Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun. It’s not my own face I see there, but other faces, even your face at another age. Whatever’s lost there is needed by both of us - a watch of old gold, a water-blurred fever chart, a key … Even the silt and pebbles of the bottom deserve their glint of recognition. I fear this silence, this inarticulate life. I’m waiting for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water for once and show me what I can do for you, who have often made the unnameable nameable for others, even for me.
Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies our telephone calls. She knows - what can she know? If in my human arrogance I claim to read her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts: that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort, that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh further than the dense brain could have foretold, that the planetary nights are growing cold for those on the same journey, who want to touch one creature-traveler clear to the end; that without tenderness, we are in hell.
For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays But Wish They Weren’t So Blatant(Pat Parker)
You know, some people got a lot of nerve. Sometimes I don’t believe the things I see and hear.
Have you met the woman who’s shocked by two women kissing and in the same breath, tells you she is pregnant? BUT gays, shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or this straight couple sits next to you in a movie and you can’t hear the dialogue because of the sound effects. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
And the woman in your office spends an entire lunch hour talking about her new bikini drawers and how much her husband likes them. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or the “hip” chick in your class rattling like a mile a minute while you’re trying to get stoned in the john, about the camping trip she took with her musician boyfriend. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
You go in a public bathroom and all over the walls there’s John loves Mary, Janice digs Richard, Pepe loves Delores, etc., etc. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Or you go to an amusement park and there’s a tunnel of love and pictures of straights painted on the front and grinning couples are coming in and out. BUT gays shouldn’t be so blatant.
Fact is, blatant heterosexuals are all over the place. Supermarkets, movies, on your job, in church, in books, on television every day day and night, every place—even—in gay bars and they want gay men and women to go and hide in the closet.
So to you straight folks I say, “Sure, I’ll go if you go too” BUT I’m polite so, after you.
History may say what it wishes in Egypt name Egypt, for me, is the most beloved and most beautiful of things. I love her when she owns the earth, east and west. And I love her when she is down, wounded in a battle. I love her fiercely, gently and with modesty. I hate her and curse her with the passion of the lovesick. I leave her and flee down one path, and she remains in another. She turns to find me beside her in misfortune. My veins pulsating with a thousand tunes and rhythms. In Egypt’s name.
And you as well must die, beloved dust, And all your beauty stand you in no stead, This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head, This body of flame and steel, before the gust Of Death, or under his autumnal frost, Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead Than the first leaf that fall, —- this wonder fled. Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour. In spite of all my love, you will arise Upon that day and wander down the air Obscurely as the unattended flower, It mattering not how beautiful you were, Or how beloved above all else that dies.
It’s neither red nor sweet. It doesn’t melt or turn over, break or harden, so it can’t feel pain, yearning, regret.
It doesn’t have a tip to spin on, it isn’t even shapely— just a thick clutch of muscle, lopsided, mute. Still, I feel it inside its cage sounding a dull tattoo: I want, I want— but I can’t open it: there’s no key. I can’t wear it on my sleeve, or tell you from the bottom of it how I feel. Here, it’s all yours, now— but you’ll have to take me, too.
My mother forbade us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead, after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.
What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about? - and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living. Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals, that modulated cantana of the wild? or, when away from you I try to create you in words, am I simply using you, like a river or a war? And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars to escape writing of the worst thing of all - not the crimes of others, not even our own death, but the failure to want our own freedom passionately enough so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
I can see myself years back at Sunion, hurting with an inflated foot, Philoctetes in woman’s form, limping the long path, lying on a headland over the dark sea, looking down the red rocks to where a soundless curl of white told me a wave had struck, imagining the pull of that water from that height, knowing deliberate suicide wasn’t my metier, yet all the time nursing, measuring that wound. Well, that’s finished. The woman who cherished her suffering is dead. I am her descendant. I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me, but I want to go on from here with you fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.
If the angle of an eye is all, the slant of hope, the slant of dreaming, according to each life, what is the light of this city, light of Lady Liberty, possessor of the most famous armpit in the world, light of the lovers on Chinese soap operas, throwing BBQ’d ducks at each other with that live-it-up-while-you’re-young, Woo Me kind of love, light of the old men sitting on crates outside geegaw shops selling dried seahorses & plastic Temples of Heaven, light of the Ying ‘n’ Yang Junk Palace, light of the Golden Phoenix Hair Salon, light of Wig-o-ramas, light of the suntanners in Central Park turning over like rotisserie chickens sizzling on a spit, light of the Pluck U & Gone with the Wings fried-chicken shops, the parking-meter-leaners, the Glamazons, the oglers wearing fern-wilting quantities of cologne, strutting, trash-talking, glorious: the immigrants, the refugees, the peddlars, stockbrokers and janitors, stenographers and cooks, all of us making and unmaking ourselves, hurrying forwards, toward who we’ll become, one way only, one life only: free in time but not from it, here in the city the living make together, and make and unmake over and over Quick, quick, ask heaven of it, of every mortal relation, feeling that is fleeing, for what would the heart be without a heaven to set it on? I can’t help thinking no word will ever be as full of life as this world, I can’t help thinking of thanks.
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking. Why else would the springtime falter? Why would all our ardent longing bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor? After all, the bud was covered all the winter. What new thing is it that bursts and wears? Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking, hurts for that which grows and that which bars.
Yes, it is hard when drops are falling. Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging, cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding - weight draws them down, though they go on clinging. Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided, hard to feel the depths attract and call, yet sit fast and merely tremble - hard to want to stay and want to fall.
Then, when things are worst and nothing helps the tree’s buds break as in rejoicing, then, when no fear holds back any longer, down in glitter go the twig’s drops plunging, forget that they were frightened by the new, forget their fear before the flight unfurled - feel for a second their greatest safety, rest in that trust that creates the world.
But I would rather be horizontal. I am not a tree with my root in the soil Sucking up minerals and motherly love So that each March I may gleam into leaf, Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted, Unknowing I must soon unpetal. Compared with me, a tree is immortal And a flower-head not tall, but more startling, And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars, The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors. I walk among them, but none of them are noticing. Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping I must most perfectly resemble them— Thoughts gone dim. It is more natural to me, lying down. Then the sky and I are in open conversation, And I shall be useful when I lie down finally: Then the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
This apartment full of books could crack open to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face the underside of everything you’ve loved - the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag even the best voices have had to mumble through, the silence burying unwanted children - women, deviants, witness - in desert sand. Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types; yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind, Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide, and the ghosts - their hands clasped for centuries - of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake, centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves; and we still have to stare into absence of men who would not, women who could not, speak to our life - this still unexcavated hole called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.
Your small hands, precisely equal to my own - only the thumb is larger, longer - in these hands I could trust the world, or in many hands like these, handling power-tools or steering-wheel or touching a human face … Such hands could turn the unborn child rightways in the birth canal or pilot the exploratory rescue-ship through icebergs, or piece together the fine, needle-like sherds of a great krater-cup bearing on its sides figures of ecstatic women striding to the sibyl’s den or the Eleusinian cave - such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence with such restraint, with such a grasp of the range and limits of violence that violence ever after would be obsolete.
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
Well, damn, it’s a relief to be a slut after such lengths of “Man delights not me, nor woman neither,” that I honestly wondered if I’d outgrown it. Chocolate or wine, a cashmere scarf, a cigarette, had more to do with sensuality than what’s between my belly and my butt that yearns toward you now unabashedly. I’d love to grip your head between my thighs while yours tense toward your moment on my ears, but I’ll still be thankful for this surprise if things turn out entirely otherwise, and we’re bar buddies who, in a few years, will giggle about this after two beers.
(from Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons)
I KNOW what the caged bird feels, alas! When the sun is bright on the upland slopes; When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, And the river flows like a stream of glass; When the first bird sings and the first bud opes, And the faint perfume from its chalice steals— I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; For he must fly back to his perch and cling When he fain would be on the bough a-swing; And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars And they pulse again with a keener sting— I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,— When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings— I know why the caged bird sings!
For friends in Tibet whose dual lives are a constant source of humour and pain…
Buddha lies hidden under a silk scarf Tucked in a drawer at home in Lhasa At night I restore it, and say my prayers Prayers to forgive my cowardice Prayers to relieve me of suffering.
I look from afar at the giant monastic doors The crowd walks in with their prayer beads I have pledged my hands to communism I can’t go in with my old butter lamp.
Night after night I am awake in my dreams I hear the echo of my dead parents I relive their hunger and blood in revolution It is here that I see myself - The potential not yet dead… the fire still left I am flying high on a rebellious horse Brandishing a sword with the flag on my chest I plunge headlong amongst thousands of Hans Screaming at them with all my fury I dare them to kill me right there I am the master of my own fate.
Again morning comes to intervene I pedal slowly to work for my boss He greets me Ni Hao and sips jasmine tea Tells me about the guy who just went to prison For the most stupid cause you can ever imagine It is futile, it is suicidal - he goes on I respond with respect and sit at my desk Fear is back with its mask for me Come evening, I’ll tear it again.
Salinger, I’m sorry, but “Don’t ever tell
anybody anything” is a string of words
I would like to wrap up in canvas and sink
to the bottom of the Hudson, or extract
by laser from the ribcage of all of us
who ever believed it, who felt afraid
to miss someone, to be the last one
standing. “Tell everyone everything” is
not exactly right, but I do believe that if
your mother looks radiant in violet
you should tell her, or when a juvenile
sparrow thrashes its wings in dustpiles
and reminds you of a lover’s eyelashes,
you should say so. We are islands all of us,
but we are also boats, our secrets flares,
pyrotechnic devices by which we signal
there’s someone in here we’re still alive!
So maybe it’s, “don’t be afraid.” We can
rewrite Icarus, flame-resistant feathers,
wax that won’t melt, I mean it, I’ll draw up
a prototype right now, that burning ball
of orange won’t stop us, it’ll be everything
we dream the morning after, even if we fall
into the sea—we are boats, remember?
We are pirates. We move in nautical miles.
Each other’s anchors, each other’s buoys,
the rocket’s red, already the world entire.
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
I come home from you through the early light of spring
flashing off ordinary walls, the Pez Dorado,
the Discount Wares, the shoe-store … I’m lugging my sack
of groceries, I dash for the elevator
where a man, taut, elderly, carefully composed
lets the door almost close on me. -For god’s sake hold it!
I croak at him. -Hysterical,- he breathes my way.
I let myself into the kitchen, unload my bundles,
make coffee, open the window, put on Nina Simone
singing Here Comes the Sun … I open the mail,
drinking delicious coffee, delicious music,
my body still both light and heavy with you. The mail
lets fall a Xerox of something written by a man
aged 27, a hostage, tortured in prison: My genitals have been the object of such a sadistic display
they keep me constantly awake with the pain …
Do whatever you can to survive.
You know, I think that men love wars …
And my incurable anger, my unmendable wounds
break open further with tears, I am crying helplessly,
and they still control the world, and you are not in my arms.
They hurried here, as soon as you had died, Their faces damp with haste and sympathy, And pressed my hand in theirs, and smoothed my knee, And clicked their tongues, and watched me, mournful-eyed. Gently they told me of that Other Side- How, even then, you waited there for me, And what ecstatic meeting ours would be. Moved by the lovely tale, they broke, and cried.
And when I smiled, they told me I was brave, And they rejoiced that I was comforted, And left to tell of all the help they gave. But I had smiled to think how you, the dead, So curiously preoccupied and grave, Would laugh, could you have heard the things they said.
We tore the house apart,
sold the rosewood beams
and a host of great dreams
dreamt by its occupants
the nameless ones
dead for three centuries.
We were too poor
to maintain our heritage
too poor to seal cracks
or the walls,
to replace the torn rafters
and to lay new tiles
on the broken parquet floor.
We sold the debris
to a local trader
who complained that
the house had been for him
a bad bargain.
We settled ourselves in flats
situated in small towns
safe from snakes and rodents
we did not dare even
to buy ourselves a potted plant
but off and on in drowsy moments
remembered the house
and its corridors and
the pond that had taught us
to swim, a pond with
a wrinkled moss green skin.
When life tires us out,
we hunger for the house lost,
and its dark interiors
forever fragrant with incense.
I have been enjoying the law and order of our
community throughout the past three months since
my wife and I, our two cats, and miscellaneous
photographs of the six grandchildren belonging to
our previous neighbors (with whom we were very
close) arrived in Saratoga Springs which is clearly
prospering under your custody
Indeed, until yesterday afternoon and despite my
vigilant casting about, I have been unable to discover
a single instance of reasons for public-spirited concern,
much less complaint
You may easily appreciate, then, how it is that
I write to your office, at this date, with utmost
regret for the lamentable circumstances that force
Speaking directly to the issue of the moment:
I have encountered a regular profusion of certain
unidentified roses, growing to no discernible purpose,
and according to no perceptible control, approximately
one quarter mile west of the Northway, on the southern
To be specific, there are practically thousands of
the aforementioned abiding in perpetual near riot
of wild behavior, indiscriminate coloring, and only
the Good Lord Himself can say what diverse soliciting
of promiscuous cross-fertilization
As I say, these roses, no matter what the apparent
background, training, tropistic tendencies, age,
or color, do not demonstrate the least inclination
toward categorization, specified allegiance, resolute
preference, consideration of the needs of others, or
any other minimal traits of decency
May I point out that I did not assiduously seek out
this colony, as it were, and that these certain
unidentified roses remain open to viewing even by
children, with or without suitable supervision
(My wife asks me to append a note as regards the
seasonal but nevertheless seriously licentious
phenomenon of honeysuckle under the moon that one may
apprehend at the corner of Nelson and Main
However, I have recommended that she undertake direct
correspondence with you, as regards this: yet
another civic disturbance in our midst)
I am confident that you will devise and pursue
appropriate legal response to the roses in question
If I may aid your efforts in this respect, please
do not hesitate to call me into consultation
Love rode 1500 miles on a grey hound bus & climbed in my window one night to surprise both of us. the pleasure of that sleepy shock has lasted a decade now or more because she is always still doing it and I am always still pleased. I do indeed like aggressive women who come half a continent just for me; I am not saying that patience is virtuous, Love like anybody else, comes to those who wait actively and leave their windows open.
You begin this way: this is your hand, this is your eye, that is a fish, blue and flat on the paper, almost the shape of an eye. This is your mouth, this is an O or a moon, whichever you like. This is yellow.
Outside the window is the rain, green because it is summer, and beyond that the trees and then the world, which is round and has only the colors of these nine crayons.
This is the world, which is fuller and more difficult to learn than I have said. You are right to smudge it that way with the red and then the orange: the world burns.
Once you have learned these words you will learn that there are more words than you can ever learn. The word hand floats above your hand like a small cloud over a lake. The word hand anchors your hand to this table, your hand is a warm stone I hold between two words.
This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world, which is round but not flat and has more colors than we can see.
It begins, it has an end, this is what you will come back to, this is your hand.
Wherever in this city, screens flicker with pornography, with science-fiction vampires, victimized hirelings bending to the lash, we also have to walk … if simply as we walk through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties of our own neighborhoods. We need to grasp our lives inseparable from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces, and the red begonia perilously flashing from a tenement sill six stories high, or the long-legged young girls playing ball in the junior highschool playground. No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees, sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air, dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding, our animal passion rooted in the city.
I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming. Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other, you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed: our friend the poet comes into my room where I’ve been writing for days, drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere, and I want to show her one poem which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate, and wake. You’ve kissed my hair to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem, I say, a poem I wanted to show someone … and I laugh and fall dreaming again of the desire to show you to everyone I love, to move openly together in the pull of gravity, which is not simple, which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.
Promise me no promises, So will I not promise you: Keep we both our liberties, Never false and never true: Let us hold the die uncast, Free to come as free to go: For I cannot know your past, And of mine what can you know?
You, so warm, may once have been Warmer towards another one: I, so cold, may once have seen Sunlight, once have felt the sun: Who shall show us if it was Thus indeed in time of old? Fades the image from the glass, And the fortune is not told.
If you promised, you might grieve For lost liberty again: If I promised, I believe I should fret to break the chain. Let us be the friends we were, Nothing more but nothing less: Many thrive on frugal fare Who would perish of excess.