Five Poems


These poems were originally accepted by Guernica but were withdrawn by the author in protest.

self portrait ii
young, in bedroom with back turned

help me decipher what has been
planted in my sternum, a shimmering

abatina, tiny and pill shaped,
pulsating into a bloodied-yellow

bloom. it grows wildly amongst
my wreckage, my small room;

my dust-drenched walls.
i do not believe in omens but i do

know when a god is trying to teach me
the ways to burn a country clean

of its lavender. i fear the flowers
are pulling themselves too frail.

in the years to come my beloveds
will rattle themselves so thin, i will

barely know they were ever alive to begin
with. for now, i tell the mirror to please

keep my weight on; i press
my fingers to the wood, splinter

myself between the grains. everything
in this room is trying to thin me out,

self portrait iii
side eye to the camera, smoking a cigarette

i think the issue is everyone
has been so beautiful in
every poem, everyone

except me. on a beach on fire island, i sit
with the waves while they fold
under like a man’s knees gathering

in an altar boy’s offering. even here,
the way i describe the water is more
beautiful than the water itself. how

does water fold? i watched it, i know
what is possible. it must be why
i have bought so many birds. everything

they do is elegant. the magpie’s bladed
wings trimming the air of its fat. a mutation
of thrush swells into a speckled-grey sky.

while on the island, i joke
that every dune buggy will be my o’hara
moment. i laugh until the sand is spit-

ridden, christened with remembering
my taste. it was a joke i think
i took too far. i mean

to say, everything must die but nothing
dies more beautifully than a bird fearing
the night. i am not sure what will take me

but i, too, am weary of dying. when i said
otherwise, i promise dear reader i was
just pretending to be that brave.
self portrait iv
face to the camera, sticking out his tongue

and now let’s do a silly one. make
us smile, too—break open
your mouth. flash teeth

until they earthquake
from your gums. crack
your jaw wide trying to bite

into the flesh of a tombstone.
make us laugh with your
laughter as you acknowledge

your own mortality. make us
forget. we do not want
to remember that we are just blood

and bad days. you are dying, Alvin.
but please leave that out
of the photo. forget again.
self portrait v
in front a mirror in a hospice bathroom, Baltrop casted in a shadow

Alvin, i must come clean. i have fantasized
about this image of you for so long; one

proving we are all meant to die. i cannot
explain this shame. i have thought how

i trouble these lines, make beautiful where once
was ruin, fill the mouth with honey, with other

men, with gangs of gnats rummaging a kitchen
sink, with coal as it turns summer orange. i wanted

to make you beautiful again, even in how your skin folds
between the frame. you know, i cried when i first saw you,

your hospice attire, your ghost presented
in a mirror, a flannel pale and holding the grey

beneath your eyes. the flesh clinging to your cheeks
like the pelts of old wolves worn by older men. Alvin,

did you love? to be selfish for a moment, i must think
about the flowers left atop your grave; who you still fed

in your absence. the mice that feasted on the orchids,
that brought the coyotes, the owls. the worms pulling

from what tattered meat was left. have you always been
so generous, Alvin? i thought the body would be

dressed in a gown or a burial tux. even here you play
with shadow, teach me something new about light.

smudge your image from the room, focus on the flies
singing in your ears. trust me, Alvin, i am trying to

understand. i have never been one to color grief
its natural hue. how am i distraught over a body

i have never known, Alvin? i am starting to see you
everywhere, a name i didn’t know how to fit into my own

mouth like a grapefruit, blushing with red. Alvin. may i call
you, Alvin? have we not already gotten this close by now?
Untitled 1975-86
after Alvin Baltrop

I peer from beneath, spectator to a hand firm between flesh and Fruit of the Loom
waistband, a student of the thrashing hooves that have marked the docks in gold, the
last to swallow the saliva of ghosts. Sound is the first land to be deluged by our tongue.
In us, the fish, the shrimp and clam, the lobster, the sharks, the bodies of the too-young
dead, a lustful boil of our own. You and him above me, too, him splintering the round
of your back, teaching you both patience and pain. A challenge knowing you must
end, the challenge we accept. Just around the bend of the building, sick dogs heave at
your scent. On the roof, the buzzard caws for your meat like men have done for years.
Through the window, they strike steel with their bare hands, unaware of your own
bodies thwacking against each other behind the brick barrier. What does one do when
another discovers the stench in their want? A long brown door hangs in my mouth,
there are some things we fail at chewing. There are some things we fail at letting fall
into the deepest parts of us. I hear death calling your fluttering name from the gravel
sitting in my stomach. Yet I still hold the weight of the docks and you and him and all
of the silence you try to run from.

Untitled 1975-86

What story shall we tell
our friends of how
we met

My Body, Ms. Bey, LV

It should cost a billion to look this good—to look this much like yourself, ever changing.