Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poem: Soft Depths


At first he went to Cairo for the lads,
whom he saw from his hotel window
passing through the market stalls
like unacknowledged gods.
Then he found himself
passing for a local, winning
the confidence of the black-toothed elders,
uttering an automatic
prayer when the minaret floated
its call. He knew
he could never be a Muslim,
but he loved the religion’s seriousness,
the gravity
in the brown eyes of his lover
who stepped out of a starry robe
to climb under his covers.


He liked sun-tanning on Christopher Street pier
where other sun-tanners slept on the grass
like so many fish. He liked the idea
they were happy out of
their element.
The grass blades bristled, the ants
with their busy jaws scavenged
what the summer gas had poisoned.
But the sun-tanners were not dead yet,
they were dreaming
of limbs and lungs,
and the unaccustomed sun of mammal sex.


He washed carefully,
glad to be out of the cold
that was reducing his gang at the pier.
He almost gave himself up to the Shelter
but remembered its ranks of army cots.
The stranger looked sane,
and he could hear him in the bedroom,
rattling down the blinds.
He dried himself with the thick, white towel.
The towels at home were washed to frayed white,
dirty with disappearing colors.
Here, with some luck,
he could do as he pleased, and the stranger
would not hit him
after they jizzed his sheets.


His own snoring woke him.
One moment he was lost to himself,
the next a black light flicked on.
Swimming up towards that light,
his mind strained with an accumulated effort
that grew less
as the water gave way.
When he broke the surface, he saw
Kelvin curled up against him,
the position he—his boyfriend!—liked best,
his face mild as milk.


After his workout, he took off
his shirt, and admired the man—
thickening shoulders, deepening chest—
the mirror returned to him.
He was so close to his reappearance
he could hug him
with his muscular arms.


He had a runner’s build but hated running.
He rooted
his toes
into the public park
and grew from his fingers
rose bushes.
He would not run, would not
ignite his lungs
and raze the flower’s thorn and leaf,
but let decay
take its slow, stationary course.


When he was down he sank so deep
into his bed he could not get up
from its soft depths
no handhold in the hours no step
in the stairwell of his breathing no
Pierre to drag him up
by the neck
with the hempen rope of his voice.


When the fog of blood cleared,
he found his right limbs
and then his left. The leg
had fallen like a walking stick.
The arm was screwed to him
like a door handle
he could not reach
to leave the relentless ward.


Though he wore the body of a woman,
he knew he was a man. He didn’t care
to assume public privileges nor assert
private virtues. The knowledge
was not political, not moral, but tricky
like déjà vu,
flickering like memory,
and, sometimes, descending
like understanding.
Some of the men he spoke with
said that was how they knew it too.


He estimated the cab fare
from sugar to quietus,
and carried the metal sum in his mouth
when he took his first trick home.
He still remembered the man
had excellent teeth, and how sweet
the stirring, and then
the disappearing.


His spiritual home was a beach hotel
in winter, where,
past the doors of the departed,
the reception desk
with its idle key hooks,
the cane armchairs on the verandah
cradling their own
dead tree,
he walked out to the sea
and called his name over and over.


He had been thrashing for so long
that when the divorce came, like a ship,
he had no strength to hail it
but watched it pass, and bobbed
in its wake.


Finally there was the dancing on the roof
he danced to satisfy
himself, sometimes
with another wriggling soul,
sometimes with a
rapturous hip, sometimes all alone
above the drumming columns of a beat,
dancing and dying on his feet.

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