Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gay Poetry Reading in Singapore


Together with other Singaporean poets, I will be reading my poems at ContraDiction, the second gay poetry reading in Singapore. The reading is on Thu, Aug 3, at 7.30 p.m. Place is Mox Bar, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road, within walking distance from the Tanjong Pagar MRT station. Everyone is invited to the party!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Exilic Time

I’m flying back to Singapore for a two week visit. I don’t know when Singapore stopped feeling like a home to me. It happened earlier than my flight to New York to write poetry and come out as gay. Earlier than my undergraduate years at Oxford when the Anglican church appeared a more favorable spiritual home. National service, with its regimentation, terror and unreason, only confirmed, but not initiated, my feeling of alienation.

The loss of a home is not the same as leaving home. Leaving involves personal choice. In Singapore, you decide to get married, and you leave home to set up a home of your own. In Britain or the States, you leave home to set off on the adventure of college, expecting to make your own way after that decisive break. My American friends who return home to live with their parents after college always speaks of that homecoming with a rueful sheepishness. You don’t have a choice, however, in losing a home. The loss comes to you, whether in the form of a letter or a Boeing megatop, with the force of a humming air-conditioner or that of a hurricane, and you are forced out of the house, even if physically you remain in it. It is exile.

There are two ways of responding to exile. One may strive to return home. If that proves impossible, as it is for Tiananmen dissidents or for Native Americans who don’t have the American plains or wilderness to return to, one re-creates the new world in the image of the old. So, Chinatowns take the place of China. One danger of that first kind of response is fossilization; the home changes, as it must, but the homestead is a mere skeletal record and skeletons, devoid of flesh and blood, do not grow. Perhaps I am turning more British or American in this: I think sheepishness rightfully accompanies such attempts to return to the fold.

The second response is to accept one’s exile as permanent. Not just permanent but the true state of things for oneself, and others. The idea of home then is revealed to be an illusion. Origin is a dream. Parents are a story two strangers tell you and you believe them. The story may even include the realist convention, also called “fact,” of similar DNA. No mother, no father, or what amounts to the same: many mothers and fathers, one wanders wide-awake from house to house. When things get too hard, one closes one’s eyes and dreams of home.

I am persuaded this is the true state of things because of our experience of time. We are exiled from one moment to the next because we don’t have a choice whether we wish to leave that first moment. Time does not ask for our consideration or our decision; it boots us out. We are always alienated from our past, from the minute, the second, that just went by. To dream of returning to that minute, that second, is the work of memory. Against Eliot, Time Past is not Time Present. Time Past is Time Past, and memory is that pathetic effort to delude ourselves about the presentness of the past. There is only the exilic present. IS is an exile, an expatriate or a refugee, I AM already banished from Paradise.

A poetry of place is necessarily nostalgic: New England, old England, Midwest, The West, East Coast, Ivory Coast are switcheroo versions of Eden. A poetry of time, however, is defiantly truthful about our outcast condition. Poetry, written and read in time, confesses the truth of our metaphysical condition: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...”

What are then our loyalties, as exiles, to the past? What does the past deserve of us when it is responsible for turning us out of the first place? Commemoration, intones the historian. Celebration, exults the chauvinist. I say the past deserves nothing of us. Let the dead bury the dead. My loyalties are to the living. Those living in the continuous present of pain, those who pain. And those in the presence of joy.

When in Singapore next week, I will be there for the living. Let me attend to them.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Read Bill Knott

He is consistently original in language and thought, and he is posting his poems on his blog. I read The Unsubscriber, and poem after poem blew me away.

Here's the beginning of the first, and titular, poem of that book:

Like all children, you were a de facto
Member of the Flat Earth Society,
Believing nothing but what you could see
Or touch or whatever sense led act to...

The four lines are the first quatrain of a very contemporary sonnet. His non-reverent use of traditional forms is also an exciting aspect of the book.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Antigone in the Shower

Why should I bury him and die for it,
a sister's blood splashed over a dead brother?
But what is water if it isn't wet?

He led the city while I followed the spit
baptising the brother we called our father.
Why should I bury him and die for it?

Exiled, he partied with the Argive set.
So let his lover bury his own lover,
for what is water if it isn't wet?

He led the Argive army to commit
treason. My brother killed my brother
(Why should I bury him?) and died for it.

The gods will understand. I will forget
this foolishness. I must finish my shower.
Why should I bury him? To die for it.
What is water if it isn't wet?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Long Slide

"When I see a couple of kids/And guess he’s fucking her...” Philip Larkin

In the American season of paradise,
I hear through the plywood wall
my roommate fucking his girl at 3 a.m.
They mouth the same script every time,
he going aargh, Aargh! she yelping,

to encourage him, perhaps. In my poetry
workshop, the girls fuck their dads, their mums,
their best friends’ pets, and the poems
never sound happy. They always blame
their dads, their mums, the pets, themselves

or they complain a good fuck doesn’t last.
I start a poem about a good fuck
but it slumps into a complaint in the end.
It refuses to be happy, as if sadness,
or badness, is the only mirror for the soul

and the only way to end a fucking poem.
Rather than words comes the thought of a slide,
long, but not straight long, curling long
round and down, and the slider sliding down
so fast he keeps catching sight of himself.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sexual Harassment

It’s hardly my fault. There I was
reading Maurice in a corner seat
when this brownhaired undergrad
staggered in with a stack of books
and decked them all on the low table

between us. His quick fingers browsed
the shelved bookspines, parted them
and shoved returns into the gap.
I tried to read the face of his back
but his thick checked shirt was a curtain.

Then he reached for the higher ledge,
as if putting his hands up on the wall,
and drew his drape up slightly.
The sun lit the line of hair that slid
from the torso’s nape into the jeans.

Given to ogling at stage-flats,
non-interactive things, I held
my paperback like a program.
He did not catch me looking at
him when he turned to pick up books.

Chastity-belted in thermal wear,
my groin snarled, I admit, to chance
the law’s, and his, displeasure, bang
him on the table, send books flying
off dusty shelves, medieval racks,

but I honestly swear I did not lay
the tiniest finger on him, I did not
say a single word, and certainly
did not, despite the book, hope
he’d escape with me into the wood.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

7. Parting Gifts

The seventh, and last, part of the sequence:
1. Hotel Peninsula
2. Daylilies
3. Clear Wrap
4. Visual Sense
5. Galapagos
6. Natural History

7. Parting Gifts

I know you told me not to get you anything from Singapore, but I really wanted to give you something…

Here’s one more for your album. Let me give you Queens,
the one borough you did not see. A boulevard
of body shops and billboards, it’s an old graveyard
abandoned by the Irish and Italians it weans

from suckling at familiar pubs and tombstone tits.
Others have moved in, with their gods and groceries,
and make (lawyers as mediums) with authorities
their various accommodations, their different debts.

In the day they maneuver, working their controls,
their bodies up the levels and around the screen.
At night they play the same game, only the scene
has changed. The pitch or maze or city is the soul’s,

in which the aim, as in the day, is mastery.
Opening bakeries or books needs a sharp eye.
Practice makes love, and taekwando, perfect. Try
again because we cannot afford mystery.

And this is why your long-sleeved shirts mean much to me.
I need not get them myself. I don’t have to change
my body or the shirts. Isn’t it simply strange,
though you don’t know my size, they fit me to a T?

Monday, July 17, 2006

6. Natural History

I've posted this before but out of sequence. So here it is, the sixth part of my as-yet-untitled sequence:
1. Hotel Peninsula
2. Daylilies
3. Clear Wrap
4. Visual Sense
5. Galapagos

6. Natural History

I've come to change my mind about Americans. Am sitting in the American wing at the museum...

This is the dinosaur mummy, fossilized thing
of mesozoic flesh, tendons and tubercles
bumpy as birds’ feet. The cladogram labels
the features of Charles Sternberg’s find in Wyoming.

This diorama of the black mountain gorilla,
conceived by Carl Akeley who loved Mount Mikeno
and buried himself there, is backed by that volcano.
The tutsan tree, the pendant bedstraw, so real! Ah,

the Yakut Shaman! Slipping into a deep trance
to free this sleeping woman captured by demons.
A faithful record based on Waldemar Jochelson’s
description of a true tobacco-influenced dance.

Here’s the American wearing his bible belt
below protuberant waist, his nonflammable flag
flying above him. The precision of that price tag!
And see, this life-sized cast, his hero, Roosevelt.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

5. Galapagos

Fifth part of a sequence:
1. Hotel Peninsula
2. Daylilies
3. Clear Wrap
4. Visual Sense

5. Galapagos

Isn’t it possible to have a great conversation with a gay man without talking about sex...

We shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about Jacques Torres hot chocolate on Water Street
nor Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory in summer heat.
No more talk about sex. We shall talk about New York.

We shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about the bags and multiple pairs of shoes
you bought from Macy’s, nor the round-island cruise
we never took. Yes, we shall talk about New York,

we shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about Darwin and natural selection though
we have observed the turtles of Galapagos.
We shall not talk about reptile sex in New York;

we shall not talk about sex. We shall not talk
about that Arab waiter we both eyed at Tut
nor the white woman at the harpsichord my gut
yearned for so much I could not talk. This is New York

where, if we shan’t talk about sex, we shan’t talk
about the ebony black man on the F train
ranting, I’ll kill ya, black bitch, to the windowpane
of everyone’s blank face. We shall talk about New York.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Stevie Smith

I love reading Stevie Smith. She always cheers me up, or haunts me, even when it is a poem I have read several times. She is the girl with whom I run away into the woods, the older sister I curl up against, knowing that she is as frightened as I am but pretends that being lost is quite fun, really. Not that she does not acknowledge her own fears. But she tells of them in stories that charm me, and make me laugh or cry.

Scorpion

'This night shall thy soul be required of thee'
My soul is never required of me
It always has to be somebody else of course
Will my soul be required of me tonight perhaps?

(I often wonder what it will be like
To have one's soul required of one
But all I can think of is the Out-Patients' Department--
'Are you Mrs Briggs, dear?'
No, I am Scorpion.)

I should like my soul to be required of me, so as
To waft over grass till it comes to the blue sea
I am very fond of grass, I always have been, but there must
Be no cow, person or house to be seen.

Sea and grass must be quite empty
Other souls can find somewhere else.

O Lord God please come
And require the soul of thy Scorpion

Scorpion so wishes to be gone.


Dickinson sounds a similar note in her "I am Nobody. Who are You?/Are you nobody too?" But Smith's varied line lengths and irregular rhyme schemes are more whimsical and exploratory at the same time. Her irregular form encompasses a greater range of tones within one poem: the aggrieved lament of "My soul is never required of me;" the faux naivete of "I often wonder what it will be like;" the comedy in the comparison to the Out-Patients' Department; the epiphanic "I am Scorpion" (the surprise enhanced by the rhyme with "one"); and the wistful yearning of the conclusion "Scorpion so wishes to be gone." There are idiosyncracies, as in the use of italics for emphasis, just as Dickinson uses the dash for her own individual purposes, but the idiosyncracies feel more conversational than programmatic or formal or, if one wishes to be mean, pretentious. Smith's music flexes to suit her different tones.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

4. Visual Sense

The fourth part of a series that should be read in sequence:
1. Hotel Peninsula
2. Daylilies
3. Clear Wrap

4. Visual Sense

Thank you for making it comfortable for me—the meals, the leisurely sightseeing, the photos that you so gamely took so that I won’t look like an ant.

You know how hopeless a photographer I am.
With no manual knack, I own no visual sense,
not enough anyway to frame beautiful scenes
into souvenirs. Thank goodness for the Digicam!

Freed to retake my mistakes in memory sticks,
I reached for Liberty’s diadem-spears and torch.
You, my dear R., appeared the size of a cockroach,
a poor picture among the improvised picnics.

Focused on you, your pixie, but not pixelled, face,
another photo showed your Mona Lisa smile,
but Liberty became the grayish granite wall
guarding the entrance into the American base.

Lying down to shoot upwards, like in my bed,
I saw you stand shoulder to shoulder with Liberty.
From that temporary place, I also captured me
and, looming over me, Liberty’s handsome head.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

3. Clear Wrap

The third part of a series which needs to be read in sequence. The first two sections are:
1. Hotel Peninsula
2. Daylilies

3. Clear Wrap

Friends are the flowers in life’s garden.

I brought you a long-stemmed rose wrapped in cellophane,
bought from the Peas ‘N’ Pickles in my neighborhood.
It was a birthday gift. It also said: I would
love you always. You said it wilted on the plane.

Monday, July 10, 2006

2. Daylilies

This is the second part of a series I'm writing on a friend's visit to NYC. It should be read after the first part, "Hotel Peninsula."


2. Daylilies

I normally don’t comment much about my surroundings as I prefer to absorb whatever I see, take in the sights. It’s like if I talk, I’m afraid I will ‘lose’ whatever I’m trying to keep in my heart.

There was a Chinese garden in the Garden of
my memory: paper lanterns flying to the moon-
shaped entrance to an artificial, green lagoon
reflecting the pagodas and lotuses above.

Perhaps I fell in the lake after you said you cried
on seeing Hangchow’s bridges span its wide canals.
Perhaps a Chinese garden forms in all locales
where past and present, hurrying to meet, collide.

Perhaps. The fact remains my memory was wrong.
Also mistook the name of your hotel, Pennsylvania,
for my Peninsula. My vast metropolismania
constructs a virtual city where I may belong.

But you were staying in Penn’s Woods, and in the Bronx
we walked through native forest the geography
teacher in you explained, quietly—canopy,
understory and floor—then glimpsed two quick chipmunks

hurrying into the shrubs. Cheeky reminder that
we weren’t back home ascending Bukit Timah Hill,
chaperoning students, ignorant and shrill,
to a new knowledge of who they were: our brats.

You paused, and read a steel botanical sign.
That tree, a pine-like species, was deciduous—
a fact that contradicted the world known to us
who thought that every conifer was evergreen.

We walked on, slightly changed, around the real estate
camouflaged by daylily and rose gardens. Dazed
by the noon sun to silence, we walked on, amazed
before our bodies caught up with us at the gate.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Reading Muriel Rukeyser

Rukeyser's first book, Theory of Flight, won the Yale Younger Poets Award when she was twenty-one. "Sand Quarry with Moving Figures" turns her father's construction business, which made the family rich, into an evocative account of the distance between speaker and father. Landscape, narrative details and dialogue are skilfully deployed to set up the stumbling descent into hell:


Father and I drove to the sand-quarry across the ruined marshlands,
miles of black grass, burned for next summer's green.
I reached my hand to his beneath the lap-robe,
we looked at the stripe of fire, the blasted scene.

"It's all right," he said, "they can control the flames,
on one side men are standing, and on the other the sea;"
but I was terrified of stubble and waste of black
and his ugly villages he built and was showing me.

The countryside turned right and left about the car,
straight through October we drove to the pit's heart;
sand, and its yellow canyon and standing pools
and the wealth of the split country set us farther apart.

"Look," he said, "this quarry means rows of little houses,
stucco and a new bracelet for you are buried there;"
but I remembered the ruined patches, and I saw the land ruined,
exploded, burned away, and the fiery marshes bare.

"We'll own the countryside, you'll see how soon I will,
you'll have acres to play in" : I saw the written name
painted on stone in the face of the steep hill:
"That's your name, Father! "And yours!" he shouted, laughing.

"No, Father, no!" He caught my hand as I cried,
and smiling, entered the pit, ran laughing down its side.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

1. Hotel Peninsula

I'm writing a series of poems for a very good friend of mine who visited New York City for the first time last month. The writing is gaining in momentum though my ideas on the narrative, characters and themes are only developing as I write. So the pieces posted are rougher than my usual ones. Here's the first part:

1. Hotel Peninsula

Thanks for bringing me around New York City! Have enjoyed my time with you, especially when it’s just me and you alone...

Who did I think I went to meet at JFK?
A friend, of course, of ten uneven years, an ex-
colleague, a Malay woman, to whom race and sex
counted for less than yet another damn birthday,

at least on your first outing to my new birthplace;
the first old friend I told about my first boyfriend,
an outing of a different kind that puts an end
to false romantic barricades like age and race.

You saw me before Hudson News, and recognized
what? My face? Arms folded across blue tee? A glow?
Convenient signs that told you where to find Cosmo
or me on your arrival. Defamiliarized

through your dark eyes, I saw my solid ghost direct
the cab to Madison Square Garden, overheard
me overhearing the Algerian driver flirt
on his cellphone, and worried your trip would be wrecked.

The Honda trundled through the tunnel of the night
lit by occasional lamps jammed in the black wall.
No sights worth seeing. No names I could name at all
except self-interpreting road signs, green and trite.

Then, at the tunnel’s end, light reached in and pulled us
out before straightening itself up to skyline.
Manhattan! I cried needlessly. It was a sign
recognized from movie screen and moving bus.

All too quickly the image decomposed to dots
and dashes as we entered the electric grid.
Cars, bikes and skateboards powered down the roads or slid
round corners where lovers and World Cup idiots

milled in confusion before flowing to the four
compass directions. The Algerian navigated
us to Hotel Peninsula, accepted the fated
fee and, still sporting with love, pushed off from the shore.

Peninsula! A name that conjured vast pictures
of home—pasir, bukit, sungei, kuala, pulau—
and travel—beach, hill, river, estuary, island—
a name you chose from hundreds in online brochures

as if to find, in this old island, an isthmus
between friends, straight woman and homosexual man,
between what are, in this new grid, familiar and
recognizable, sign and meaning, between us.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Natural History

This is the dinosaur mummy, fossilized thing
of mesozoic flesh, tendons and tubercles
bumpy as birds’ feet. The cladogram labels
the features of Charles Sternberg’s find in Wyoming.

This diorama of the black mountain gorilla,
conceived by Carl Akeley who loved Mount Mikeno
and buried himself there, is backed by that volcano.
The tutsan tree, the pendant bedstraw, so real! Ah,

the Yakut Shaman! Slipping into a deep trance
to free this sleeping woman captured by demons.
A faithful record based on Waldemar Jochelson’s
description of a true tobacco-influenced dance.

Here’s the American wearing his bible belt
below protuberant waist, his nonflammable flag
flying above him. The precision of that price tag!
And see, this life-sized cast, his hero, Roosevelt.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

L. E. Sissman

I read Anthony Hecht's poem "To L. E. Sissman, 1928-1976" week before last (in his Collected Later Poems, a magisterial, in both senses of the word, volume) without knowing who the dead dedicatee is, and promptly forgot the name though not the poem. On a trip to the local secondhand bookstore here in Brooklyn Heights, I picked up Sissman's first volume of poems, Dying: An Introduction, because of its beguiling use of meter. After reading and enjoying most of it, I was surprised to find the same name topping Hecht's poem to which I returned, Later.

Here's a section showing how Hecht praises Sissman's poetry:

Dear friend, whose poetry of Brooklyn flats
And poker sharps broacasts the tin pan truths
Of all our yesterdays, speaks to our youths
In praise of both Wallers, Edmund and Fats,

And will be ringing in some distant ear
Whem the Mod-est, last immodesty fatigues,
All Happenings have happened, the Little Leagues
Of Pop and pop-fly poets disappear

To join with all their perishable lines
The Edsel, Frug, beau monde of Buzzard's Gulch,
The wisdom and the wit of Raquel Welch,
"And connoisseurs of California wines."

How quickly Hecht moves from Sissman's poetry to a a Parnassian dismissal of Pop poetry is breathtaking indeed. I do enjoy the punning "Brooklyn flats" and "poker sharps" and the turn of phrase in "ringing in some distant ear." What about the man himzelf, Sissman?

It's hard to extract something good from Dying because most of the poems achieve their effect through narrative drama and psychological shading. His imagery does not dazzle or puzzle. His narrative poems are written in supple blank verse or heroic couplets; the few lyrics showcase a beautiful mastery of stanzaic form. He is heavily influenced by Larkin and Eliot (heh, my heroes too!). The first poem, "Going Home" has a Larkin epigraph: "Home is so sad. It stays as it was left...," and the penultimate poem, the title poem, another line from the Lark: "Always too eager for future, we/Pick up bad habits of expectancy." But Sissman does not have the cynical world-weariness of the Lark; his spirit, though humorous and witty, is mild and meek. For me, his most moving and successful (are the two the same?) poem in this collection is the Eliotically titled "Sweeney to Mrs Porter in the Spring." The poem reveals as great an empathy for women as its referee's antipathy. The extract begins in the middle of stanza 4. Splendid is the name of the bar, where Mrs Porter waits for Sweeney to join her: "Just look at Mrs Porter

Preparing to unfold,
In the dark bar, a letter from her daughter,

A beauty operator in Ladue,
And to remasticate the lovely tale
Of ranch and Pontiac, washed down with ale
Cold from the Splendid bowels, while waiting for
Her unrefined but true
Love's shape to shade the frosted-glass front door.

(skip a stanza)

She, like a pile of black rugs, stirs to hear
His two-tone horn just outside, heralding
The coming of both Sweeney and the spring.
Inside, he greets her as before, "Hi Keed,"
While Wilma lays his beer
and whiskey down between them and gets paid.

His knotty fingers, tipped with moons of dirt,
Lock on the shot of Seagram's, which he belts
And chases with a swig of Knick. Nobody else
Could comfort them except their old selves, who
Preserve, worn but unhurt,
The common knowledge of a thing or two

They did together under other moons.
Now the Splendid night begins again,
Unkinking cares, alleviating pain,
Permitting living memories to flood
This country for old men
With spring, their green tongues speaking from the mud.


L. E. Sissman is born on New Year's Day, 1928, in Detroit....He attended Harvard College, was "thrown out for laziness and insubordination," was readmitted, won the Garrison Poetry Prize, and graduated with honors. He worked at all kinds of jobs, from Fuller Brush salesman to Prentice Hall copyeditor... In due course he entered advertising.... He and his wife live in Still River, Massachusetts (from the back cover of Dying: An Introduction).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty"

I finally got round to reading "The Line of Beauty" after buying it from "Bon Voyage" in Provincetown. I had sensed that I would enjoy reading the novel, and putting it off was a way of enjoying the luxury of anticipation. It is a beautiful novel, saturated by desire--sex, power, class, wealth--intimacies thwarted one way or another except for the intimacy of individual aesthetic appreciation, in reading or appreciating fine furniture or architecture. The protagonist's self-willed illusion is that the appreciation of beauty can bring one closer to lovers, politicians, patricians and millionaires. Here is the protagonist, in bed with his male Arab British lover, explaining the novel's title:

He slept there from time to time, in the fantasy of the canopied bed, with its countless pillows. The ogee curve was repeated in the mirrors and pelmets and in the wardrobes, which looked like Gothic confessionals; but its grandest statement was in the canopy of the bed, made of two transecting ogees crowned by a boss like a huge wooden cabbage. It was as he lay beneath it, in uneasy post-coital vacancy, that the idea of calling Wani's outfit (a magazine publishing company--my words) Ogee had come to him: it had a rightness to it, being both English and exotic, like so many things he loved. The ogee curve was pure expression, decorative not structural; a structure could be made from it, but it supported nothing more than a boss or the cross that topped an onion dome. Wani was distant after sex, as if assessing a slight to his dignity. He turned his head aside in thoughtful grievance. Nick looked for reassurance in remembring social triumphs he had had, clever things he had said. He expounded the ogee to an appreciative friend, who was briefly the Duchess, and then Catherine, and then a different lover from Wani. The double curve was Hogarth's "line of beauty," the snakelike flicker of an instinct, of two compulsions held in one unfolding movement. He ran his hand down Wani's back. He didn't think Hogarth had illustrated the best example of it, the dip and swell--he had chosen harps and branches, bones rather than flesh. Really it was time for a new Analysis of Beauty.


By the end of the novel, Hollinghurst has transmuted his protagonist's longings, bound by his time, class and sex, into "a love of the world that is shockingly unconditional." The last sentences echo T. S. Eliot's "Preludes" fittingly. After seeing Wani, sick with AIDs, off to the wedding of a duchess' son, Nick leaves Wani's postmodern apartment:

The little car was jammed full of boxes and curled heaps of clothes on hangers. It sat low on its springs, under all these possessions heavy as passengers. Nick stood by it, still thinking, and then drifted unexpectedly down the street. The pavement was dry now in patches, but the sky was threatening and fast-moving. The tall white house-fronts had a muted gleam. It came over him that the test-result would be positive. The words that were said every day to others would be said to him, in that quiet consulting room whose desk and carpet and square modern armchair would share indissolubly in the moment. There was a large tranquil photograph in a frame, and a view of the hospital chimney from the window. He was young, without much training in stoicism. What would he do once he left the room? He dawdled on, rather breathless, seeing visions in the middle of the day. He tried to rationalize the fear, but its pull was too strong and original. It was inside himself, but the world around him, the parked cars, the cruising taxi, the church spire among the trees, had also been changed. They had been revealed. It was like a drug sensation, but without the awareness of play. The motorcyclist who lived over the road clumped out in his leathers and attended to his bike. Nick ganzed at him and then looked away in a regret that held him and glazed him and kept him apart. There was nothing this man could do to help him. None of his friends could save him. The time came, and they learned the news in the room they were in, at a certain moment in their planned and continuing day. They woke the next morning, and after a while it came back to them. Nick searched their faces as they explored their feelings. He seemed to fade pretty quickly. He found himself yearning to know of their affairs, their successes, the novels and the new ideas that the few who remembered him might say he never knew, he never lived to find out. It was the morning's vision of the empty street, but projected far forward, into afternoons like this one decades hence, in the absent hum of their own business. The emotion was startling. It was a sort of terror, made up of emotions from every stage of his short life, weaning, homesickness, envy and self pity; but he felt that the self-pity belonged to a larger pity. It was a love of the world that was shockingly unconditional. He stared back at the house, and then turned and drifted on. He looked in bewilderment at number 24, the final house with its regalia of stucco swags and bows. It wasn't just this street corner but the fact of a street corner at all that seemed, in the light of the moment, so beautiful.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

If the Fire Is in Your Apartment

You live in a combustible building, love,
so warns the fire notice on your door.
Sure, the apartment is controlled for rent,
above a laundromat and liquor store,

but have you not observed the plaster tear
and the hardwood floor curl its long-nailed toes
when flames, for regulated gas, consent
and sear cod fillet and asparagus?

Or when you plugged in the a.c. with hand
damp from an afternoon of sex, were shocked
by the hideous circuit hidden in cement,
unplanned combustion in what’s built and blocked

from us who live in this construction sham.
So read this notice. Plan your escape route.
Run if things ignite, despite intent,
and hammer every door on your way out.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why I Cannot Be a Muslim

Of the five acts prescribed by the Prophet
for purity—plucking the hair from armpit,
clipping the moustache, slivering the nails,
shaving the pubes, removing the foreskin—

I have obeyed and performed only one
(my nails are short), another ritual act
being impossible since I keep my face
clean shaven to receive the kiss of sun,

so I must represent impurity,
hair and skin growing in disfavored places,
shedding apart from or against my will
on wash basins, enamelled baths, and bodies,

but I will still keep my fingernails short
for making love, the teeth’s ferocity
notwithstanding, for moving on the stretch
inside, without a puncture or a scratch,

and I will still shave my face every day,
no party to the Prophet’s clipped moustache
nor to his foes, the beardless polytheists,
still rave about earth’s sun-woven toupee.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

For Lonely

Lying on top of you, my arms and knees
support my body even as I grope
for how much of me your frame will carry.

You hold me closer, you’re not heavy. So
I lean a ladder into you, step hard
up, and clamber to the top window

to hear you play Chopin’s Etude in C
Minor. I enter through the window and drop
into your room. I sit down quietly.

You come to a passage hazardous and slow
like footsteps on decaying floorboards
of an old house. The pedal mutes the piano.

Then I become afraid you will not be
playing, beside me, with such quiet hope
forever, for night-fall, for lonely,

and what that will do to me. I tiptoe
to the window while stroking your forehead,
lean back into myself, walk away below.