In front of strangers
for good reason, the poem wouldn’t take off its pants.
The poem was looking at cruising and sex
which its distance had elevated to romance.
When one read the poem one’s looking was like
licking a description from some yards away.
A looking at certain men – but stilted, anonymous, lovestruck.
Of the men the poem said reverence and longing and
a quietly throbbing alienation. All spoken from the bushes
outside the poem’s occurrence.
The poem gently licked til it got to the center. But it never
got to the center it stayed on the outskirts.
It stayed and watched the watching was an act of doing.
The act was fucking and multiple and public.
The public was natural was pine was sand was earth was shrubs.
The watching was acceptable the writing wasn’t.
The ocean, at least, was near.
The intimacy, highly contested.
The problem was not that the poem ought to get closer
to the center or why it hadn’t. The question was not directed
at the margins where the poem had stayed flickering.
Nor at bodies possessed or haunted
by longing or trapped by their terms or by whom
a description might be spoken or owned.
The reading seemed to suggest
one become a voyeur of a voyeur.
Here a long flat silence or estrangement
or how one shame might outweigh another.
How the poem insists
on permission to exist or imagine
and at the same time it fails to.
And whether this failure is the failure of the mind
inside the poem or the world around the poem.
Here the teacher’s eyes will not meet the poem’s gaze.
The lovestruck poem the poem in which
there can be no real men.
The poem’s failure a specific failure to embody
convincingly. Here the stroll through
a forest of eyes and bare skin. Flickering.
The poem romanced by the center of the
clearing in which they sucked and fucked,
the unuttered invisible presence of
the poem on the outskirts. The poem forced, yes, into a skirt.
How it’s possible to have skirted
the issues it raised. How kneejerk. How never
is anything resembling the word welcome uttered.
Yet there still is the poem
struggling to claim its ground. Stupidly swooning.
Very much not to be ashamed. The poem is trying to keep
its balance but why. Hard
to say. Say which side you’re on the teacher said, you seem to be in between.
It seems necessary to say I watch them.
It seems necessary: them. This distance
between us. How at times it can shrink, then grow
with the removal of clothing.
From here, it seems necessary to say I didn’t.
Join or belong but
there where mouth meets
crotch, I did
want to, I did. Walk along the paths,
part marsh, part dune,
how old are you but I didn’t
answer him. He’s still vivid
in only a cowboy hat
in combat boots & trunks
grey t-shirt, baseball hat, blue eyes.
A hole is a hole is a hole is a hole –
Shoulders burnt by unending noon sun
he places his hands on while
he works on him, a kindness.
Someone says take out your dick,
I want to see it.
I lose him
on a forking path.
I’m standing some yards behind the men
who watch the men; we’re watching us
ass-up on a blanket.
“A boy’s a man
who can’t get hard.”
in only a towel.
Suppose I could, I can.
Find a way
of walking into their us
the sound of their pleasures. As though
it were an ocean.
Find a different
half-hidden spot where we too
do our thing. We two
who are alike.
A few crane or crouch to look but
we’re positioned just so. Just
so no one sees exactly,
though one could imagine
fanning out to the nameless
late afternoon –
what isn’t there. Isn’t there
a sweetness to that.
For you, the men (they take their ease) aren’t believable because they are not (where sand meets soil) ashamed enough.
But individual shame (where root meets knee) can’t diminish what’s powerful about public gay sex (meets mouth meets crotch), sex in daylight, sex outdoors, sex (disappearing) in a group, sex in a markedly gay space.
I can’t know what your relationship to shame (in a patchy strip) or remorse might be (part marsh part dune), whether you feel exposed (between two summer towns), misrepresented, in this room (desire has led them to) where it seems you see yourself as the only (one in just a cowboy hat) gay man.
Should I (trails another) be more (in combat) ashamed of myself?
As anonymous as such (boots & trunks) encounters may be (to a clearing), they are also (where men show up) insistently not in shadow.
Would you say that’s equivalent (to get worked by a kneeling mouth or two) to judgment?
The ability to live apart from many of these questions (while others jerk alongside) is the ease I’ve invested the men with.
I can’t get close (or lean in) enough (for a better look) to their complexity (they have come), probably.
For you, (to worship) that distance is synonymous with voyeurism (in this cathedral), not estrangement (of pine and bush).
I’m ashamed of myself for wanting (more home than holy) your approval, for feeling it would grant legitimacy to my faggot identity (with its crude domestic touches) and to the poem.
What is it exactly I hope to be (trash bag slung from a tree) welcomed into, or as?
I’ve only been watching (signals them) the party I wasn’t invited to longingly (to clean up), from a distance, where it looks like (when they finish) everyone’s having a blast. But (a cock-eyed) I know better.
Who else (white plastic deck chair) is absent, (seems to say) distant?
And you (darling) point to that distance (why leaving) with anger.
Do you see me (so soon) as an uninformed interloper, or potential readers (& how soon) as voyeurs? I know (they tuck in) better.
I can see (when it’s over) that the poem’s failure is functioning in this room (fanning out) as a signifier of my failure (to the nameless late afternoon) to be a “real” man, specifically a real gay man (in decorum and pleasure and boredom), in your (shirtless and sunburnt) eyes.
(giving quick nods or wordless) This room becomes a clearing (damp with relief), don’t you see?
I’m nearly absent.
Is what I’ve seen mine? Nothing seems furtive in such bold light. Here where bronzed skin brings itself for kissing and sucking. I’ve been. Unlaced and unzipped. The waistbands of swim trunks pulled down with brief hesitation or swiftness. Every day in summer, every single day. Later, tomorrow, next year, others will come here for more of the same, and here, a different here, for reading of my watching. Though there can be no such thing as transcription.
Because the tongue in which the original gestures were performed has been lifted out of the mouth, traveled a kind of distance. It mouths a half-question about what’s underwritten in the implicit and explicit love of bodies, your bodies in particular, at the expense of others, you beautiful you older you oiled you curious you generous you leather you casual you exclusive you vaguely predatory you comfortable you sunglassed you depressed you self-possessed you stubbled you maybe friendly maybe men.
Paths that are sandy and paths that are marshy, shoulder-width, paths I tromp on before you, after you, as far as a dead end, mazelike paths across which boards have been laid so as to spare the feet from mud. Here surrounded by high reeds and marsh grass, you are naked and kissing, you stop to look at me who has come upon you. I’m sorry, I say, I’m leaving. Sorry, I say, because I can sense you want to be alone, though you are in public, outside. And I am outside, a visible stutter in the fringes, displacing what I might hope to encounter. I wander. It is a problem that I worship your body as an idea of clarity. It is true that in the older man who walks around all day in a towel, making eyes at the younger ones, I see a version of myself. When I stay at cruising distance, when I skirt and flicker and tease. About what that means, and about the quality of my longing, I am not sure.
I am not sure I do like longing for meaning from here and from you. From this distance I can feel how I might appear worth putting your mouth to. Lay your palm on the crown of my head. Read me, but not too closely. My ambivalence is still this enormous shimmering. If wanting were harmless – but it harms us. If it were only in summer that I fumbled at the edge of this clearing. Ran my tongue along it to say it exists. Where trade and the few scraps of speech I imagine come from my own mouth. A mouth that watches, hands that narrate. It is true that sand forgives, and its skirts of pine needles sting where they press against the skin. To not only worship this.
Here’s the open clearing, the blank page, the outskirts, the moveable frame, with nothing but countless ways to arrange ourselves in them. We’ve only known a fragment of what the air might do to our bare skin. The quality of my seeing and our positions have written us in this dead way I keep trying to reconfigure. Center. Fringes. To edge close enough to legibility without disappearing, to broach proximity while pocketing distance. As I imagine you infinitely readable, I feel myself become description. My mouth an audience that speaks. My mind kneels, bare, filling details in, gushing there. My mind has altogether too many knees. Because I saw them bend or else I didn’t, because I knew the sand pressed into them as if they were my own, so I am struck, so I insist it.