Barnes & Noble, 1999

I was a boy in a bookstore, “a bathhouse,” I’ll joke
when I am older. But then, I wasn’t. I was in a gallery
of things to be cracked open; all their spines & mine.
I tell you, I was a hungry pickpocket, plucking
what language I could from books & men who stood hard
before me. This is what it means to be astonishing;
to thieve speech and sense from the undeserving.
I tell you, I was a boy and they were men, so all
the words I know for this I made into small razors,
some tucked between my teeth, under my tongue,
and when they said what a good mouth I had,
I smiled, the silver glint of sharp things in me
singing, “I’ll outlive you. I’ll outlive all of you.”


Copyright © 2022 by Jesús I. Valles. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“During a writing workshop, I was asked to write an ode to my younger self. I quickly became envious of that past-me, of the haphazard bravado and willfulness that allowed me to explore my queerness in the aisles and shelves (and bathrooms) of that bookstore where words broke me open, where worlds broke open. In revisiting this site and self, I also found a lasting resentment and latent pity for the adult men who were willing to usher me in this way, for their aging bodies, for that bookstore (which is now a Ross Dress-For-Less), for all our lost selves.”
Jesús I. Valles