Poetry | September 01, 2001

Featuring the poems:

  • Eden
  • Waiting
  • Nectarines
  • Anywhere
  • Pain



When Sarah and Jill, after a few years

Together, decided Sarah should become a man,

They thought about it for a long time,


Staring at Sarah’s breasts in the candlelight

As they hung dejectedly

Like a pair of old dogs

Someone decided to have put to sleep.


And they looked between her legs

At that wild gate that was like the first sentence

Of a story they had grown tired of telling.


They seemed to hear a kind of music

Under the surface of her skin, a far-off joy–

Years later, after the hormones and the stitches,

The lopping and relocating,


I met a slim, serious young guy

Who had been Sarah

At cocktail party in Monterey

And we shook hands and had a couple of beers


While I smiled and tried very hard not to feel

As if a woman had slit open the sack

Of my scrotum and crawled inside,

Confidently palming my testicles in her strong hands,

Saying, There will be no more

Secrets around here.



When the guy in the dark suit

Asks me if I want to see my mother

As she lies in the back room, waiting,

I remember her, for some reason,

In a white swimsuit, on a yellow towel

On the sand at Crystal Lake,

Pregnant with my sister,

Waiting for me to finish examining

The sleek fuselage of a minnow,

The first dead thing I had ever seen,

Before we went back to the cottage for lunch.


I remember her waiting up for my father

To come home from God knows where

In a yellow cab at 2:00 AM

And waiting for me in the school parking lot

In our old blue station wagon

When whatever it was I was practicing for

Ran late. I remember her, shoulders thrown back,

Waiting in the unemployment line, waiting

For me to call, waiting for the sweet release

In the second glass of wine

After a long day working at the convalescent hospital

Where everyone was waiting to die.


And I remember her waiting for me

At the airport when I got back from Japan,

Waiting for everything to be all right,

Waiting for her biopsy results.



But when the guy in the dark suit

Asks if I would like to go back

And be with her in that room where she lies

Waiting to be cremated I say No

Thank you, and turn and walk out

Onto the sunny street to join the crowd

Hustling down the sidewalk

And I look up at the beautiful

White clouds suspended above the city,

Leaving her in that room to wait alone,

For which I will not be forgiven.



The gay man standing next to me to me

At the organic food store

Is squeezing the nectarines

With the same concentration

I would give a woman’s breasts

Or he would give,

Or might give–I don’t really know–

The weight between his lover’s legs.


He is trim, fortyish, wearing a pair

Of vaguely European loafers

And the kind of perfect haircut

No stylist has ever felt I deserved.

His slacks and T-shirt exist at a point

On the spectrum of casual elegance

Just beyond my ability to actually detect it


But they nonetheless make me feel,

In my jeans and JCPenny sports shirt,

Like a shambling, half-trained circus bear.


When standing next to a woman

In a supermarket I sometimes feel

As if we were back in the Garden,

A realm of fertile ferment

Where we walk in a kind of heady sexual buzz

Among the ripe fruits and frozen dinners of the world,

Temptation everywhere

As we scan the zebra codes

Of our deliciously

Unfamiliar flesh.


And when I pass a straight guy

In the aisles, we nod, or raise an eyebrow

To acknowledge our place

In the hairy fellowship of predators.


But when this man and I

Look briefly into the Sanskrit, the blank

Scrabble tiles of each other’s eyes,

We smile briefly and go back

To thinking, quite seriously,

Of nectarines.



The boy’s been on the computer all morning

Playing virtual baseball, July

Sliding by in a huge yellow silence

Beyond the window as he clicks at the keyboard


To send the phantom players running

The base paths under a virtual sky

In a nameless city’s digital summer.


Naturally I brood about this as I work

In the garage at fixing his bike’s

Out-of-whack derailleur. In my day,

I find myself starting to say, before

My father’s fossil phrase

Catches in my craw–but no;


Better to speak with this tool in my hand,

This old-fashioned screwdriver,

Its Phillips head buried in the steel

Crux of the material world, the torque

Flowing from my old-fashioned wrist


So chain will rise from sprocket, and power

From a boy’s legs will carry him from home

And down the afternoon street to nowhere

In particular, or anywhere: places

I used to head for on a summer day.



Animals in the wild are perfect and know nothing

About pain. Also perfect

Is an Olympic sprinter pulling off


His jersey after a race; the body, flexing

For TV, blinds you; Oh, you say,

That’s what it’s supposed to look like.

But all wild animals are like this because they live

In a perpetual Olympics. There’s no

Margin for error out there,

And any ragged flock of gulls

Surfing a wind current, any rag

Of a jackrabbit poised by the roadside

Dwells in the lean, perfected moment; one

Busted bone, one gray hair, one

Moment’s inattention and he’s a goner,

Crunched in the maw of a larger, wilder

Perfection. That’s why

They’re wild; pain


Never has a chance to teach them

A thing. The parakeet in his cage

Of pain, the ferret on his sexy chain,

Nosing the nipple ring

Of a tattooed punker, the cocker

Spaniel tied by the neck

To the railing outside Starbuck’s, waiting

For the slim blonde in the pale

Translucent blouse to finish her latte

With a pale unshaven man she’s enjoying

Breaking up with; they’re not wild

But bewildered, like us, having learned

From us what pain is, what it is to be human.


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