Sit Still Until I Finish Your Portrait

.

will i always digress?  i think so
impossible not to
as i am
a wistful type

and forgetful

i only wanted
to watch you.



..

first love always begins
with this sincerity, 
perhaps because
its earnestness 
curtails my other desire 
to possess.

what is the point
of so much silence?

let's talk about something else:
let's reimagine a story
where we both
say the right thing
at the right time

i've seen you do it before

i swear,
it is a sure thing

stop turning around

try to believe me



...

can i have some more?  it's so good.
for once i don't feel so empty

"less" is a word
that keeps coming back
over
and over

it is the perfect example
of something regretful:
i know what i did

to get us where we are now.
look, i don't feel good about it

i was bored stiff. that's why
i was so distant and agitated;
why i looked so small. it's why
i noticed someone else across the room,
just the kind of guy 
i like. 

don't
be jealous.
i liked you that way, too

you know it anyway,
that you're really cute?
are you blushing? you are too.
so then who
is in charge here? not
you.  you
seem out of it tonight,
you look like
you had a bad day

those wet lashes

sorry
i didn't think

that you would ever
get so hooked,
that you would make
so much of things

but tell me you wouldn't
have done exactly the same
if you were me

tell me



....

"you're not sad out of the blue.
there have to be reasons."

 there's a reason.

"come on."

 i'm coming.

"stop torturing yourself."

 it's over. all settled.
 i'm sorry. i swear i am.



.....

i'll finish my drink first,
then i'll come. i'll watch
first, then i'll come.
promise.

so i followed you
out of the bar. i followed you
into a bar. i followed
a crocodilian instinct
i had about you.

why are you here
all alone? being good.
your type is so rare,
that's why i followed you.

i followed you
because you have a pretty name,
in latin it means
hammer

i could be so serious back then

only cared about art and language
i didn't know much,
but i liked it.  all of it
especially egon schiele,
picasso and schiele. i'm lousy
at english, so i linger on the art
and only watch movies with subtitles.
in fact, i love english actually.
oh i can't remember.
anderson, scorsese, aronovsky,
i could go on
but i'll try not to.

am i even allowed to be here?
i wont talk
more than five minutes.
i'll just get that dead look
in my face.

doesn't it make you happy?
i so rarely
do anyone else's portrait.
"the mysterious weakness
of men's faces"
and that sort of thing. instead
i have obsessed myself
with richter. it does me good.
the rigorousness
of his brush strokes,
those wide commitments.



......

how does that look?
it's strange because it's you
and it isn't you.
i have to go.

you don't have to like it.

someone wolf-whistled
on my walk home.



.......

i always prefer to be clear.
but don't tell me
to relax.
you just jumped
down my throat
do you realize? when
you mentioned

a pathological scruple
and what is that? does that
mean gravity? like how
everything in nature
is perverted, and vice versa.
the opposite
of right-mindedness.

"are you following any of this?"

i can follow this, i am
living this.
i'm alive and
i will do anything

really its scary

"so you're voracious?"

you can't even imagine.

"i can see."

can you see me
clearly, i don't want to know.
it's nice
being here.
a little too nice.
that smile.

i admit
i was shaking
i was tired
but i didn't give up

i told my bones to go
i went 

big words. to love.
delicious.



........

i am still studying the anguish
in schiele's oeuvre.
those delicate nudes,
emaciated and grotesque,
gaping
in such unlikely positions.

twisted, obscure,
something very dark.

i've tried to keep that out
of your portrait
but it never works. 

better not
to tell it
slant, actually

better to embrace
one's own disfigurements
with an emotional directness
that makes others want
to look away

pleasure being so obvious,
and so obviously tangential
to torture

is it ever possible
for pleasure to be shared?
unlike pain,
it is not a competition

even my portraits
are really
self-portraits

it is part
of my wistfulness

If You Come Over

It's still dark outside,
too cold
   to have coffee on the porch or take a walk
          around the lake, but if you come over,
I'll keep my hands to myself.
	                  Really.
	        I just want to show you
the new watercolors and my latest oils:
	          a scented jacaranda
           dripping over the cedar fence in the yard,
leaking onto the sidewalk.
                  The white brick wall
                                            splattered with poinsettias,
                  like the aftermath of a shotgun.
The rippled lake washed in gold.

I have tried to tell a story, to make a record of things.

	    Many things have happened since you left here,
      most of them disconcerting.  A man in my office
put his hand on my thigh, 
                              so he could try to know me better.
I left early that day for a doctor's appointment.        
My test results came in,  though I already knew
	I have anemia and amenorrhea
and a small heart murmur. 
I had a lot to think about
on my way home; I hardly noticed
                                           the man on the sidewalk
	until he whistled at me 
long and low,
so I would know he was hungry.
                            Never mind.

                              But hey, come over.
Winter has already polished off October
and I need another
			pair of hands
on my rib cage.  I can hardly tell anymore
if I am sketching your face
	  or just imagining you
     on the front of the cereal box.
This morning we could do something
                                            together.
We could act out a scene where we fry the eggs
and bake the sourdough ourselves. 
	Where we open a book and flip through the pages.
Where your hand rests on my shaky kneecap. 
	                                         We could rewrite the scene
                       where we let the toast turn black.
And I let you see the cities
	glowing in the center of me.

It's impossible, you know,
to feel calm in a city.
            Without the sound of birdsong. 

That why every love song 
begins like that:
with a sweet piano,
so two cursory people can pause
to kiss
                                       in a doorframe.
Composed for just that moment. 
      That's never what I wanted
                                             with you.
I wanted to be the doorway,
	        the trapdoor that you would fall through.
The pair of hands
to open you
                          like a moonflower.
To whisper inside of you
	                like an echo
                        begging you:
                                          ruin me, ruin me, ruin me.

Stray

"The past isn't dead. It isn't even in the past." 
-- William Faulkner


The past should go away, but it doesn't.
Even if you try to throw it out
with all my perfect cursive notes 
and the white IKEA furniture. There is still 
the insomnia, a few mottled bruises 
rotting on the inside of your sternum. 
You once told me there was no such thing
as a heartache, so now I feel no obligation
to resolve anything. 

The past should go away, but how can it? 
Once I went hunting for your loneliness,
and I found it,
my round breath sewing loops
right through you.

Everything that happened
is still happening and happening.

The past should go away, but instead 
it waits for you, motionless,
like a flood at the bottom 
of your basement steps.

You. You breathed out like a map.
You said worship; you meant it.

The past is merciless, fills 
every recess of a heart;
fills all the holes in the sky
where there should be stars. 

The past should go away, but it follows you home
like a starving junkyard dog
with something dead in its mouth.
Haunts you. Looks like you:
covered in filth and eating 
from the garbage. You've always
been a mangled stray, desperate
for affection or a warm bed to sleep in.

In that case, the past is a chain
for you, dear.
You wear it snug around your throat, dear.

See how the past covers you like daybreak. 

The past should go away, but it keeps unfolding slowly
like a dense fog falling off the stage,
breaks open like a night of locusts.

I once brought you there, 
to my garden of drowning violas.
Led you, lured you. Halfway.
Left you there alone. Then
just when you began to see a crack of light,
I stepped in your path, 
closed my eyes
and swung the blunt object.

Your head aching like 
a broken heart.

The past should go away, but it won't 
stop breathing; such an intolerable 
black assault of wheezes.

The past looks right at you with its eyeless face,
as it drags itself across the floor,
pulls the knife from its belly
and threatens you with it.
Laughs darkly. Rotting wood
where there should be teeth.

You asked why I was crying,
and I said it was because 
I was so happy 
with such earnestness 
that even I believed it.

The past keeps spinning
on its demon carousel. 

You feel guilty because
you are guilty.

The past should go just away,
but it hangs from the beams
and sleeps upside-down inside of you.
Wakes up and immediately
starts beating all its wings.

Scrapes against the rust on your heart,
and makes a bony sound. 

The past should go away, but it never does.
It isn't even over yet, it's barely
even started, dear. 



Tell Me No

I keep trying to push my words into you   /   even now
I am writing you this poem 
as if it might fill you up with something
I can really sink my teeth into. 

I am writing you this poem,
even if you never asked for it.
Even though I know you
won't understand it.  
It feels so good anyway     /     and besides,
I don't know what else to do. 

And besides, I like to see you   /   take the bait. 
I like to see you hoping.

I hope one day you will understand the feeling 
of being lost inside yourself    /   though I know you will not.   
You are not one to turn your head away 
from something you want. 
And why should you?   Although it can be
equally delicious    /      Here, I'll show you.

We stare at each other from across the street,
waiting for the light to change,

your breath unfurling in slow motion. 

I wonder how you hope this will unfold.  Are you thinking
what I'm thinking?
Tell me no    /   despite your spreading pupils  
and the skip of your pulse    /    but I know you.
The truth is:    we are as haunting
as we are haunted.

And it won't stop.
I will wait until it is late and you are most tired. 
I will whisper something heady into your neck.  I will
linger on you    /    until something interesting happens.

You are thinking:    this is a bad plan.
But everything is a bad plan when you are impatient.
You cannot block someone's path 
towards what they want most.  Well, 
you can try    /     but it doesn't do any good.     
You should know.

Really, this is my last attempt.  
I looked over my shoulder to make sure you were watching.
I wrote you this love poem.   I stood between two mirrors, 
reflected infinitely    /    I fogged up the glass
and traced your name in cursive.
I painted a self-portrait     /    and for once
I was so angelic.
Lithe.
Beautiful, even.




When I Remember

this is what I remember:
his rare smile, those perfect
canine teeth,

almost blue in the dark
above me.
You have no idea

he told me that night
with his teeth.
Everyone smiles,
but not like that.

He was so good looking,
I used to watch him sleeping.
What else can I say?
I found myself singing along
to all the bad pop songs on the radio.

That was the winter
it snowed and snowed.
At night we drove around,
mouthing the words,
alone in our dream city.
I came to know
he was fearless about the weather,
would drive in anything.

I paid close attention to these things.
I tried to remember
every sentence he spoke,
each cotton shirt in his closet,
all of the food on his shelf.
The night we danced 
through his kitchen
around and around,
dizzy in our happiness.

His apartment was the only place
I felt peaceful; it had good light
and a pretty view of the chapel.
Pendleton blankets and books.
He didn't have a television.
On the weekends
he faithfully made me breakfast.
Remember this, I pleaded:
his thick wool socks,
the eggs and the toast,
the hardwood floors,
the albums he gave me.

On the cover of one,
an abandoned farmhouse
standing in a wheat field,
ruined by rain. On another,
withered flowers,
rotting in a vase
filled with dirty water.
The last one: a thickly framed mirror,
blank against dark floral wallpaper.

I listened to each of them repeatedly;
I laid awake trying to figure it out.
Who is this person
I am sleeping next to?
I wondered.

He was all I thought of really,
and at night I practiced my remembering:
the texture of his sheets,
the amber color of his eyes
almost yellow at the center
near his pupils.
The joke he made that morning
about a dominatrix and the moon.
And those teeth.

This was when my love for him
started to seem luckless. He asked so little
of me, but what he did ask
felt impossible.
Try to be happy, and smile more.
Don't be so reticent. Don't be so
dogmatic. Sleep with the lights off. 
Eat all the foods on your plate.

Remember what it's like
to love him.

Well I had requirements too, you know.
Unflinching obedience.
Loyalty,
until death.

Remember that it is possible
to feel this way.

But I didn't remember.
I forgot, nearly everything.

When all other memories of him 
had dissolved,
clean off the bone,
this is what remained:

his teeth.
The wolf smile.
Years later, still promising
to eat me whole.

Oh, I Remember You

You've snuck around here before,
dangling inside the word forget like a tiny bell
on a leash.

Swaying inside our darkness
you noiseless bat.

Begging me to neglect you.

Oh, I remember
you said it will be okay, like you could know
and like I asked you and like it would be.

Well. The heart is like a mirror,
it can only be broken once.

I'm not mad.

If love was meant to be bloodless
then why would we have
knuckles to grind

and lips to chew on?
I never asked you to go easy on me.

Really.  Show me true anguish, yours,
and I will show you mine.  

Winks.

So we glue the mirror back together
and it still reflects, but so distorted.

Anyone can love a demented thing
if it is done just right.
If it is just done right.

I can't help the way I am. 

If only you
had a sickly half-heart like mine, you would understand.
This is my weak attempt at telling the truth--
     I usually just watch you stumble around
     and feel your way through the dim corridor.

Are you starting to understand?

My heart is like a mirror,
it will show you who you really are.

I have always chosen a severe life
even when I said I wouldn't.
I was resolute. I was brave. But I still never figured it out:
              how to  behave, how to be tender,
         how to be selfless, how to start over.
I opened the book on my lap,
but only sat there crying. It is hard
to be your own terrorist.

Really who doesn't want to be remembered
as better than we are?
Every day I have allowed you
to overemphasize my gentleness.
This is when I have been most selfish.

Who can blame me? You said hello so nicely
that I didn't sense any interpersonal boundaries.

For once, I did not have to be gracious.
I did not have to starve myself for days
or defy my impulses.

No, for once I let the desperate animal
in my bones devour what it craved most.
Yes, I remember
you.

remember you

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Not Nothing

Vowing that this would be the last time
is what kept me coming back
all these years
Taking myself to the edge 
of what I can bear
is what I was born to do

I didn't want to say it,
but you have changed me already
I had only been posing 
for a photograph
when I met you,

a list of ingredients
without a recipe

the single grape 
inside your boneless mouth

It wasn't much, but it wasn't nothing
I have stood barefoot in your bedroom
I have been alone inside of you
like a key that slides in the lock
but can't quite make it turn

It must be the tenor of your voice

It felt powerful and rare,
incendiary even,
but in the end
love is not a psychodrama

In the end, the only thing I could calibrate
was the undressed space between us  
So when we touched,
that is what I touched:
                your most sullen deficits,
     the messy shelves inside of you,
     those piles of unread novels 
     stacked on the floor
A small song plays on loop all night in the dark

Those delicate moments of verisimilitude could not outweigh
your monuments of impassivity, 
though they made for such
delicious resistances 

Sometimes there is nothing left to say
or nobody left
to say it

When I myself have failed 
to say things plainly,
it was my nature
and not my failure
       Anyway, it would not
have made me any happier

clouds

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