Riis Beach

In search of queer utopia. 

On their bikes the Jersey City boys leer
At the mass of slick bodies blooming
From the gold-colored sand.

But I don’t mind the way their hawk eyes
Linger on the sticky hair beneath my arms
And on the sweet shortness of your dress.

I smell Bacardi slipping from pink plastic cups,
And strawberry lipgloss stuck to the end of
A brown paper spliff, glittering.

On a bench three topless dancers dance
To a cellphone playing Cardi B, while the femmes
Sipping daiquiris in the tin cantina cheer.

Laid out on our blankets we are as numerous
As sea shells, incendiary with our red-painted
Toenails and bare asses lazing.

We are an oiled up, kiss-drunk riot,
Smacking hungry lips and throwing our love
Into the light—how it audibly buzzes

With a force that threatens to quake
The glass towers of Manhattan,
Now faint as memory beyond the beachgrass.

This is the Eden most never dreamed of,
Not the Jersey boys, not the President or the police.
But we were Paradise before they damned it.

I passed through a tunnel to get here,
I saw the Atlantic Ocean open its jaws
Wide to give us this garden.

The gender fucked and gender free,
The pansies and queers and libertines.
From sunrise to sunset,

In this world but not of it.

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Falling Forever

In Paradise Adam had the counsel of angels to
Steer him away from evil and towards the soft
Contours of Godly love, but of course Eve slept
And so had to fortify herself with the lone and
Desperate ambition of a thief uncloaking
A hand gun at the register, pocketing
The cash and then whispering solemnly
“I only took what was absolutely necessary.”

So it goes she was collared, pushed with her
Lover into the wasteland that would become
A sprawling supercell of universities and
Housing projects, strip malls and trigger happy
Policemen—how could she have imagined
That arid soil producing such strange fruits
As the electric chair, the Wells Fargo, the
Madhouse and the Speculum?

In catholic school my mother learned to call
It “original sin” so as to stress what came
After—the feminine mystique,
The abortion pill, single motherhood,
And, God forbid, lesbianism.

She was whipped for sitting impolitely,
So it goes the law is holy,
And the commandment righteous and good.
It is backbreaking work, keeping a woman
From falling forever.
It makes the men weary, whether fingering
The dictates of their holy books or
Polishing the skin on their rifles.
What is their law without its felons?
What is a prison without its prisoners?

My mother left the church then gave her only
Daughter a biblical name, as if to say you will walk
In the shade of my history, and when you speak
Out it will feel like a crime, and when you gaze at
Yourself in the mirror it will feel like a crime,
And when you write your books and flaunt your
Knowledge they will say it is a crime.

But some of my sisters, they say, are criminals;
Locked wrongly in men’s prisons,
Or bleeding on the floors of their concrete cells
For lack of clean cotton,
Or shot in daylit streets after stealing
Food for their babies.

What is The Fall to them
But just another exile?
What is the Apple but another
Need withheld?
What is God’s redemption
But a simple lawman wagging his
Gun in the air like a flag
Saying I am the judge and the executioner?

A world made abundant but not free
Is only a cage,
And what is a cage without the promise
Of insurrection?

Snow Day

I was 16 and hated high school.
When the forecast called for snow I stayed up
Late and prayed for a blizzard strong enough
To cover the gymnasium doors with concrete
Drifts and a week of sleeping in past noon
Or at least one day of idleness, and as it were
Those bended country roads froze easily and
Vanished without fighting.

I had a neighbor I liked back then, a pink
Haired girl who offered me cigarettes
And pressed razors into the thin-denim
Of her jeans; my prayers answered I walked
The half mile from my house to hers sky still
Spitting and the plows making their way sure
As tanks under lines of pearled, heavy trees.
In my boots I shook and sweated.

On her basement floor we crept under a
Sleeping bag and kissed with open eyes;
She asked me to kiss her harder but
I didn’t know how.
Outside, columns of snow stalled the light
Pushing in through the window, the streets
Were silent and mostly gone, we both
Fell easily into nervous laughter.

That winter there were projects I cared for
But abandoned all the same, swayed towards
The unknown ends of college applications and
A general sense that home might as well be a
Block of ice floating in deep sea, ambulation after
Ambulation—when I left I took nothing
With me because there was no other way.
All my memory was a vapor dispersing

Into clear, cold air. Time froze and then melted.

Daylight Ext.

It is an illusion, the artificial
Lengthening of days, accomplished
By the clumsy lobbing off of daylight
In the mornings, and then the haphazard
Pasting of it onto a blustery March afternoon,
So long marked by early darkness, now
Distended with confusion; I ate my dinner
At 9:00pm, I woke late in utter indigo
And nearly crashed my car stumbling to
Work, but I don’t care—I need the myth
Of spring, like I need the idea of God and
The cupped palms of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When I squint my eyes to see the balled,
Pearl-like flower buds trimming the bare
Wood of the pear trees, and the schoolchildren
Stretching their recesses into suppertime,
I think dreamily of confession, like Catholicism’s
Last vestigial lace tickling my middle spine.
Colors I forgot about are rushing to the edges
Of parking lots and factory yards, how could
I answer them with shame? For years that
Unraveled into decades I heard my Father’s
Anger in every word I spoke to myself,
Swallowed hungrily my mother’s silence,
And shrunk to the size of a match’s flame.
To some suffering is irredeemable—
I am still undecided; but lately I’ve loved
Greedily, hastily; people who knew me once
Gawk at the woman I am now, my selfishness,
My audacity. And I am proud to surprise them,
Like the jejune grasses that electrify the thwarted
Dirt, like the robin trill that precludes a freeze.

Vacation

Tell me why I am still looking
For something I lost in the surf
As a girl, tell me why the ocean—
Not even the whole of it, just the
Oscillating sound or the wet, salty
Wind or the smell of brine and wood—
Makes my stomach ache and my
Hands clench around an invisible stone.
Tell me what I am expecting to see
When I look over the horizon, as flat
And featureless as the days of my life,
And open my eyes wide as a moon crater.
I am so ready, for my mother’s love
Like a haloed ship parting the dusk;
For my father’s forgiveness, like
A warm current cozying the shock
Of cold water; for you to park your
Car in my driveway and storm the
Porch, saying, we don’t have to fight it.
And though you won’t say what “it” is
I know you mean loss, or would you
Call it absence? In the fathomless sky,
There are fields of empty space, deep
And gut-wrenching, bigger than us
Or what we think we know—you
Have claimed that it is a miracle, to
Wake up abandoned. Tell me.

schoolteacher

Following the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 students and teachers died. 
At Planet Fitness, they play daytime
Television on twenty different screens while
I brace myself against the awkward arms of
A treadmill—to my right, a rerun of Chopped
Loops silently, I imagine the sound of shrimp
Sizzling in a well-greased pan and run faster;
To my left, an old school Law and Order: SUV
Is on, Mariska brushes a hand through her pixie
Cut while sizing up the bruised and swollen torso
Of a DB as they call it in the precinct, I think
Definite homicide and run faster still; directly in
Front of me, CBS projects the afternoon news:
Today high school students are running across a
Bright green lawn in Florida, their hands lifted
Above their heads, a camera chasing after them—
The spectacle, the responsibility—one lens zooms
In on what I think is a dead child’s purple tennis
Shoes, another shows a yellow-haired mother
Wailing in mute, her face mangled by sudden
Realization; I think, where are the fathers of
These bullet-scarred children? In office buildings?
Hiding tears in the collars of fine pressed shirts?
Wondering if they have failed and when? My dad
Never promised me that there would be safe places
And for that I am sometimes grateful; it’s been
Weeks since I last cried, heaving, choking on your
Soft suede couch but somehow I am crying again
Now as I turn up the speed on this clunky machine
And think of you, schoolteacher,++++++++++++ and
The children I may one day have,+++++++++++ and
The promises I will not will not make them.

There is so much to run from++++++++++++++ and
Nowhere to go.

Valentine’s Day

I wear red so I will not be counted among
The dead things: the taupe branches frozen
In chokeholds, the gauzy sky fracturing cold
Light, the ice crust like a burial sheet—
And where are the birds? February makes even
The mountains look like cages, I guess.

At work, I look for aquamarine pools and coral
Peonies in the flickering blue of a computer
Screen—does the static not resemble an ocean
Viewed from far away? Anything is possible,
Even love—in a voice that sounds like mine
But isn’t, Facebook warmly taunts me:

We care about you and your memories.
And then it regurgitates a picture of an old
Lover I still dream of—suppose the greyish
Matter in my mind is not unlike whatever
Algorithm a machine uses to reanimate the past:
Everything that’s happened is happening still

All at once, though my memories are not so perfect;
Your eyes change color, and I can’t look directly
At your hands or I will know that I am dreaming
And you will disappear just like you really did, in
Reality; your virtual ghost is not so real but its eyes
Are solid brown and its hands are touching “my” face

And the sky that crests above us—I mean our hollow,
Binary projections—is fuzzy with heat and rose-gold.
I try to remember that this is just a code the computer
Doesn’t know will hurt me—it can’t touch the surface
Of a relentless, silent winter; it doesn’t sit at a desk
And think of what it means to sit there, waiting

For the sunlight season, for the wildflowers and the
Next worthwhile pursuit that will wash all the failed
Ones out with the storm water and loose tobacco;
It can’t forget the color of people’s eyes, or how
It felt to see them walking slowly into an empty room;
But to me the dead are dead, nothing lingers

But the image, voiceless though I imagine how it
Might wake up to say: Forgive me, forgive me.

Bluets

Four little poems I wrote after reading half of Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets” one sunless morning.

My stomach, balled like a fist
Against a closed door.
There is something in me, rotten.
There is something in me, holy.
I speak to you without proper language,
I speak to you with the whites of my
Eyes, pink and raw as a wound
Against the field of snow-heavy clouds
Above us.

Spring is still too soft of a wind to unstick
The cold from where it sleeps—
Will the river yet melt and twist away
From its steely banks? Will you hair grow
Long enough to pull into braids?
Will you let my hands do the work?
Muted sunlight, honey-like over the boney
Mountains; a fog that never lifts.
What is guaranteed? Nothing.

***

The ground is wet and soft, an
Open mouth choking on violets, or
The place I ran my fingers through,
Hoping to feel how you loved me
From the inside.

I plunge a fist in first, wanting
To know how deep the softness goes,
And if the heart of the world is really so
Tender, bottomless—
Does it suffer?

If it is anything like my heart,
It does.

***

I fed your memory to the sea:
Pushed it far out with painted
Fingernails, my knees like pillars in
The shifting sand, shoulders
Sure as stone—I was a monument,
Caked with slime and seaweed but
Sparkling nonetheless.

Looking back, perhaps it will seem
A half-full gesture; one day I will be
Old and I’ll know that I am dying and
I’ll wish then to hold all of the crying,
Fighting, multiplying versions of myself
Inside my arms like a fat bouquet, but now
The world is overrun with futures so countless
I kill most out of mercy, and whatever
Is lost looks just like another ripple;
My eyes can’t hold it as unique among the
Other currents that comprise the ocean’s
Endless, shivering indifference, and so
The décor of my life floats dumbly away;
I don’t need it—even you and you and you
May turn blue and float forever.

***
I wrote you letters, left them to rot
Beneath the leaves, called my
Mother, said I’m not sick just sleeping,

Said I dreamt of my pain as water
In a river, flowing downward to
The open mouth of the sea,

Where it becomes one ripple
In a desert of blue light, one
Ripple lost under a tarp of blue sky.

The Metamorphosis

There are billions of stories,
But mine boils down to this:
I have hurt hard to love you;
Dying quicker than a teenager should
In my quiet, pale bedroom; dreaming
Of someone’s arms around my half-baked
Dreams—someone soft? With painted fingernails
And a vain desire to be written about?
Those people came and went like the sun
Against the walls and fixed nothing.
I can’t blame them; no one puts your shoes
On in the morning, no one runs shampoo through
Your dirty hair, no one buys you the truth in a
Silver-threaded box—maybe I fucked and fought
In tandem but, when dawn trickled in, it was
My breath against the window, my hands
Traveling over the cold globe of the steering wheel.
What did it take to move the mountain?
I’ll say it almost killed me, and when
I felt myself surviving I thought often
Of death as runaways think of freedom.
But clever tricks are tricks all the same.
And here we are—in a quiet, pale bedroom
With that same sun on the walls, though
It feels different to me now; I admit
This was not what I dreamt of.
Your body opening to me is a bigger door
Than any I could have imagined
In those wounded times before.
I want to turn my head and tell you:
Isn’t it strange how the mind grows,
How the world blooms to bare it witness?

Insomniac Counting Sheep

When I cannot sleep which
Is often I watch the sky dilute from
Deep black to blue-grey to magenta
Stripped with gold—until the light comes in
Unrestrained and burns your hair electric orange,
The first wild tendrils of morning.

When there is no rest left to ruin
I know that I am free, though I had thought
On several occasions that time would stop
Between 3am and 4am, and the inhospitable
Dark of early morning would never soften,
And the tree branches would stay like wiry
Shadows on the window, and the streets would
Be always too quiet to confront with
The sounds of sex or music.

How close has the world come to ending?
How many missiles talked down from their
Cold steel perches? How many space rocks
Volleyed into inconspicuous corners of
The universe? Sometimes I feel like we’ve
Been shoved asunder, the ultimate master
Is still death—they who owns the distance
Between hours and loans them out to me
At an interest rate of wrinkles and cigarettes
And bouts of insomnia—I unravel the thread
To wherever it leads, be it The Middle Class,
Or crushing loneliness, or unloved love handles,
Or my 30th birthday, if it comes.

When I cannot sleep which
Is often, I twist my back to watch
You breathing—I love you assiduously,
What other way is there in a country
Where only the assiduous are spared?
The temperature of your skin in the winter
Is a point to be memorized, the shape
Of you stretched and slumped over the
Mattress a wisdom I may one day
Recite to myself alone at cheerless
Parties; I will see you like a mist
In the foreign bathroom mirror and give
My quiet praise to the art of all-nighters,
How oft I’ve suffered to keep what
Other people drop down drains and
Chase away with acid, but you know
Violence begets violence.

When I cannot sleep which
Is all the time, I think of how
Many webs we are trapped in—web
Of desire, web of rapid aging, web
Of consumer zombification, web
Of There is no God there is no Truth.
What is left but the web itself, all
Soaked with rain and sparkling
Like tinsel in the first wild tendrils
Of morning? If I unravel this thread
To all of its contradictions then we will
Never be safe from danger and sleep will never
Come; I am, like Auden said of Yeats,
Hurt into poetry—this is my last frontier.
The crystal-jagged surface of the moon, darling.
The great red desert, the sea so heavy no one
Can touch the bottom of it, darling.
I turn to catch the light in your hair—a torch
Electric orange—wake with me and tell me
What did you see while you were sleeping?