raises, for the first time..., the issue of whether Title IX… authorizes the prosecution of individuals for engaging together in a series of criminal acts unrelated in any way to any legitimate business organization.

- United States v. Novia Turkette, Jr.


This poem is for my Grandpa.


I had a choice when I was a kid: play dead or become crime itself.

Novi, your sideways glance & pursed lips are just like your dog’s,

now my dog. My hair cut just yesterday & I look like you:


Italian mobster revisioned, I see you on my fatherless face—

you were stepfather to my mother—but I was familiar

to you, always family, & you’d smack me if I said I wasn’t.


I even miss your anger. Your acts of crime were you, but not bisexual me,

though I can’t say I didn’t think of dirty money, just to have some

money, me—poor & you—rich. When you died, you had no cash,


slowly putting away for your own funeral. Or, maybe, you were

angry, petty—you were a Turkette by birth. We’ll never know.

Grandpa, I miss our silence, our slight friendship—


don’t tell me or I’ll tell—our agreement. Though I almost wish

I had joined you, just once, just for the thrill of it,

just to know those sirens, chasing me crazy.

complex post-traumatic stress disorder


I’m holding myself, mirrored, in my bed.

Sleeping or not. Heal me, heal me not.

I’m drowning myself by the neck. Pulling myself

out of its ball, leaving a bare naked thread.

They scare itself. A red scream, a calculative

dream, a wild seam, a dead stream. It pulls itself

close, it smiles like veins. It unwinds hair

from my heads & clamps them together with spit,

a far cry from healing. No no no yes no no.

Pulls lashes from its eyes like flowers

in the schoolyard. It smells like home -  

cigarettes, lavender, unscented bathroom spray.

Its black hair matted with red, red blood. Smells like home!

Dead like it's supposed to be. Maybe I’m still pretend.

Maybe the sleep & wake cures fakely.

The other me slows into the other side of my bed. I see

a tan dog (oh! my dog)

on top of my white pillow (it’s soft)

& then I (the fullness of myself) slip

into bed (the fully real one) & sleep.

Jess Tower is a disabled educator & poet based in Salem, MA. Jess has been published in Soundings East, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, District Lit, & Juked, among others. Most recently, Jess participated in Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project, writing 30 poems in 30 days during the month of September 2022.