Thursday, July 2, 2020
After the Apocalypse
After the apocalypse, I yearned to be reckless. To smash a glass
brought first to my lips. To privilege lust over
tomorrow. To walk naked down the middle of a two-lane
road. But, too late, without my bidding, life cracked open,
rushed, openmouthed, like a panting dog whose name
I did not call—my lips shut like a purse. The last man
I kissed was different than the last man I fucked.
We were so desperate then, the two of us, undone
by longing, drawing night from the cracks
inside us, drawing the night out, as long as we could,
until dawn broke like a beat egg and our heartbeats
quieted in private fatigue. I’d be lying if I said I don’t recall
his name. The end of the world has ended, and desire is still
all I crave. Oh, to be a stone, sexless and impenetrable.
Over half of me is water, a river spilling into restless limbs,
the rest of me is a scalding heat like the asphalt under my feet.
After the apocalypse, I mothered my mother, became
grandmother to myself, distant and tender, temples turning
gray. The whole world cascaded past my shoulders, like the hair
self-hatred taught me to crave—though all my Barbie dolls
were black. And the Cabbage Patch Kid my grandmother
placed under the artificial Christmas tree, sprinkled with tinsel,
in Memphis, Tennessee, the city where my mother waited
for her first pair of glasses in the Colored Only waiting room.
She said the world changed from black-and-white to Technicolor
that day. My mother watches TV as I roll her hair. She sits
between my legs. I’ve never birthed a child. I have fondled the crown
of a lover’s head, my thighs framing his dark brown eyes.
I entered the world excised from my mother’s womb. Her scar
is a mark the color of time. I am my mother’s weeping
wound. On my last birthday, I cried into bathwater.
I hid my tears from my mother because that’s what mothers do.
After the apocalypse, I had the urge to dance on the president’s
grave. The dispossessed threw me a belated quinceañera. My godmother
wore a necklace of the dictator’s teeth. She sliced an upside-down cake,
licked her forefinger, and said, “You have mastered sadness, querida,
may your rage be sticky and sweet.” My father offered his hand—this time
I took it. We glided like ballroom dancers across the red dirt floor.
He wore a grave expression. I embraced him tightly
so as to cloak my face. Instead of a toast, he handed me a handkerchief,
wet with tears. My father circled the guests silently, dabbing gently
each of their cheeks. This too was a dance unfolding.
I folded the handkerchief into a fist and raised my fist like
a glass of champagne. The pain in my father’s eyes sparkled
like the sequins on my tattered gown. If it hadn’t been so ugly
it would’ve been beautiful. The party ended just as the world had:
with the sound of rain beating against the earth and each of us
on our hands and knees peering into pools of mud and thirst.
After the apocalypse, time turned like a mood ring. My mood
changed like a thunderstruck sky. The sky changed
like a breast, engorged, staining the front of a white silk blouse.
I got laid off. I went thirteen days without wearing a bra. I changed
my mind about the fiction of money. Money changed hands.
I washed my hands religiously. Religion changed into sunlight—
something allowed to touch my face. My face changed into
my mother’s. No, into a mask of my mother’s face. Traces
of heartache changed into a pain in my right hip. The stock market
dipped. The S & P fell freely. I did not fall to my knees
promising to change my life. The price of paper towels changed
and the price of toilet paper and the price of white bread and milk.
Whiteness did not change. Some things stayed the same. We named
the moon for its changes, but it remained the same. Gravity
pulled at my organs like the moon’s tug makes a king tide.
America’s king would inevitably change and inevitably stay the same.
After the laughter subsided the crying kept after we held hands
and screamed and screamed and squeezed and screamed after
regret and shame and a single bush filled with speckled thrushes
singing redwing bluebird wood thrush on the wood of a branch
and forest thrush in the branches of a forest open pine
and after your mother refused to haunt your dreams after
you placed her in a wooden coffin and you sang like a blue bird
breast trembling beak open like a mother’s beak foraging feeding
offspring after laying on a clutch of blue eggs and after spring
after pining for spring ignorant of your grief and unraveling
with or without your blessing cool days and rain after icicles
crying and after you kept from crying and after you cried
there was no one left to protect after you blessed the demon
possessing you and after it left you were even more alone
a grandala calling and calling and after calling after your mother
a hole closed and a hole opened after that after all of that.
There is a scar near my right eye no lover ever noticed
or kissed, a faint mark: split skin sewn.
And so, and now, there was never a before. Never
a time when the wind did not smell of dust
or storm or brine or blood. Never an hour when I entered
a field of bluebells without trampling at least one flower.
And so, and then, on the day I was born, a stampede
of horses filled my chest. Astronomers can only guess
how the universe formed. The planet is dying:
the horses, the mothers, the farmers, the bees. I am
the ground, its many grasses and wild clover.
My teeth grow yellow, ache, decay. I wash a plate,
polishing the moon’s face—both will outlast my brutal
hands. And so, in the minutes of after, the moon drips
on a silver rack and the plate floats, cracked with age,
in outer space … a stray soapsud sparkles then bursts.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
To John Ashbery
I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chu-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty —a bad sign,
meaning ‘You go, like the blossoms.’
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Monday, June 29, 2020
Then, every letter opened was an oyster
Of possible bad news, pried apart to reveal
The imperfect probable pearl of your death.
Then, urgent messages still affrighted me, sharp
Noises caused the birds not yet in flight to fly.
Then, this was the life of you.
All your molecules
Gathered for your dying off
Like mollusks clinging to a great ship’s hull.
Ceremony of wounds, tinned,
Tiny swaddled starlings soaked in brine.
A bird, singing in his wicker cage, winds down.
Now, a trestle table lined with wooden platters
Neat with feathered wings of quail tucked-in.
Until you sever the thing, from self, it feels.
Thereafter it belongs to none.
You have nothing to be afraid of, anymore.
Outside Prague, I find you warm
Among the million small gold bees set loose
In April’s onion snow, quietly
Quietly, would you sing this back to me, out loud?
Sunday, June 28, 2020
I Want To Die Before You
want to die before you.
Do you think that who passes later
will find who's gone before?
I don't think so.
You'd better have me burned,
and put me on the stove in your room
in a jar.
The jar shall be made of glass,
transparent, white glass
so that you can see me inside...
You see my sacrifice:
I renounced from being part of the earth,
I renounced from being a flower
to be able to stay with you.
And I am becoming dust,
to live with you.
Later, when you also die,
you'll come to my jar.
And we'll live there together
your ash in my ash,
until a careless bride
or an unfaithful grandson
throws us out of there...
until that time
with each other
so much that
even in the garbage we are thrown into
our grains will fall side by side.
We will dive into the soil together.
And one day, if a wild flower
feeds from this piece of soil and blossoms
above its body, definitely
there will be two flowers:
one is you
one is me.
don't think of death yet.
I will give birth to a child.
Life is flooding from me.
My blood is boiling.
I will live, but long, very long,
but with you.
Death doesn't scare me either.
But I find our way of funeral
Until I die,
I think this will get better.
Is there a hope you'll get out of prison these days?
A voice in me says:
(Translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk)
Tonight, in Oakland
I did not come here to sing a blues.
Lately, I open my mouth
& out comes marigolds, yellow plums.
I came to make the sky a garden.
Give me rain or give me honey, dear lord.
The sky has given us no water this year.
I ride my bike to a boy, when I get there
what we make will not be beautiful
or love at all, but it will be deserved.
I’ve started seeking men to wet the harvest.
Come, tonight I declare we must move
instead of pray. Tonight, east of here,
two boys, one dressed in what could be blood
& one dressed in what could be blood
before the wound, meet & mean mug
& God, tonight, let them dance! Tonight,
the bullet does not exist. Tonight, the police
have turned to their God for forgiveness.
Tonight, we bury nothing, we serve a God
with no need for shovels, we serve a God
with a bad hip & a brother in prison.
Tonight, let every man be his own lord.
Let wherever two people stand be a reunion
of ancient lights. Let’s waste the moon’s marble glow
shouting our names to the stars until we are
the stars. O, precious God! O, sweet black town!
I am drunk & I thirst. When I get to the boy
who lets me practice hunger with him
I will not give him the name of your newest ghost
I will give him my body & what he does with it
is none of my business, but I will say look,
I made it a whole day, still, no rain
still, I am without exit wound
& he will say Tonight, I want to take you
how the police do, unarmed & sudden
& tonight, when we dream, we dream of dancing
in a city slowly becoming ash.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
A History of Sexual Preference
We are walking our very public attraction
through eighteenth-century Philadelphia.
I am simultaneously butch girlfriend
and suburban child on a school trip,
Independence Hall, 1775, home
to the Second Continental Congress.
Although she is wearing her leather jacket,
although we have made love for the first time
in a hotel room on Rittenhouse Square,
I am preparing my teenage escape from Philadelphia,
from Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously occupied
residential street in the nation,
from Carpenters’ Hall, from Congress Hall,
from Graff House where the young Thomas
Jefferson lived, summer of 1776. In my starched shirt
and waistcoat, in my leggings and buckled shoes,
in postmodern drag, as a young eighteenth-century statesman,
I am seventeen and tired of fighting for freedom
and the rights of men. I am already dreaming of Boston—
city of women, demonstrations, and revolution
on a grand and personal scale.
Then the maître d’
is pulling out our chairs for brunch, we have the
surprised look of people who have been kissing
and now find themselves dressed and dining
in a Locust Street townhouse turned café,
who do not know one another very well, who continue
with optimism to pursue relationship. Eternity
may simply be our mortal default mechanism
set on hope despite all evidence. In this mood,
I roll up my shirtsleeves and she touches my elbow.
I refuse the seedy view from the hotel window.
I picture instead their silver inkstands,
the hoopskirt factory on Arch Street,
the Wireworks, their eighteenth-century herb gardens,
their nineteenth-century row houses restored
with period door knockers.
We have been deeded the largest landscaped space
within a city anywhere in the world. In Fairmount Park,
on horseback, among the ancient ginkgoes, oaks, persimmons,
and magnolias, we are seventeen and imperishable, cutting classes
May of our senior year. And I am happy as the young
Tom Jefferson, unbuttoning my collar, imagining his power,
considering my healthy body, how I might use it in the service
of the country of my pleasure.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Native Americans make up less than
one percent of the population of America.
0.8 percent of 100 percent.
O, mine efficient country.
I do not remember the days before America—
I do not remember the days when we were all here.
Police kill Native Americans more
than any other race. Race is a funny word.
Race implies someone will win,
implies I have as good a chance of winning as—
We all know who wins a race that isn’t a race.
Native Americans make up 1.9 percent of all
police killings, higher than any race,
and we exist as .8 percent of all Americans.
Sometimes race means run.
I’m not good at math—can you blame me?
I’ve had an American education.
We are Americans, and we are less than 1 percent
of Americans. We do a better job of dying
by police than we do existing.
When we are dying, who should we call?
The police? Or our senator?
At the National Museum of the American Indian,
68 percent of the collection is from the U.S.
I am doing my best to not become a museum
of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.
I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.
In an American city of one hundred people,
I am Native American—less than one, less than
whole—I am less than myself. Only a fraction
of a body, let’s say I am only a hand—
and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover,
I disappear completely.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
The night we got bashed we told Rusty how
they drove up, yelled QUEER, threw a hot dog, sped off.
Rusty: Now, is that gaybashing? Or
are they just calling you queer? Good point.
Josey pitied the fools: who buys a perfectly good pack of wieners
and drives around San Francisco chucking them at gays?
And who speeds off? Missing the point, the pleasure of the bash?
Dear bashers, you should have seen the hot dog hit my neck,
the scarf Josey sewed from antique silk kimonos: so gay. You
missed laughing at us, us confused, your raw hot dog on the ground.
Josey and Rusty and Bob make fun of the gaybashers, and I
wash my scarf in the sink. I use Woolite. We worry
about insurance, interest rates. Not hot dogs thrown from F-150s,
homophobic freaks. After the bashing, we used the ATM
in the sex shop next to Annie's Social Club, smiled at the kind
owner, his handlebar mustache. Astrud Gilberto sang tall and tan
and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema... and the dildos
gleamed from the walls, a hundred cheerful colors. In San Francisco
it rains hot dogs, pity-the-fool. Ass-sized penguins, cock after cock in
azure acrylic, butterscotch glass, anyone's flesh-tone, chrome.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
The Calm and Pointless Water
During a trip to Paris, I dreamt my therapist texted me a YouTube clip of a goat lost on a bridge. It was standing on an open grate over calm and pointless water, confused, no food in sight. You are the goat, she wrote me, next to three laugh-cry emojis. I woke up feeling sad and validated. “Am I really the goat?” I asked Anna as we crossed the Boulevard St. Germain, and she winced at the relentless beauty of the buildings. “Of course you are,” she said impassively while looking for a gap in the traffic. The night before, I’d slept with Guillaume, a fashion photographer I met on Grindr, in his attic apartment. His mustache was made of two tiny triangles, like the kind in the mosaic puzzles I used to assemble as a kid. I loved the satisfaction when all the angles fit together. We drank lemonade out of mugs and petted his cat, Dexter, and when a Smiths song came on he told me it reminded him of me, which I chose to believe meant we were in love, just for a second. He shoved together two twin-sized futon mattresses so we could cuddle while we slept. That night I dreamt I was being held by an anonymous man whose face kept changing, like a revolving door: my ex, my father, Mitch, my old poetry teacher, Guillaume. He kept one hand at the base of my navel, the other on my chest. I woke in the gap between mattresses, tried to shimmy them back together, but couldn’t. My therapist once told me we are everything we dream. So I am the goat, the bridge, the calm and pointless water, the laugh-cry emojis, the anonymous man, the changing face, the steady hands. I told this to Anna once we were safely on the other side of the street. “Nope, I think you’re just the goat,” she told me. I didn’t tell her I agreed.
Poem in Which Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Me
I make the train.
And get the job
and pay my rent on time
and don’t get too drunk and don’t send a text
I shouldn’t and always use a condom.
The car does not make an illegal left turn and I do not have to brake hard to avoid it and I do not fly off my bike and flip several feet in the air and I do not land thinking not on my face not on my face hard on my right arm and I do not break my elbow and a mean orthopedist does not tell me I have to move it anyway or risk losing my range of motion and I do not have to teach while on Percocet which is harder and less fun than you might imagine.
None of my friends ever kill themselves.
I never even meet one of them, because I’m never admitted to a psychiatric hospital, because I never try to kill myself, or say I will, or gesture to repeatedly to prevent someone from abandoning me, which, I’ll never learn, is what a therapist I’ll never meet refers to as a “communication tactic.”
In this poem, I don’t even fear abandonment.
Jacques never leaves me, or, I never meet Jacques.
Or we fuck once, or we fuck a few times
but love never enters the building.
Love, in this case, is the bad thing,
or the absence of kindness in the face of love;
so in this poem, wherever there is love
there will be kindness and where there is no kindness
there will be no love.
I don’t hate the feeling of a man inside me, or, there are never any men inside me in this poem and also never any expectations. I am taller and more masculine and everyone who wants to fuck wants me to fuck them.
Another man I love with a French name never pushes me down into the cold concrete of a stairwell and fucks me dry, without a condom. If he fucks me at all, it is tenderly, in an expensive hotel where I do not learn to like it again because I never stopped.
I never offer to suck the dick of the boy I am sharing a hotel room with on a high school trip and he never insists on fucking me and I never say yes and I never say “stop” or can’t remember whether or not I do and this question does not haunt me because it never happens.
When I’m sixteen, a middle-aged man next to me at the opera does not touch my knee and it does not terrify me how much I like it.
I’m never a teenager at all, if it can be arranged. I see the car coming and don’t make the left turn.
My parents never:
keep booze in the house,
name me after it.
There’s still pot in this poem, but I smoke less of it.
I don’t have to keep stopping and starting
to get high and masturbate; this poem pours out of me, easy,
like conversation with strangers at a bar, even when I’m sober,
which I might be sometime at one of the bars in this poem.
There’s nothing I don’t want to write
about. I love writing.
I love my body.
I’m not gay in this poem, or it is not hard to be gay in this poem. Stet—it’s been useful, because it’s been hard.
But not so hard, I’m not forced to come out in the sixth grade, at least—not to my parents, because I never get reported for writing something obscene about Justin Timberlake on an AOL message board, and not to everyone else, because it isn’t so apparent to them already.
In middle school, none of the boys ever follow me around in the hallway between classes, lisping. I don’t have a crush on one of them and he doesn’t ask me out as a joke one day when everyone is hanging out by the picnic tables before school and I don’t find myself somehow relieved that I know it’s a joke the whole time because falling for it would have been way worse.
Phil Bruno doesn’t write an essay for AP English our senior year of high school which is both a personal attack on me and on gay people more generally. He doesn’t read it aloud in front of the entire class and the teacher doesn’t let him finish and I don’t gather my things and walk out. If he does, and I do, I don’t walk straight out of the school without stopping to look at anyone, I go to the principal’s office and raise hell and maybe make a YouTube video about it that I parlay into some small fame. I don’t feel embarrassed about how many times I’ve let him copy my math homework.
In this poem, I get revenge
only from the people who owe it
to me, who is no one.
On Halloween, when I’m nine, the co-pilot of a Boeing 767 en route to Cairo does not crash the plane into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket, just into international waters. If he does, my father’s parents aren’t on board. If the investigation falls under Egypt’s jurisdiction, they don’t lack the necessary resources and ask the US to lead it instead. The US authorities don’t determine that the co-pilot seized the controls, did it on purpose, but can’t explain why. There’s never a second, conflicting investigation, because the Mubarak government doesn’t insist this isn’t true. I never know my father as the child this happens to.
Two years later, I don’t ejaculate for the first time at summer camp, at the hands of a boy who is a year or two older, who I didn’t know before this summer but knew of because he’d gotten kicked out of my elementary school for bringing in a beebee gun. I don’t pretend to be asleep the whole time because I am afraid of him but also afraid
I don’t want him to stop. I don’t tell
our counselors the next day because I don’t know
how to feel about it but recognize it as familiar,
the first bad thing that was done to me, and now
neither of us can stay. I don’t feel guilty about this, for years.
And the first bad thing,
much further back than that,
is not my first memory, or
what I understand to be the first
because over time I have
smoothed and perfected it
like a stone in my palm.
Here my hands are empty.
Here it never happens, so I don’t have to tell you about it.