Lie to yourself about this and you will
forever lie about everything.
Everybody already knows everything
so you can
lie to them. That's what they want.
But lie to yourself, what you will
lose is yourself. Then you
turn into them.
For each gay kid whose adolescence
was America in the forties or fifties
the primary, the crucial
forever is coming out—
or not. Or not. Or not. Or not. Or not.
Involuted velleities of self-erasure.
Quickly after my parents
died, I came out. Foundational narrative
designed to confer existence.
If I had managed to come out to my
mother, she would have blamed not
me, but herself.
The door through which you were shoved out
into the light
was self-loathing and terror.
Thank you, terror!
You learned early that adults' genteel
fantasies about human life
were not, for you, life. You think sex
is a knife
driven into you to teach you that.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank Bidart. Used with permission of the author.
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.
Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.
Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/ the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses beyond head
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
Copyright © 2014 by Regie Cabico. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.
I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. Copyright © 2009 by Thom Gunn. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.
"Your gang's done gone away."
—The 119th Calypso, Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Something seems to have gnawed that walnut leaf.
You face your wrinkles, daily, in the mirror.
But the wrinkles are so slimming, they rather flatter.
Revel in the squat luck of that unhappy tree,
who can't take a mate from among the oaks or gums.
Ah, but if I could I would, the mirror version says,
because he speaks to you. He is your truer self
all dopey in the glass. He wouldn't stand alone
for hours, without at least a feel for the gall of oaks,
the gum tree bud caps, the sweet gum's prickly balls.
Oh, he's a caution, that reflection man.
He's made himself a study in the trees.
You is a strewn shattered leaf I'd step on, he says.
Do whatever it is you'd like to do. Be quick.
Copyright © 2010 by D. A. Powell. Used by permission of the author.
They cut off our hair
& there we were
In a history i skimmed
We were there
Less than elsewhere
Our hair cut
So close the scalp
A row of six
To its feet
Our hair not ours
Like a finger
From our teeth
Our hair burned
Braided for women
Down the street
There on the page
A camp A cage
Sharp as a fade
Razors in drag
Black boots & blades
I pull the image up
On my screen
Thumb the six
I’m alive of course
Because others died
& i’ll be survived
By no one
[amen] [amen] [amen]
To this planet
The singed end
Of a family line
Today a man sits
At the piano & plays
My name’s in it
The one about a man
By the woman
Who takes his hair
With his breath
Between twin pillars
My arms cargo
When he’s done
I take him
To bed & empty
Into his darkness
Again & again [i’m sorry] [i’m sorry]
Though i can’t quite say
Copyright © 2017 sam sax. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Fall 2017.
everyone knows about the woman who fell in love with the bridge
but no one cares how the bridge felt after.
everyone knows about the poet who leapt from the deck of a ship
but not how the boat lifted & bloated in his wake like a white infant
spread over the bed of a lake.
we leave our objects behind us. we collect our dead’s leavings & listen
for their breathing in the soft mouths of gloves. we believe them.
i care too much & still have the dead boy’s red sweater. i tongue
the wound. i tender this mule. i unravel quick my flesh debt.
every word an object in my dark wet house. everyone asks after
the living but no one cares how the cotton sobs in my mouth.
i am become warehouse : i am destroy speech.
everyone knows the poet fell from the bridge because he jumped.
no one cares there’s nothing left for us but his poems
not even a simple plaque drilled into the bridge’s throat reads :
this is where the man lived
this is where the man broke
this is the man
this is the man stretched
between two cold cities
you are standing
on his back.
Copyright © 2016 by sam sax. “Objectophile” originally appeared in Meridian. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Copyright © 2017 by sam sax. “Trans Orbital Lobotomy” originally appeared in Madness (Penguin, 2017). Reprinted with permission of the author.
the time for nuance is over
i argue over breakfast
explaining how it’s oft used
to confuse dissent—knife
through my poached egg.
politicized work made all yolky,
easy to consume & forget.
i dab with the toasted bread
agitation & propaganda i rant
is the only just path for artists
gesturing with my utensils
heavenward. i’ve said a lot
of things which in retrospect
would’ve been better
had i kept my mouth shut.
i once said something to a friend
i won’t repeat here
& now she’s no longer my friend.
i'll never forget what her eyes did
as i finished speaking
stones in a bucket.
words have consequences
they’re both material & reveal
the spirit that speaks them.
what i meant over breakfast
is the time’s too urgent for work
that doesn’t have blood in it.
what i meant is insurgency
is our birthright, that nuance
comes from the french meaning
to shade—why another painting
of a lake when there’s so much
rage boiling outside the canvas?
what does it mean i don’t mean
what i say when i say it? i don’t know
what i mean. silence is golden
& gold’s the standard measurement
for capital. the golden rule is do
unto others as you would have them
do unto you. but what when they do
you ugly first as they always
seem to? i finish my coffee &
it’s political whether i want it
to be or not.
Copyright © 2017 by sam sax. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 22, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.