The Oregon Trail in the Last Moments Before Dusk, Gregory Sherl
When you unbutton your blouse I think flawed perfection. I hunt like a martyr, begging the forest to take me for what I am, somewhat of a good man. I strip down to nothing, less than nothing I have shed my skin, hung it from a tree like an idea I was too scared to write down. We always ford the river, the water the color of toothpaste, the water too far to touch my skin—it’s still hanging from a tree, a ghost in love with being a ghost. While your mouth is on my mouth, we are robbed. The last minutes of light welcome the first minutes of fear. The robber at the end of the world rubs his lost apprehension. His gun is lost shrapnel from a war I’ll never fight. He wants to know why the river’s the calmest when you’re not looking. He wants to know if the stars will tell on his lack of social skills. I tell him I don’t know. I tell him Tonight we’re just trying to get off.
I especially love what Bright had to say about casual sex and coming of age in a time and place where the idea was that “sex would be friendly and kind and fun.”
“Well, first of all, I detest the term “casual sex” — since when is it actually casual, this so-called casual sex? Every time I was with someone it was intimate. It was intense. I got to know them and they got to know me on levels we certainly wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t gotten together — and I don’t just mean what their bottom looked like, I mean their personality, their feelings. You’re vulnerable with someone. I mean, some people say, “No, I’m made of steel. I just go in there and fuck.” Have I ever experienced that, at all? I just don’t find sex to be this jaded, cynical, stoic exercise. How do you manage to do that and have an orgasm? I don’t.”
Word. I think “casual sex” should be banned from public discourse. It’s a term that doesn’t mean anything. And, as I wrote the other week, drawing a dichotomy between so-called “casual” sex and committed/monogamous/married sex erases a whole lot of very valuable–and very different–kinds of sex that fall under that “casual” umbrella.
I also think that labeling–and disparaging–some sex as “casual” contributes to a culture in which sex is too often treated casually. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We set up a two-tier system in which sex within a committed relationship is privileged and casual sex is considered shameful, dirty, and less-than. We tell young people that sex with someone you love is special and wonderful but casual sex is “just” sex. It’s no wonder then that some of them see sex as a conquest, instead of a partnership–a “jaded, cynical, stoic exercise,” instead of an intimate experience you share with another human being.
I suspect if we affirmed that all kinds of sexual relationships, from one-night stands to lifelong marriages, can–and should–be positive, healthy, joyful experiences, a whole lot more of them would be. So memo to all those hook-up culture hand-wringers: stop harping on so-called “casual sex.” If it’s actually casual, you’re probably just doing it wrong.
each scar in his footsteps to fire. The pink stretch marks on my skin are a country at war with the last wall. He cut off my clothes like I was one of the wounded, my back arching under the mission of his hands. I am licked and rolled under him like a cigarette.
This yoga position has an artificial Sanskrit name that only submissives know.
I am a mudrā he uncurls. I bury fists then birth them. Meet my tongue of no resistance at the pit where they bulldozed olive trees. Kiss all the defiant lovers; spring whispers to summer about dangerous weather.
This is how we ended the summer. This is how we ended the war. I’m not taking any more questions. Listen hard. The force of his heavy body against my back. His hand on mine against the wall. His hand forcing us through.
The still of relief while we’re in the eye of the riot.
I can only give you back what you imagine. I am a soulless man. When I take you into my mouth, it is not my mouth. It is an unlit pit, an aperture opened just enough in the pinhole camera to capture the shade.
I have caused you to rise up to me, and I have watched as you rose and waned. Our times together have been innumerable. Still, like a Capistrano swallow, you come back. You understand: I understand you. Understand each jiggle and tug. Your pudgy, mercurial wad.
I am simply a hand inexhaustible as yours could never be. You’re nevertheless prepared to shoot. If I could I’d finish you. Be more than just your rag.
It’s right before you drive away: our limbs still warm with sleep, coffee sputtering out, the north wind, your hips pressing me hard against the table. I like it hard because I need to remember this. I want to say harder. How we must look to the road that’s gone, to the splayed morning of cold butter and inveterate greed. Light comes and goes in the field. Oranges in a bowl, garlic, radio. In the story of us, no one wins. Isolation is a new theme someone says. By now I’ve invented you. Most people don’t like to touch dead things. That’s what my friend tells me when I find my fish on the floor. It must have wanted an out. Sometimes my desire scares me. Sometimes I watch football and think: four chances is enough to get there. But we don’t have helmets. I want to say harder, I can take it, but there’s no proof I can.
The kids should visit a history museum in their senior year, to understand disgrace as one form of Clinton’s victory. On the other hand the European Community foreign debt gives everybody bad dreams. So we do need to solve the problem of students reading difficult things that will lead them astray: why did Rimbaud turn from socialism to capitalism? As if
it matters. He is his own consolation prize. We’d be delighted to have his uniform. We want to see all the modern art stuff, too. Thank you. Press the button marked “monument” and see what happens: a recorded voice says “I have wasted my life,” and we pay to listen.
I want you to see the hole in my shirt where your heart went through like a Colt 45, and opened a dream at the back of the neck. Here, let me unbutton it for you. Notice the ribs, those sweet things you loved, notice the insides, the parchment lampshades, the books, the furniture. Notice yourself sitting, holding my hand on a winter night, notice the look in my eyes, now close it all up and walk away.
Stumble, pretend you’re dead. Just for me, pretend you can be hurt by something so simple as a failed emotion. Pretend you have seen loss. For god’s sake what was I holding when you said good morning.
In Milwaukee it is snowing on the golden statue of the 1970s television star whose television house was in Milwaukee and also on the Comet Cafe and on the white museum the famous Spanish architect built with a glass elevator through it and a room with a button that when you press it makes two wings on the sides of the building more quickly than you might imagine mechanically rise like a clumsy thoughtful bird thinking now I am at last ready over the lake that has many moods to fly but it will not and people ask who are we who see so much evil and try to stop it and fail and know we are no longer for no reason worrying the terrible governors are evil or maybe just mistaken and nothing can stop them not even the workers who keep working even when it snows on their heads and on the bridge that keeps our cars above the water for an hour in northern California today it snowed and something happened people turned their beautiful sparkling angry faces up
After the stroke all she could say was Venezuela, pointing to the pitcher with its bright blue rim, her one word command. And when she drank the clear water in and gave the glass back, it was Venezuela again, gratitude, maybe, or the word now simply a sigh, like the sky in the window, the pillows a cloudy definition propped beneath her head. Pink roses dying on the bedside table, each fallen petal a scrap in the shape of a country she’d never been to, had never once expressed interest in, and now it was everywhere, in the peach she lifted, dripping, to her lips, the white tissue in the box, her brooding children when they came to visit, baptized with their new name after each kiss. And at night she whispered it, dark narcotic in her husbands ear as he bent to listen, her hands fumbling at her buttons, her breasts, holding them up to the light like a gift. Venezuela, she said.
The low hanging hibiscus coos out its swollen-mouth flower song to the rare bee holding its tongue and I’m drunk on the bully world again— a fueled up fluster coming on. Look, even two oceans can collide here in the belly of white islands. Splurge and risk in the conch-dark night—I’m going to walk into the water’s frothy rim. Come here shark. Come here barracuda. Love the sweet artifacts of this body. Carry me in the world-class rattle of a wave. I want the big bite, one restless, tooth-filled mouth to take me down.
“Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago.”—Bob Herbert in his last column for the New York Times Losing Our Way
You have only the branches you came with, and that scent of tea in your mouth. I know there will be other flavors besides this dust of cinnamon sticks and acrid roses. Perhaps the skin will feel different when it soaks a while in rain filled with tiny oranges and slips of mint leaves. Then it may seem a refreshing planet, like an Eden where I can stay. Make flowers of your bones. Otherwise how will I stay afloat? What will I eat? You will say a finite number of words with clarity, and besides you will only mean some. What difference does it make if I believe even half? I’m in a poor position among these dark trees stalking you. I remember when you were a small animal sitting with its tiny skull on a branch so high up in this maple that I couldn’t have known you were there. And you weren’t watching either. You were a dragonfly instead, a sting, a bit of water pooled up by the curb with one knife of sky stabbing from reflected leaves. The body is cardboard. Let us make of it fire and breathe in the smoke with our mouths like the purple, cold lilies beaded with soot, like the marigold I’ve saved these years, like the dried pheasant wing and its bright plumes.
“Q: When you read your work on stage, do you ever feel anxious sharing so many details of your personal history and self? If so, what makes you continue to do so? Also, since (as you mention it in your thank you notes) there may be many “poets buried deep inside lost and angry boys”, what advice would you give them as an adult and writer?
Ocean Vuong: I am naturally an anxious person. Even after so many readings, I still get nervous. I’m just terrible at saying smart and funny things in between poems, so I just read one poem after another, keeping the notes as brief as possible. But as far as the content, I am actually less anxious when reading the poems themselves. When I read, I allow myself to reinvestigate the work, to go through the lines with the readers and almost live them again for the first time (does that make sense?). Reading the poem aloud is like a rebirth. I am no longer myself but am rather a manifestation of the poem. So I am not too shy about personal history being revealed during the process. But again, not all poems derive from personal history. I take a lot of different roles in my work and I contradict myself often.
As for younger writers, well I guess I can be considered one myself, and indeed, I am still learning. I would encourage younger writers to read, read, and read. You just can’t poop without eating. It’s a lovely and necessary cycle. I would also advise them to not always listen to teachers. They are smart and often understanding, but they are also human and flawed. And for god’s sakes, don’t write every day. That’s the worst advice I’ve been given. What a terrible thing to advise a poet. To write every day is to pry apart, on a daily basis, the mind’s most terrible crevices. You can trick yourself into believing it is a herculean act, nearly crusade-like. But one can only burn at both ends for so long. Save the poems, let them grow inside you, like a pregnancy, and when the water breaks, nothing can stop it. Also, there’s no such thing as writer’s block—don’t sell yourself short with such an excuse. If you have nothing to say, put down the pen, go outside, and fling yourself into the world. It’s waiting for you.”—PANK Blog / An Interview with Ocean Vuong By Amanda Mathews I recommend clicking through to read the rest of this stunning interview with poet Ocean Vuong.