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the fisherman's sneakers trouble the water he baits his hooks with homophones, cartilage, pheromones telephones, specula, seraphim his hooks :
he lowers his line into the dark an adrenal needle plunged into the heart feels something bite below the river
& pulls up boy,
i never wanted to grow up to be anything horrible as a man. my biggest fear was the hair they said would snake from my chest, swamp trees breathing as i ran. i prayed for a different kind of puberty: skin transforming into floor boards muscles into cobwebs, growing pains sounding like an attic groaning under the weight of old photo albums. as a kid i knew that there was a car burning above water before this life, i woke here to find fire scorched my hair clean off until i shined like glass — my eyes, two acetylene headlamps. in my family we have a story for this: my brother holding me in his hairless arms. says
dad it will be a monster we should bury it.
it's not that we're all born genderless, though we are.
rather, once we were all small women inside our mothers.
something about science
& sex organs & hormones
& god. no wonder she wept red negligee when she walked in on me at ten in her worst dress spinning before her dead father's mirror, my eyes made up into science fictions. felt me again inside her, my pig thirst threading her blood & body mass into another veil i'd wear
& not care for. seeing mother cry i found myself into manlier fabrics. when i am a boy again she tells me it's not that she hated me fey rather, that day she swore she saw the mirror sob. fetal lady,
little daughter, tiny apology.
NEW GOD OF AN ANTIQUE WAR
i only want the world to end when i'm done with it
a boy stares into the lake & falls in love
it's not how you think,
with his own reflection
but rather the lake
o to be so fluid you can hold another's shape
& stay the same thing
this story is a horse beaten into a new name
a french king builds a palace of mirrors & bankrupts his countrymen
you can't drink glass without becoming something else
sure, everyone has heartache but mine lives in my body
it moves as i move it stares back at me
BUENA VISTA PARK 2AM
these men carry famine in them
the lamps throw their light against branches
the branches rake their shadows across a man's naked back
his back flat as a table the table set for me
i did not come here hungry
the mass-produced painting of a field in winter hanging above the bed in this west oakland motel room starts moving on its own inside the faux gold frame.
it begins as always with whiteness swallowing the rest of the painting in its dumb bloodslit hunger. then as always a pulse of the backlit blue veins rising up like abrasions on a pale boy's back. followed by the inevitable red riven out the snow bank taking the shape of a scythe or sieve or finally a boy or the shape of a boy growing antlers or the shape of antlers wherever his hands are meant to be now.
but they're impossible to see in all the movement.
impossible to move his hands & you have to wonder how a boy or the shape of a boy wound up here in this unstable field.
if only i knew the history of art i could give you more than the color of the thing. i could tell exactly what school this painting's in. i could use the painter's biography to make sense of it his fucked head & terrible terrible life. i could use expensive words to make these bizarre gestures tenable. i wonder if every one of these reprints is moving in the same fashion?
or is it just this one staring upside down at a boy on his back on a filthy white blanket while the shape of a strange man moves in unspeakable ways over my body.
and again the test comes back negative for waterborne parasites for gonorrhea of the throat and of elsewhere for white blood cells in the stool
this isn't always true sometimes it's a phone call from your lover sometimes it's your computer blinking on with news of what's wrong with your body this time
simple really how he says the name of a disease and suddenly you're on your back staring out the window onto a highway
suddenly a woman enters the room to wrap a black cuff around your arm and squeeze until you're no longer sick
to slip a device under your tongue check if your sweat's accompanied by the heat it demanded
and aren't we all of elsewhere sometimes the nowhere places you make yourself inside the hallowed chambers of the hospital and inside the man's unsure voice
when he calls and is too scared to name the precise strain of letters you might share now what parasite might feed on the topsoil of your groin
what laugh track what tabernacle unlatched to let all that god in what bacteria spreading its legs in your throat as you speak
when the illness is terminal you drink an eighth of paint thinner while all the color drains from your face
all those little rocks in your gut turned to buses all those buses full of strange men one degree apart each all going somewhere and gone now
funny how a word can do that garage the body what if instead he'd simply called to say epithalamium or new car or sorry
ESSAY ON CRYING IN PUBLIC
i'm bent over / the sidewalk weeping / outside the public theatre / you stand above me / horse built from a father's beer cans / you still have that other man's mouth on you / i can taste it / with the grunt of my hands / it's my fault / always is / i say do what you will / + your will is done / so what i was born drunk + mean with my teeth knocked out / so what my first noise was crying + i've been going-strong ever since / that other man has a name / i hate that / he has a mouth + fixed-gear bike + hiv / + you sat on his couch waiting for him / to say anything / that you're pretty / or nice / or have nice sneakers / then you leapt in his body + lived there a while / maybe brushed your teeth ate a spoiled piece of fruit / then came back to me / with your house keys out / the ones i'd cut for you / said you couldn't stop / thinking of me / how he tasted too sweet / cut flowers in chemical powder / candy souring in heat / how glad you are to live / here / where everything feels safe / basic real-estate / my house + bed / a thin sheet of latex / my chest a coffer to store your futures in / how bad does the news have to be before you get to shoot the messenger / how can we bury the hatchet / when it always ends up in my back / when you tell me / he emptied you / like an animal / hide / i'm fine / until i'm inconsolable / in public + you're offering vacant comfort / how bad he was in his body / how much it hurt / you / how you used protection / + i can't help but think / how terrible the name trojan is / in the story / the horse breaks / inside the city + war-crazed men spill out / thirsty / for revenge / so what people are staring / so what we're on our way to the theatre / to see a play where everyone dies / i don't know why i'm crying either / maybe i can't bare to look at you / covered in mouths / maybe it's just the sidewalk pulling salt out of my head / maybe i can't see you now without also seeing you dead
i'm interested in death rituals.
maybe that's a weird thing to say.
when i say interested i mean,
i've compiled a list.
on it are mourning practices gathered across time & continents.
it's long & oddly comforting how no one knows a damn thing about what follows. i won't share it with you, only say,
evidence suggests neanderthals were the first hominids to bury their dead. also, i'll say they didn't possess a written language,
which points toward interment as a form of document. the body is ink in the earth. the grave marker,
a gathering together of text.
the first written languages were pictorial & marked the movement of goods between peoples.
i don't know what to do with that but pretend death's a similar kind of commerce: face stamped into a coin, what's left of the body in the belly of a bird, two lines that meet to make a man alive again on paper. i know i know,
ashes to ashes & all that dust to irreverent dust. i know everyone i love who's dead didn't actually become the poem i wrote about them.
their breath a caught fathered object thrashing in the white space between letters. contrary to popular belief elephants don't actually bury their dead, lacking the necessary shovels & opposable thumbs. rather they are known to throw leaves
& dirt upon the deceased & this is a kind of language. often the tusks from dead elephants are scrivened into the shapes of smaller elephants
& sold to travelers who might display this tragic simulacrum upon their mantel as a symbol of power
& of passage. when i'm gone, make me again from my hair. carry me with you a small book in your pocket.
it's silly missing anyone who lives
or maybe the opposite
you can only miss the living in a way that ferries marrow up your spine in one furious red curtain
or no the dead they're the ones that open the asphalt for ghost-buses to pour forth from covered in ink-black names scrwld across the windows
paint-thick names names so dark inside you can blink or be blinded or die
& be unable to tell the difference
i miss everyone all the time
my room's a coffin with one glass wall
outside there's a parade to welcome me
the horns are so bright
& blood-drunk you might think something was being born
the bullet tore through my neighbor's brain like a nail through a fig
i began to love him only once
the ambulances sang into the radio-singed stillness
the street after was empty as a body when the soul climbs out of the hole in its head
& becomes a god
the truth is that the bridge is painted continuously
* Golden Gate Bridge Tourist Website
break a glass and try to glue it back
into a shape that holds water
pilgrims from all over
throw themselves into the bay's black eyes
add their names to that dark ledger
when a body hits at these speeds
on the properties of concrete
no good for writing your name in
break a glass
between lip and ocean a figure's
just limbs and trunk
just coins and paper money
lifting up above us
here's how it happened
i drowned the dog i knew what i was doing it thrashed until it didn't
let's start over
i ran the bath got in myself watched my dirt change the color of water
maybe there was no dog maybe the pills were plants on my tongue
let me tell you about water
it feeds you as it feeds without it you die without you it's fine
once i pulled a burlap sack from below the surface of the river
there's a theory that says if i hadn't opened it there would not have been a dog inside
inside could have been anything
& it's the act of opening that caused the dog to be dead
let's begin again
i ran the bath called our dog into the room she came
there's a theory that says you don't exist unless someone calls
& you respond
so my calling called the dog into existence
i turned on the faucet but all that came out was dogs
once i was young & holding onto a kickboard for dear life as the ocean drugged my body into water
i called out to the shore but no one heard me
& for that moment i did not exist
let's begin again
in the beginning there was a bath
& everything living thrashed toward the surface
the ring around the tub a mouth that only knows to swallow
once i was young & holding onto a man for dear life
take my cock bitch
& it was as if i were listening through water
let me tell you about water how it is a grave & vacant lot how when it gets too hot it disappears
let me tell you if he had not opened me there might not have been a dog thrashing inside
i'm a thirsty bitch always drinking water always starving fishes
let's begin again in the beginning i knew what i was doing
how harrowing the paradox of latex. on one hand the paragon of intimacy,
on the other a glove like a father loved more in his absence. my paramour,
my minotaur, my matador flashing his red sword. dear condemnation, i have read all the commentaries of raw, how the forbidden fruit grows less sweet the more you gorge on it. i've seen the formal debates where two gaping wounds stand behind podiums + reach into each other's mouths. discourse, its own form of pleasure. pleasure at its most broken down, a series of shapes.
ethnographies bleed from the ivory tower, the tower made of animal teeth.
the distance between theory + practice is a slick laceration. it's right there in the name, unprotected, to be laid out before the animal in him, to be defenseless
+ deforested. perhaps this is worked out better in myth:
he pilots my body across a waterbed
full of drowned squid. in the distance, women
sing us toward shore.
or perhaps, it's best in images:
a handful of gravel, the open ground,
a groveling mouth, a grave half full of water
with my body not in it yet.
my obedient body becomes wild again obeisant to salt and plastic water bottles obese cauldron of a boy whose pupils become planets obstetrician who midwifes serotonin the kitchen linoleum an obverted dance floor my skin an obscenity i can't keep my tongue off so what if this euphoria is only ephemeral if tomorrow i find the night absconded
with my smile if the man i love turns over in his sleep and becomes a hollowed out gourd
with a horror mask face if every object of my intimacy becomes ash i will still thank each marked and unnamed chemical
for making oblivion in my blood dopamine mephedrone amphetamine you bring opalescence to the meat you make the abattoir smell sweet
Excerpted from "Bury it"
Copyright © 2018 Sam Sax.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsWILL
R O P E
NEW GOD OF AN ANTIQUE WAR
BUENA VISTA PARK 2AM
ESSAY ON CRYING IN PUBLIC
D R A W
SYNONYMS FOR RAW
I WANT SO DESPERATELY TO BE FINISHED WITH DESIRE
S T O N E
T O L L
FIRST WILL & TESTAMENT
S U S P E N S I O N
POLITICS OF ELEGY
POEM ABOUT WATER
PHONOMANIA: A HISTORY OF NOISE
GAY BOYS & THE BRIDGES WHO LOVE THEM
What People are Saying About This
“sam sax’s poems are stunning variations on desire and death in our post-postmodern era: desire as death, desire for death, the death of desire. Yet even as he buries our many lost to the ravages of AIDS and cancer and suicide, he resurrects them, in deeply moving elegies that reject sentimental praise, in reliving encounters with them that pulse with the erotic, in language that is at once plain and reverential. We are thus immersed here in the mysteriously human, as even the technologies we seek to explicate ourselves and our world are revealed and embraced as themselves ultimately inexplicable. sam sax has created an astonishing poetry that is at once a grim meditation on mortality and yet a hymn to the glory of being alive.”
“Reminding us how long, and in what ways, the presumptive rule of heteronormativity has conspired to shame, kill and erase queerness, Sam Sax builds a bridge of sighs to mark the places where boys who love boys have been pushed or driven to jump. Buried inside these turbulent and tragic elegies are the sorrows so often borne in silence by queer or questioning youth. The unearthing and examination of these root causes of untimely death among at-risk kids forms a terrifying necrology, an urgent inquest into the violence perpetrated by a society still harboring hostility toward otherness. What Sax does herein is a holy ceremony, a kaddish that does not mourn but praise.”
"bury it, sam sax's urgent, thriving excavation of desire, is lit with imagery and purpose that surprises and jolts at every turn. Exuberant, wild, tightly knotted mesmerisms of discovery inhabit each poem in this seethe of hunger and sacred toll of toil. A vitalizing and necessary book of poems that dig hard and lift luminously."2017 James Laughlin Award citation from Judge Tyehimba Jess
"Reminding us how long, and in what ways, the presumptive rule of heteronormativity has conspired to shame, kill and erase queerness, Sam Sax builds a bridge of sighs to mark the places where boys who love boys have been pushed or driven to jump. Buried inside these turbulent and tragic elegies are the sorrows so often borne in silence by queer or questioning youth. The unearthing and examination of these root causes of untimely death among at-risk kids forms a terrifying necrology, an urgent inquest into the violence perpetrated by a society still harboring hostility toward otherness. What Sax does herein is a holy ceremony, a kaddish that does not mourn but praise."D. A. Powell
"sam sax's poems are stunning variations on desire and death in our post-postmodern era: desire as death, desire for death, the death of desire. Yet even as he buries our many lost to the ravages of AIDS and cancer and suicide, he resurrects them, in deeply moving elegies that reject sentimental praise, in reliving encounters with them that pulse with the erotic, in language that is at once plain and reverential. We are thus immersed here in the mysteriously human, as even the technologies we seek to explicate ourselves and our world are revealed and embraced as themselves ultimately inexplicable. sam sax has created an astonishing poetry that is at once a grim meditation on mortality and yet a hymn to the glory of being alive."Rafael Campo, author of Comfort Measures Only
“bury it, sam sax’s urgent, thriving excavation of desire, is lit with imagery and purpose that surprises and jolts at every turn. Exuberant, wild, tightly knotted mesmerisms of discovery inhabit each poem in this seethe of hunger and sacred toll of toil. A vitalizing and necessary book of poems that dig hard and lift luminously.”