I have changed Sections 6 and 10 drastically, and made what I hope are improvements to the other sections. I am too close to the poem right now to judge its worth, but I need to give it a tentatively finished form before I can leave it alone and go on to other things. The change in the title should clarify the form and approach of the poem.
An Essay after Adrienne Rich's "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law"
1. "You, once a belle in Shreveport"
One of the tallest boys of Class 1A,
you posed against the older scouts, front
double biceps, back lat spread, side chest,
taut postures you studied in muscle mags
while night coaching your little flared dick.
You were only half surprised when you won.
Though the other boys had more to show,
you threw your hardest punch into the hand
you raised. You crushed your abdominals
as if jumping on a soda can you tossed.
Your heart was still flushed the day after
when a patrol leader, with strawberry for lips,
grabbed and congratulated you, Mr. 01 Scout!
Your arm jerked shut before you could smile,
quicker, stronger, than you could catch.
2. "she hears the angels chiding, and looks out"
The angels fell silent after you had left the church,
the boxy Baptist church converted from a cinema,
where you learned the parts of sinner and saint
with a cast of ten thousand. The drama was epic.
The stern trumpets died. You were on your own, outside.
Afraid of being seen by someone you knew, a student,
his parent, friend of a friend, a pair of shopping cousins,
you shuffled past the gay bar in Chinatown, shuttered
and safe in the day. You hung round in deadbeat malls.
You collapsed back into the couch and flicked the TV on.
From where I sit, looking out into drizzly New York,
the boyfriend sleeping in on Sunday, I could hardly
tell your desperate boredom, the two for one jingle.
I call out to you, but a small figure on the big screen
you thought you heard your name and slipped away.
3. “The beak that grips her, she becomes”
The monstrous, wrote Montaigne, is monstrous
only because we don’t know the whole universe.
The two headed child, the lady rough with beard,
the man who screeches for joy when ass fucked
are unremarkable phenomena on another planet.
Stuck on an island of belief, washed by disbelief,
you worked and kept your head down, terrified
that your second head would burst your shirt collar
to silence your complaining boss. You dreamed in bed
of a cock fat as a soda can and woke in phantom pain.
Change scene, another island. Montaigne’s planet,
where men want to marry and raise kids with men,
where every person can be both equal and special.
Here I want to be normal as much as the next man,
but there are nights I hear the bearded lady speak.
4. “the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn”
Be nice was the rule you were trained to live by.
You greeted, thanked, raised your hand, apologized.
You gave up your seat. You opened the door. You
waited in line for the promotion others fought for.
All this you licked because you hankered to be liked.
Even now my best thought has the basest motive
as the head is ineluctably pinned down by the ass.
To be any stronger I will have to meet with scorn,
to court its sneer, to close with its backhanded
compliment, to heave its hint, be thrown, and to rise.
In terms closer to this Advent: no longer to be
stabled in a stall, a baby tickled by the straw,
but a long limbed, clear eyed savior, crowing
under a crown of thorns while stapled to the cross.
To raise a hand by causing the body to be raised.
5. “she shaves her legs until they gleam”
Hot water running, you can shave your balls
until they glide, pimply like a plucked chicken.
You can hit the weights, on a strict schedule,
and experiment with protein drinks and diet
to cultivate the body like a hothouse plant.
But you cannot take the chisel to the chin,
you cannot change the muddy eyes for sky
or wash the tar off the imaginary blond,
you cannot bleach the skin like a nice shirt
without looking monstrous in a nice shirt.
Sometimes you think you left your country
to get away from you. Sometimes you think
you left to get to some beautiful idea of you.
My likeness, you left everything to get to me.
My brother, I am everything that you have left.
6. “love, for you the only natural action”
The way the body bops to the jukebox’s be,
the louche sunlight at dawn, the martini’s torch,
the burst of a raspberry on the tip of the tongue,
are such persuasive proofs of love’s naturalness
you forget that love is also more than natural.
The truth that will never be told to the gardener
is that love must grow in order to stay love,
not flower, ripen, die, replanted, that old cycle,
but accumulate by slow rotation in a crucible
requirements from a supersaturated solution.
As a silicon crystal attracts random molecules
to turn semi-conductor in a radio or solar panel,
I organize the bits of love that come to me,
airport fingerprinting, fairground fingerpainting,
into an integrated circuit, into a life.
7. “who fought with what she partly understood”
The Czech do not hope… they have been through too much,
said the pale Irish-looking girl back home for Christmas.
They eat their cabbage and down their homemade brandy.
They don’t understand why Americans reject healthcare.
Groups are suspicious. They remind them of Communism.
Her voice to your ears was soft, unassertive, careful,
much older than her years, unAmerican, European.
Differently from the important announcement on C-Span
that the Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,
she talked about the textbook she is helping to design
to teach Indian children their grandparents’ language
before the last surviving speakers disappear and leave
behind tape recordings, dictionaries and textbooks.
What does it mean for me to be doing this? she mused.
She asked your question. Silence, enormous and eloquent.
8. “like the memory of refused adultery”
What does it mean for you to be doing this, to write
poems that take for their departure women poets,
as if waving goodbye to your Ma at the airport gate,
she crying with familiar tears, you impatient to go
but obliged to stay, guilt at your feet like your bags?
Or is it an effort to understand women’s rage,
its different temperatures, women’s happiness,
its predilections and dilations, women’s grief,
its consequences, and who better to approach
than your colleagues—counterparts—the women poets?
When your teen sister complained of a tummy ache,
you were afraid that your semen, spilled with high
delirium, had swum from the bath into her.
Not sex but you take the words of the women poets in,
delirious words that stir up a disturbance, me.
9. “Our blight has been our sinecure”
An American reviewer once praised your poetry
for using English far better than native speakers.
A straight man walked up to you after a reading
to say how human were the poems on anal sex,
his girlfriend adding, how perceptive. For a man,
she meant but didn’t say. For an Asian. For a gay.
You could live on these poisoned scraps, toss off
the soda and let the gas expand to fill your hunger.
Or you could return these allowances, saying to one,
I am a native speaker, to the other two, Fuck off.
Or you could do what I usually do, banquet
off the table groaning with dishes in the wilderness,
and trust your body to extract strength from trash,
discarding the rest through the alimentary method,
and trust your soul, when it is stretched by gas, to burp.
10. “more merciless to herself than history”
If time is male, as Rich accuses, place is female.
Cave, hearth, woods, ocean, satellite, and space
are so many reiterations of the womb
that no place does not hold me back like mother,
most plaintively when pushing me to run and play.
See this room, rented for a time, is now a home,
all its material comforts have turned maternal,
the soft duvet, the morning light, the cup of coffee,
all reassure me that my life is going well,
that I can’t do more than what I am able to.
Will you, the man who is not who I am, the boy
who punched the air when styled Mr. 01 Scout,
the star who left the set, the stranger who heard
the bearded lady and the beautiful Irish girl,
will you be more merciless to yourself than I?
Beneath the noise of factions, beyond the silent music,
I hear the breathing of a will to overcome,
denied, half acknowledged, strong or staccato,
the eye that deepens photographs with shadows.
I look up from this poem when you hold my shoulders,
your few belongings in your waterproof rucksack,
to kiss me goodbye before leaving for the future.
I want to detain you by pulling you down to the bed,
unwrap your smooth body of its furry coverings,
but I refrain. Instead, I close your hand over this token:
In this leveling age, it is still possible to be noble.
Nothing but what you fight others for is yours.
As you struggle against the hollow of the thigh,
he will change in his face to monster, god and you.
Nothing but what you fight yourself for is yours.