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Poems: "Four Gay Men"

Updated: 3 days ago

The first book I ever had published -- if you consider a chapbook a book and self-published as published -- was Untitled and other poems. This debut collection of 20 pieces featured four sonnets, a villanelle, a rondeau, a sestina, and a rispetto. So clearly form's been a literary preoccupation of mine for over 30 years. Do the poems hold up? I'd like to think so. Four of them recently got republished on the website Northwest Indiana Literary Journal: "Hard Knocks After Midnight," "Austin," "Hands off and on," and "Park." All of them are more or less love poems to men I knew at the time. You can read them now exclusively at NIJL since I think your chances of tracking down the original pamphlet are slim to none. Here's the first one as enticement.

Hard knocks after midnight

You wake me up to tell me that you’re drunk again 

then talk of death. You talk as if we’re peers from some 

same place yet I have never seen Fort Worth. You’ve 

lost friends, lovers, and your dad. I’ve lost no 

one really not for years. The aches we share have more 

to do with what we want than what we have or had. 

You understand the humps I don’t. I wonder do 

you crave a bra of roughened hands like I do. Do 

you feel the rend, the split of seams, the fray and tear 

of loss not only as what has been but as what 

might be. I’ve yet to lose a friend; I’ve not had 

a lover; my dad isn’t dead. Instead, I talk 

to you of touching objects, tell you sometimes clothes 

contain a person’s past. The wardrobe’s full of ghosts. 

You want none of it. You pound murmur down. You punch 

holes in solace; searching for that shared grief; knowing 

that if not death, sickness I have seen, have witnessed: 

sore and lesions, sweats, that horrid, harping cough. 

Liquor’s left this gentle lilt upon your tongue 

that fails to soften words whose solid centers hit 

like rocks until I want to pull you from my ear 

and slip you down against me, feel a heat, that warmth 

of contact, exploit comfort, fool myself to thinking 

that by slipping each inside the other we could 

black out—then flash! inside my brain, I realize 

I’ve used sex in every way but how I want, 

in every way but how I wait…for what. 

What is desire. What is hunger. Who’s revolting, 

you or me, and in which way. Quiet is my cheap trick. 

It fools everyone. You’re thinking when I’m not. 

Silence is the hammer. Watch. I hit myself. 

I will not get involved. I will not get involved. 

This curative, this necessary therapy, 

survival tool, I badly need but do not do. 

Hereby, the wire hanger slays another bitch. 

The needle punctures yet another life and lung. 

Let’s sit down on the sidewalk, put our cupped hand out 

like beggars and hope one of the passing boys may grace 

us with a kiss instead of coins. Friendship has little 

to do with this. Get up. Wake up. Blood brothers let us 

strive to be despite our never having made that final cut. 

The cover photo (above) for Untitled and other poems is a color negative taken by my poet pal Mare Davis at a Queer Pride event in Portland, Oregon in 1994.

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