While sound and seaworthy, I confess a life of false
confessions, false hearts, ample contempt for bench
warrants charging me with failures to appear.
Let what interest death’s elbow grease won’t erase
compound, judgements sealed in my ova, my oeuvre,
my juvie, and on Q-tips scribbled like rice grains with
the starshine of my stem cells. Yardsell my cracked
hourglass, my salt-crusted astrolabe, my maps
of the lunar seas. Collect my student IDs, my employee
discounts, my almost-winning scratch-off. Take my voice
mails from the clouds. Dismantle my altar to Walter
Mercado, phrenologist of the stars. But stay memory,
time’s plagiarist. Stay poem, spare tire for memory.
Stay reader, beloved, prosthesis for the soul.
In 18th Century France, Franz Mesmer made friends
dance in synch like iron filings under the magnetized
tips of his Mesmer fingers until further experiments
proved to move the crowd he’d only need his Mesmer eyes.
From bandshell to boathouse to the shores of Empire Blvd.
the lindens’ scent of fidelity flanked the Botanical’s glass womb.
Two cats crooned tea kettle falsettos like soul-stirred
buskers swinging acapella mellowed on a fifth of Thunderbird.
Solo, sneaker soles greased with the ginkgo fruit’s perfume,
I found the 9th St. relief of Lafayette at ease, his lowered sword,
the steed and Armistead, enslaved hero spy who, obscured
by horse and history, doubles agency like a nom de plume.
The Marquis adored him, however screwfaced and off-kiltered
Armistead’s depicted. Could they’ve been lovers, I wondered
of a sudden? Could Armistead consent to jump the broom
and camouflage his bondage? In the picture, yet off the record,
he’s Lafayette’s prisoner no less if Love were his parole board.
Faithful as a terracotta soldier, he sports a hard rock costume
to picnics and playdates. Who marries a black man must guard
more than their love, his body taken, in this city’s orchard
of bad apples, for sport. Slavery made him a family heirloom,
the very booty he was denied. Instead, he claimed as war-reward
Lafayette’s name. His freedom came at the hand of the Lord.
Studies show that after castration a man can experience joy
in his Cyrano, the pet name I imagine clinicians christening
the strap-on. Or Pinocchio. Any of the phallic fables where
the nose denotes a fallacy. Devoid of funk. A rootless longing,
gravity without ground belonging to that appendage existing
like sorry/not sorry, a cartoon limb someone has sawed off
offering support for that person to sit on. I’ve often mistaken
love for the object of love and been left with a study
in possession. An earlier draft of this poem claimed ecstasy
is muscle memory. I’m of a new mind on this and now feel
ecstasy is a being-beside-myself uncanny as when I’ve slept
a nerve pinched in my arm and woken to find it’s but the warmth
of an egg in a basket of sand long as that storied summer of love,
long as the word that likewise dulls in time to a fist-bump,
periodically needing to clear its cache to regain vitality, to restore
the heft of declaration. So much to unlearn: old selves and my
narcissistic attachments to them. I pull them from the roll and miss
the perforations. This is life with regret, an infinite regress.
A joyless repetition. A mess of produce bags on the supermarket floor.
I’m clinging to earlier drafts, intimate as chalk outlines, screen
burns, they surface when I hot-breath the mirror. I sit and reflect
on those pronouns wrestled from time and their tether
to a masculinity they believed was a part of the body. What joy if
I could only forgive them. If I could love them, if I could just
let them go.
True in the control room at the large hadron collider.
True at a candlelit séance in a Storyville bordello.
A hunger anticipated is no less a hunger, and desire
stayed by whalebone and lace is magnified by the silence
of our lord. True like the face of an ingenue
embedded in a dowager’s demure. True as the miracle
tones chorused from the planet Proxima
Centauri and the whale they call 52 Blue. True
as the judgment of a vengeful mob. Memory foam, wet
concrete outside a high school. Silly-putty takes up
the news: True the form the thinking assumes that becomes
the object of the thought.
We say “black bodies” when referring
to the iconography of racism. No one would body
slam a child, but stand your ground against a black
body and the courtroom says amen. Affirmation
active in the witness’s fuzzy memory. The black
body is not a person per se. It is the American
Dream, the via negativa that makes freedom ring.
It is the evidence of things not seen.
Like the ancient Scythians I believe to see is to send spittle-
like rays that grapple an object’s cosmic
elements and resemble them in the sweatshop
of the eye a process not unlike tasting with
the nose the hollandaise that surfs a heavy sigh
a measure of telepathy a distance
relation that buckets up from the soul a spitting image
The spirit in the Queen’s magic mirror was enslaved there
Siri tells me According to Jesus adultery
with the eyes is adultery Men see says John Berger
As if I need only observe an English muffin
to find its fore-texture printed on my tongue to prove
the tactility of the eye that lemony emulsion
amusing your bouche, too, sudden jets of saliva
at mention of the lemon-butter’s pinch Don’t think
of French kisses According to seventeenth century slave
codes imagining your enslaver’s death was a crime punishable
by death I’ve stopped looking
for progress and misplace my glasses at the hint
of truths I don’t want to see and pat the bench around me
my chest and hips as if I might vanish Ancient
Scythians blinded prisoners of war to mark them as slaves
A visible distinction The eyes The tongue Mon
semblable watch me unlock my phone with my face
Dear Joni, you’ve said love is touching
souls. If I reach out to yours now in extromission,
will you register that singularity in the cosmos
of your affection? Will you feel my soul touching
yours just as surely as you’ve touched mine?