Excerpts from “Freedom And Prostitution”

Käthe Kollwitz, Junges Paar (The Young Couple), 1904. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Young Couple by Käthe Kollwitz, 1904

You travel mostly at night or at dawn
sometimes in groups of 200 or more
through the underbrush, through sewers and forests
            and garbage    and ditches
            close to the ground where it is difficult
            to move         but small enough
            to be protected by     the rough chaparral
                                                or barbed wire
                                     lookouts circling overhead
                        Dramatic feeding
            with buoyancy and grace
                        how did you     imagine
                        to be any different
                        on the executioner’s block 
      every whore gets what she is asking for

    You are carried
    until you learn to walk again
    bringing your mother animals
    and placing them in her mouth
    surrounding her with flowers
                not funereal
    but to feed    this enclosure
                she cannot leave
    the tender and innocent heart
                of all systems of power
                find new comforts    
                outside the symbolic

    You try to drink
    but the glass of water is almost too large
    and too heavy to reach your mouth
                you lift it quickly
    so you can hold it before it slips
                from your grip
    while trying not to spill
    or smash the glass

    This is the fantasy of opposites—
                how to live in the world
                with those you don’t trust

            You forgot how to write
the pen keeps falling out of your hand
                        or your grip is too strong
                        and it snaps the pen in two
            or your script is so sharp
            you rip the page and by the time
you’re finished there is no page left

This is a theory of antagonism—
how to have the same conversation for the next
            ten, twenty, two hundred years
how to be the only one to say
            we’ve been here before
            in a meaningful way

    You wake up and someone else is dead
                you saw your sister die
                you saw your mother die
                when you say goodbye
                it makes death real
                Walking down the street
                            lights up
                             it’s midnight
                             no cars            no rain
                                          no tears

                You blinked again and again
    but you couldn’t clear     your vision
    you were separated from the others
                you called out shrilly 
                and were answered

                You slip away while
                            enemies argue
                            amongst themselves
                            ghosts of the plains
                stabbing at internal organs
                or chasing down on foot

A telephone rings
You answer it and a woman’s voice tells you
        “I can’t leave if I don’t break    
        with the enemies that I’ve

You hang up the phone and walk across the street
to a boarded up liquor store
        above it is an apartment building
        with blown out windows
                    you climb the fire escape ladder
                    to the top floor and crawl inside
                                to shed your fear

        The room is full of women
        some from the chorus
        some from old families
                the street
                other cities
        You open your mouths to each other
                sloshing a venom
                        trickling in
        You say the erotic is a kind
        of undeniable present and
        you can’t wait any longer
        you untie all the shoes
        you lick every sole
        you make yourself available
                and open
        you talk and laugh
        planning discussing
        some in a corner of the room
            fucking    in the sun
                but not separate
        as they add to the conversation

This is the reality of participation—
how to be separate     but not a spectacle
how to be included     but not a spectacle of appearance

            You feel the threat of narrative
            the weight of bodies
            the not       that holds your
                        ecstatic refusal
        held by a stress      unbearable
    an anxiety produced      in waiting    
    resonant querulous reports
            small family groups
            scuttling    soft vocalization
                  WHERE are YOU?

    Predatory and potent
    erotic assimilations
         stack in the sky
            feeding in the air
            watching the forests below
others are nearby at different levels of interaction—
sometimes enemies        sometimes friends or

    You call out
    in love or distress
    sounds resemble the cities
    that used to exist
    the names of the dead
    how to articulate
        this history that will be
         through the past undone

CASSANDRA TROYAN is a writer and genderqueer communist who lives and teaches in southern Sweden. Their work explores the intersections of gendered violence, radical histories of resistance, sex work, and capital. They are the author of several books and chapbooks of poetry, including KILL MANUAL (Artifice Books, 2014) and A Theory in Tears (Kenning Editions, 2016), and have presented, performed, or screened their work widely. Recent writing can be found in Radical Paper Press, Social Text Online and their fourth book, FREEDOM & PROSTITUTION is forthcoming in September 2020 from The Elephants. They dream of a world without work, without money, and know that candlelight vigils will never be enough to avenge the dead.