What would you like me to tell you?
I have my things. A bed. A desk. Second-
hand clothes. Coffee and milk. We pour water
in a pan on the radiator. The dishes are clean, the
light spreads out across the floor, fleeting. My plant
has died from the cold through the window. A wool
blanket at night, a clean towell in the morning.
There are things to confront: the stories we’ve heard,
the mutual friends, the rooms of dry
air that chaps your lips. You spent years with a man,
a French intellectual, a professor across the country. A
handful of men, like colored stones, tossed up, scattered.
Men will offer parts of themselves, needless and crucial.
Impressive lies, a house for the summer. A voice,
carbonated, expectant. A boy with bright enough eyes.
So I’m here, with my thin youth. No house, only
one degree. What would I give you? Only poets
read poetry. The stories you’ve heard, about the
things I’ve done, are nothing. A bare torso, maybe,
an ex-boyfriend. I hear these things. My anger tilts
the world on its side.
We’ve left small towns, small places, to come here.
The things we’ve done are small. Our frosted
breath on your windshield, the museum artwork we
forgot to look at. A table littered with powdered cocoa
and teabags, your knees resting against mine.
I would like to write you ridiculous letters.
I would like to leave the city with you.
Instead, I grip your shoulders through
your overcoat. A restrained smile, a parting at
an elevator, a street corner, your idling car.
The winter afternoons are rounded by dark and snow;
a quick daylight, a hastened twilight. I sent you postcards
with other people’s poetry, and have passed hours with
playing cards, losing games of solitaire:
ten on jack on queen on king.
February will pass. I’ve bought you
tea and your dogs lay on my cold feet there in your house.
I touched your knuckles, your palms, the tips of your fingers.
An hour for lunch, food wrapped in plastic, juice from glass
bottles. Between your words I stare at the hollow of your neck.
I would like to tell you this.
One man looked at another man,
one set of calluses against another,
the sins that banished us from the gardens
of other people’s heavens. On clear mornings
they place wafers on wet tongues. This is the body
of Christ, they say. This is the body of heaven.
Our heaven. King of kings. This is the body.
What would you give for that?
How would you prove your faith?
This is the shame of teacup people;
my shame at every night I never
slept alone; a tongued-open palm, a bright-eyed
boy who fed me cigarettes and grocery store champagne,
several months of shared sins. This is shame, what
you’ve handed me. This is the body, full of guilt and
The windowsill ivy climbs my bedroom walls.
The snow, melting, runs off the
neighboring rooftops and at night I read the chapters
of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus.
Their heaven demanded certain sacrifices, demonstrations
of affections, atonements and confessions. So, you’ve said.
What do we do now?
The scattered collection of men have all had their hopes,
and, left alone, they have called themselves fools. Is that so
uncommon? Even saints dream of sin.
Drunkenly, you remarked my youth was beautiful.
Plato was happy to lose the tyrant of his youth.
Eventually we’ve given each other nothing of value.
Content, faithful. Like I was never even there.
This is a demonstration of willful affection.
This is the body that I would become, the body
I would fold myself into and sleep, next to you and
your dogs. This is the body and these are my calluses.
This is my world-tilting anger and my desire knotted.
This is my thin, fleeting youth, these are my stories of sin
and my smile at your smile, jack on jack on king on king.
(c)1996 Michael McAllister