M A T T   T E R H U N E

4 poems

Lineage


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.

Reprise

      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.

After


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.

Reliquary

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. 

 

Title

Matt Terhune's poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Narrative, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles.