His nails are bit to the pink,
bare-bottomed eager as flicking
to the last paragraph of a novel.
He studies the newspaper in his father’s
ashen underwear, smokes sage cigarettes,
regards windows and doorways
as though they are in miniature;
as though he is half snow,
able to fall through a dollhouse world.
Who was in the courtyard, who
was on their knees in the kitchen
the day Petrograd became Leningrad,
washing linens in veined water
he asks me in the thumbprint light
of 4 am, his voice like a grandmother’s
who remembers the marching orders
of history in her wrists and swollen ankles
but cannot recall who won.
Who was scrubbing the potatoes?
He has the gay man’s respect for
a woman: the immaculate object
with its dirty but necessary curves.
The responsibility of cities,
the moment a boy picks up
a slingshot for the first time.
In late November
he stands flush behind me,
points out the way winter erases
without ever losing its form.
It is an outline, he claims, not
Fifth position dancer with an arm raised taut
as a kite string.
November understands the greatest lie.
Life cannot be traced onto death. And so
your greatest fear is fabricated, knit
with these pencil-mark branches, with
my breath against the hair on your neck.
His underwear velcroes
away from his skin
like an orange being peeled.
What he has already shed
clogs up my fingernails.
He bends like a puppet—
able to forget his own nudity.
His is a turpentine light—
the smell of store rooms and eucalyptus
and money; he has changed hands
As a lover he knows this—
pleasures every past before taking
Everything we must learn,
he cries, is what we’ve already
The mind: ocean water two inches past
where light reaches.
He smokes while we make love.
Why not defy death, he says, as two men together
have no illusion of immortality.
My sperm will never become anything
inside you, will only caulk your fissures.
We are non-refill pens, one-way tickets on a train
through a dissolving country. Or maybe we are the
countries themselves. Yugoslavia in 91. Burundi
Tom and Frank, Antoine and Leo. Not sin,
just dead ends, then a pause, and a sigh, and
far far off, as through the corridor of some foreign
apartment building, a door blowing shut in the
sun-swollen and windless air.
The hair on his thighs curls like gorse.
My father never touched me, he says,
though I have often wished he had, just so
I’d know where I end and the rest begins.
A dead body is sealed into memory
by a name, but cities shed skins one
Imagine growing through a word.
He enters, is never entered.
Not because he says so,
but because he has that way
Bed with sheets folded across it
like the beginnings of a paper airplane.
He is weary of being desired.
It is tedious, to be loved
for loving oneself.
One can pretend to be a god,
one can almost believe oneself to be—
but one cannot be the lock-jawed
weight of a city’s hushed rubble,
its bleeding-lipped sigh.
Over Malbec in Styrofoam cups he tells me
to think of all the lives that have been spent
trying to pinpoint the precise geographic
locations of Odysseus’ journey. He laughs,
lips purple. And so, he says, if you knew
where the sirens were, would you go?
Would you think you’re strong enough,
just by knowing?
If you knew where the Elysian fields—no,
let me rephrase, he says,
standing and unzipping his fly to piss off
of the balcony.
Can you believe in something
without needing it?
Port la Joie became Charlottetown,
his eyes glaze. Leopoldstad Kinshasa,
Boimitsa Axiopoli, Aspadana Isfahan.
La plata, Ciudad Eva Peron, La plata,
Cities red-kneed for language.
A polis burning as this candle does,
self-conscious, nude, finite.
He collects the wax and warms it
between his palms,
Some days he cannot be pried from the window.
He says he is waiting for the right diameter
of a snowflake.
It’s not insanity, he says, it’s attention to detail.
What do you think of when I am inside you,
he asks one day as he smokes and
washes the dishes.
You, I say—or did I say nothing?
You are lying, he replies. Sex is not the end
of wanting. We must use the mind to think
beyond it, say, imagine that an ex is about
to walk in, or that I am the music teacher you
used to daydream of.
Now, but only for this exact instant,
are you thinking of the soap suds on
my forearms, and the way I am talking
through the cigarette in my mouth.
Years later, I hope you will remember
me at the sink, and touch yourself.
But if you do, it will not be
for what you saw tonight
but for the language I brought to it,
this forgettable gesture.
You will never be able to visit
Saigon. Think, he urges.
Only in the mouths of others.
But history swallows names too,
I point out, when he begins to lose sleep.
The same as everything else.
He lights a match and drops it from the balcony
into the thigh of a snowbank.
He wanders the apartment at night
wearing only an old t shirt, his legs
thin and pale but for the scratch marks
Of any possible combination on a man,
only a t-shirt is the most un-attractive,
There is a problem, he says,
while packing my bags, in treating love
the way one treats faith.
Not a moral, but an ethical problem.
Still, I hope you find it, he smiles.
In that way we sort of always
inactively hope for another’s happiness.
He will grow old in his self-love.
August, darkness only a brief
blip in the night, St. Petersburg
becomes Petrograd for fear the
old name sounds too German.
Language’s revolt against what
it fears to be.
And then, three years later, a blank
shot begins the renaming.