The Boat-Header

- 1956-
I saw you 
unexpectedly 
on the street today.
Though it was midday 
your eyes were dilated,

and you seemed 
almost electrically 
charged with thought,
with an increased 
speed of speaking:  

"I garden, I grill meat, 
I prowl the bars."  
But I was having
difficulty listening.
Your teeth were growing.  

A muscle 
spasmed against 
my diaphragm;  
I needed 
a bag of ice.  

Still, I could see 
those rooms 
with perfect clarity:  
the coat rack 
and bureau, 

the dinner plates 
with congealed meat,
the flea market Piranesi, 
and the long mirrors
like camera lenses 

freezing us
as the boat-header 
gave you his final 
thrusts, preparatory 
to the cutting-in.

More by Henri Cole

Olympia

Tired, hungry, hot, I climbed the steep slope
to town, a sultry, watery place, crawling with insects
and birds.
      In the semidarkness of the mountain,
small things loomed large: a donkey urinating on a palm;
a salt-and-saliva-stained boy riding on his mother's back;
a shy roaming black Adam. I was walking on an edge.
The moments fused into one crystalline rock,
like ice in a champagne bucket. Time was plunging forward,
like dolphins scissoring open water or like me,
following Jenny's flippers down to see the coral reef,
where the color of sand, sea and sky merged,
and it was as if that was all God wanted:
not a wife, a house or a position,
but a self, like a needle, pushing in a vein.

Homosexuality

First I saw the round bill, like a bud;
then the sooty crested head, with avernal eyes
flickering, distressed, then the peculiar
long neck wrapping and unwrapping itself,
like pity or love, when I removed the stovepipe
cover of the bedroom chimney to free
what was there and a duck crashed into the room
(I am here in this fallen state), hitting her face,
bending her throat back (my love, my inborn
turbid wanting, at large all night), backing away,
gnawing at her own wing linings (the poison of my life,
the beast, the wolf), leaping out the window,
which I held open (now clear, sane, serene),
before climbing back naked into bed with you.

Oil & Steel

My father lived in a dirty dish mausoleum,
watching a portable black-and-white television,
reading the Encyclopedia Britannica,
which he preferred to Modern Fiction.
One by one, his schnauzers died of liver disease,
except the one that guarded his corpse
found holding a tumbler of Bushmills.
"Dead is dead," he would say, an anti-preacher.
I took a plaid shirt from the bedroom closet
and some motor oil—my inheritance.
Once, I saw him weep in a courtroom—
neglected, needing nursing—this man who never showed
me much affection but gave me a knack
for solitude, which has been mostly useful.

Related Poems

Meeting Again, After Heine

The moon rose like a blooming flower. 
The tin in the hand clattered its charge. 
We walked by in the wavering hour, 
I looking away, you chattering hard. 

Met by luck, with like destinations, 
We startled again at what ended in pique. 
Strollers out, seeing us, had no notion; 
A car alarm cycled its querulous shriek; 

Eighth Street sank in the crack of its nightfall; 
You pressed your satisfactions on me. 
You in your urgency remarked after all
Kindling your passion was enmity; 

Passion had finally erased your calm, 
Made composure a prop of the past. 
I mugged that street noise, din, bedlam, 
Prevented my hearing your story at last. 

As I walked home the strollers were thinning, 
The moon bobbed above roofs like a ball, 
The shade at the bus stop waved to me, beckoning, 
And I nodded fast in the fast nightfall.