M A T T T E R H U N E
I’ve had enough of memory, each season
a new model with pretty bells
and 5 o’clock whistles, ordinal tone
of a voice I could never stand
calling out street names
I never knew or can’t remember
like bingo numbers, their lacquered tones,
dice rolling or 21, risk remembered,
its bottle green hide holding a stand
as if I could recall the exact season
I learned to answer last call’s opening bell:
not to anticipate anything, to forget your names.
Always a sudden decimal with each year’s name
I perfected like a dial tone,
each astonishment, each appraisal, every bell
and ballot that tested my talent to remember.
I know it’s dinner, end of the day stripping its season.
We don’t need your name, only where you stand,
your capacity to forsake what’s worth remembering.
Would you sacrifice sleekness, our 21st century season
for velocity on your iPhone X? Would you prefer names
stocked like fish in a lake of memory or a range of digital bells?
We wonder if you could stand
flexing this young muscle just beginning to tone.
Tell me, would you prefer taking a stand
in a house cleared by fire, murmuring its lost names
or waking up to midnight flames? Each season
sends its kisses, smitten with the latest tone,
news none of us can bear to remember,
sent down in a diving bell
to the sea’s floor: expatriate bell
entered into a catalog of darkness. Be still, stand
in a place you cannot, for the life of you, remember:
halls hailing morning, birthdays, names,
death decked in 12 o’clock tones.
Each moment, arms of a failed season
laying you in its immaculate bell with a novel name,
amnesiac like art stashed in the attic, jewel tones
from a hymn that calls a color down for each breath, not a season.
for my fathers
A chorus from Kushner is different from a chorus from Levithan:
one is so 20th century Greek—frothing with gods with cotton wings
who know the divine body well
without our human props, bodies captured and kept
by beds, from which we rise and are carried—
the other slanted with the dead
who also knew the body and survived it.
A chorus from Kramer
is curated by Ned, who cannot bear another loss
sculpted by the tactical art of silence, and Tommy
who refuses a return to shame, the monstrous shell.
I listened for your songs everywhere during the TV generation
where resistance appeared real
and I believed bubblegum pop could subvert.
I listened like a fool while Madonna writhed from her wedding gown
on the VMAs, thumping the Sennheiser between her breasts
and Boy bopped softly on Solid Gold: his black bowler
and kaleidoscope braids, parachute pants as creamy
as the skin of all those other boys in Ms. Prinzivalli’s Religion I.
I’m in California now if you need directions
smoking between the Honda and the Fragrant Cloud—
little white peaks becoming pink—and I think, this is supposed to be it,
the meticulous undoing of time, strand by strand, not last night’s hours
but now, when everything is happening or becoming, each day
you look into from the choir box, sing to because you can really hear it,
plying a soundtrack to the ordinary, which for you is sacrament: the paper guy
rolling through the complex in his obliterated Ram, slamming the Times against
each door, the woman nodding with the Diamond Bar preacher
who’s set the radio on fire in the condo next door, lovers leaving beds
as the body frees itself from the fleshy kink.
We are not that different and maybe it’s true
that desire is the child of disappearance.
I spend all day with your breath steaming my neck
though I’m just beginning to feel it, to understand
what it means to be only a voice
recalling how to become coiled again.
Before, you’ve never been
so in love. Each swallow of flesh
poured from a silver cup, desire
plaiting everything in platinum,
the soft finish of the moon.
It doesn’t matter if his ass
is pocked like crude granite
halved from the quarry,
his cock haloed with years.
You love him now, this stranger,
like you’ve never loved
anyone, your future together
placed, impossibly, beyond this moment
on the snagged carpet in the hotel room,
the bed’s tender edge.
You could make a home here,
furnish its rooms with nothing
but the strength of this instant,
sip margaritas in the whipped light
of the back porch, write poems
in the warmth of the paneled den.
A place you believe you couldn’t bear
to leave, that if you had to,
you’d spend the balance of your life
charting the road back.
Then you do, as you always must
like one of the devoted
descending from Tiger’s Nest
with a bliss he cannot carry, tweeker
coming down from some glass balcony, roaming the streets,
asking everyone if they’ve seen Tina
with her stained cheeks
and wrecked heels,
her white cloud’s unmistakable song.
Imagine a room full of men
my age, like me: something formidable, nothing
fabulous, steadying like a support group
or a cruise ship moored on the seared banks
of the San Fernando Valley, Battery Park’s macadam rim.
Men in uniform, men in Speedos, men leaving
the hot tub, water beading like sequins
on their dazzling flesh.
It would be clear, precise—only for those born
in the silhouette, that shaded cleft
between Highway 61 Revisited and Maude.
We’d only meet once.
I once told a colleague, a faculty member
from a university where I worked
for more than a decade— a straight man, maybe bi—
that men like me, from my generation
were haunted by our fathers, not our actual fathers
our sexual ones
who vanished from the room like one night stands.
His surprise, and within it, his doubt, made me feel
more alone than I’d felt in years, as if something
that kept me from living fully
had been self-generated, my fault, my own
low and solitary fear.
But the men in this room would be different, all
in accord of the ghosting like widows
trading photos of their husbands,
nodding each other toward a covenant
that any joy that came from the body now
might be a betrayal, that if sex was deliverance
for our fathers, what would it become in the wake
of so much loss: false, faithless
or something valiant to soldier on
amidst the war metaphors, all failing.
I think now that what it was and is
isn’t fear or shame
but a deep ineradicable sorrow
that riving this acreage, this private parcel of grief
might make it more bearable
but also no longer uninhabitable, unquestionably mine.