Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, selected by Tyehimba Jess for the 2022 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, is an aching tribute to the power and precarity of queer love.
In small-town Mississippi, before the aughts, a child “assigned ‘woman'” and a boy “forced to call / himself a girl” love one another–from afar, behind closed doors, in motels. The child survives an injurious mother and the beast-shaped men she brings home; the boy becomes a soldier. Years later, the boy–the eponymous beloved, Missy–dies by suicide, kicking up a riptide of memory. This is where K. Iver writes, at the confluence of love poem and elegy.
“I say to the water if you were here, / you’d be here.” With cinematic precision, they conjure dorm-room landlines, the lingering sweetness of shared candy, a ballet strap and “soft / fingers tracing it, afraid to touch / the skin.” They punctuate depictions of familial abuse and the cruel politics of the Deep South with fairy tales: a girl who endures abuse refusing to grow into a mother who inflicts it herself, queer youth kissing fearlessly, bodies transcending the violence of a reductive gender binary. In these fantasies, “there’s no / reason to leave town no hidden / torches waiting for us to fall asleep.”
Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco sees us through a particular kind of grief–one so relentless, it’s precious. It presses us, also, to continue advocating for a world in which queer love fantasies become reality and queer love poems “swaddle the impossible / contours of joy.”