Two Poems

 

READING CARL PHILLIPS

 

            “We could have had ecstasies”

            —Frank Bidart

 

Start with two involving initial words—in the lyric

Mode, book after book devoted—with private

Ellipses of fidelity, of ardor—to a single named

 

Man, and then not; starting with a recent thin

Volume, it may be unnoticeable to some

How no like words assign the language following

 

To the one before sanctioned as the first to dwell

In what could, cannot be withheld—each

Deviation of candor, every apparent pause, any

 

Well-turned corner beyond eloquence, the implied

Exits from and into desire, the semi-colons

Of lust anxious to give way to prolonged dashes

 

Finding a voice in the spiritual, the not-celibate

Aspiration to own up to, or rein in, the essential

Of what can, or may well—or has, arrested his

 

Heart and, though I can be wrong, not having finished

Reading—I’m more than half way through (comma

By comma, he and I, both, are)—he’s still like me not

 

Stopped loving, though no later book is in name

Consigned to anyone—and who’s owed, or shall

Arouse those as-yet-unwritten to come?—neither

 

Of us anticipating him no longer having someone

To read them, or his not having lines to write

For them, knowing there are two kinds of readers

 

Two kinds of lovers, skilled men who write and read

Of loving men, straightforwardly, or not, men

Who, with and without dispassion, write of men real

 

And imagined—fleshed-out suggestive composites 

Asleep or near to waking, trees in leaf or dropping

Petals, the window shined by rising or slackened breezes

 

A belling tissue of lemon balm and oranges; basil

Poking up through soil in planters outside and below

A window soon to be shut, or not, by a firm hand

 

A thoughtful hand, its grip not yours or mine or his

Cranking the casement closed, slamming in the tart

Smell of moist bed sheets after hours or minutes

 

Of sex, someone or no one throwing back or drawing

The sheers, the drapes, the sashed black-out curtains

Against a fall of leaves before the misting of snow

 

A heroic profile disappeared behind the slanting

Horizontal slats of the venetians, the lit lines

Of an unshaved cheek effaced by sweat beneath grime

 

As if this face stared from coins dug up among shards

In a just-exposed market, twilight spreading westward

Above what is now, or once was, Thrace or Assyria

 

Or the Transvaal or Uttar Pradesh; terracotta horses

In paddocks prepped to be ridden and written off

Soundless falcons in hoods waiting with disquiet for flight

 

The tautology of lines in each man’s face not unlike

The under- or overused lines men try on each other

In whatever time, down through the ages the love

 

Between men kept on shelves in airless studies, my own

Study of books ongoing at night as I read snail-like

Or breezily, coming or not to questions and connotations

 

My cribbed notes left unread by guests or rifled through

By the strangers I draw to my bedroom, words keyed

Into the virtual—language made lure; made tether

 

The great American poet’s testament of books put

Aside for the moment, for the moment it takes

Distracting me from thinking momentarily about

 

How some men were never Greco-Roman or Biblical

How they may either be windows thrown open

Or the same windows closed, the orientation

 

Of each window set into the outside wall of a room not

Of dawn and vistas solely, or of voids awaiting worlds

Men ageing inside any room, some of us accepting

 

Loneliness, others not alone; neither not not-speaking

Obliquely to and of God, however virile the sleek

Lines of the metaphysical, the cant of each cock

 

Conceit—or a desire for it—from the onset extending

As far as it must, the river’s grit by its own insistent

Momentum falling from the headwaters downwards

 

To discharge at gravity’s insistence deep into the ocean

Abrasive force eased along by passing currents warm

Indifferent, or cold, until each trace, wandering, can be lost.

 

 

POLARI

 

    a rearrangement of Gwendolyn Brooks’

  “Gay Chaps at the Bar”

 

How to make order good and uphold taste.

No curriculum showed us how to look

For women, the hot to iced. Taught language

was not necessary to this stout hour

We knew. Or when summer knew the white tropics

In our hunger: the athletic raillery, the brass

Given to the smart, a green speech of this air.

And we knew how to holler in fortissimo

Our talents islands and ever slightly lush.

How we persist to spread gayety down among

The lions of death, the length and give to be

Brought off in chat, whether a lesson

Or an omen, but beautifully nothing

Should dash be served with no just love.