To Theseus and Other Poems

 

Mis En Scène: A Wet Season

The graceless way in which
you wooed me positions itself,
transfigures itself into a scene
(complete with broken reels
and under-developed frames)
so that when evening falls—
as evening inevitably does—
the spectacle commences on
the wall opposite my bed, a bed
I once christened with you,
many moons ago, in a wet season,
the wall’s grainy paint patterns
yielding proffered flowers and
sentiments to make up for the truth
which is that you offered ale
in lieu of daffodils and fucked me
like a lion going in for the kill
which is not to discredit the fall
which came afterwards, when a lasso
was thrown around my iron neck
so that in the film, in the memory,
you might as well be a cowboy
or at least one schooled in the art
of possessing, branding, owning,
though we owned each other—
I can witness this each night as well:
the parting like a Siamese rupture,
the room barren despite the image
of you, iconic, cleaved, a relic of sorts,
something that haunts me, a wraith
prohibiting Hypnos by sheer beauty
not by any rattling of chains
for the ghost of love (however
gained) is always tainted with such
buoyancy and before drifting off into
sleep which like evening always wins
I almost forgive you for the lack of
daffodils, I almost forgive myself
for my own appetite that damp night.

 

Harvesting

When things were a flourish in a garden
we levelled with our own bare hands
(the coarseness of soiled skin pitted against
the crass gestures almost almost-words)
I did not mind the scraped knees or
my face bitten by the barks of beech trees
I did not mind the covert gestures which
took the place of sound What to say anyway
What to feel but rich the silt of a season
in me and in you the gritty words forgotten
for it is only the trees the burgeoning blossoms
that know the language of us harvesting

 

Nadir

The rain
drops
like Antinous
from royal
arms into
the Nile.

Crocodile
tears,

in sheets
until

each trades
swords

and thus
swaps roles.

I weep,
you drown.

You weep,
I drown.

Sheets
of it,

rivulets of
lapis lazuli

into which
a boy fit neatly:

clean-blue
like dry eyes,

like the dull
drone of

fake orisons.

 

To Theseus
(italicised phrases from Ovid’s Heroides, trans. Harold Isbell)

Love knowing nothing of gender except when the act of intercourse presents itself (whether as a problematic or as a welcomed intrusion) I feel that I can speak of this beyond the realm of this or that for I see no difference between the abandonment of a female by a male or the abandonment of a male by another male The act of abandonment itself is the antithesis of intercourse for it implies a disengagement with the subject/object dichotomy believed to be the functioning element of speech, love and above all sex

You said to me, ‘I swear by these perils that as long as we live, you will be mine’

The ‘perils’ were a result of your own desire to be what god had intended even though you were known to sit back of an evening with a glass of sherry fondling the Major Arcana or an athame or something else usually frowned upon by most divinities They were the perils not of all men—for they were certainly not the perils of my own heart or body—but only of a man steeped too long in the dregs of a barrel labelled ‘expectation’ In bed you snaked out of it for you could be whatever you wished to be—we were sexless and yet we were also sexed—and it was only when that clear ray of morning light (which I soon grew to detest) shone through the windowpane that you transformed yourself into the warrior into the expected son into the one who would engender pride in those who knew him

You would leave with a thread I gave you each day, torn from the robe that covered my flesh If you will proclaim yourself the son of Phoebus then the least I can do is allow myself such daily scenes in which I pretend I am offering you gold from a land you are about to colonise from this land that you have already colonised, thrice last night A token or gift you take without fail, kissing my hand as though I will never see you again, as though this is the requisite storybook ending And yet I writhe All day I sit in a room that is our room because it is the only place in which we can be ourselves, disentangling that ‘expected’ you from the you (unclothed) I knew like my own taut skin I speak to no one I can no longer trust men I do not know; you have made me fearful of strangers You speak of enemies, your breath—when you kiss me—reeks of xenophobia and the pride involved in killing just for the sake of blood Each day the robe becomes more tattered and frayed, its gilt-coloured edges like the seam of a pillow about to spill out its entrails And yet it is all I have to offer you when you go out into the world I have never allowed myself to know, this world of validation by proving one’s worth by means of ‘manhood’, grotesque displays of muscle making one worthy of laurel leaves and ceremonies A world like that sickens me and yet I remain, couched like Danaë but with my own gold, awaiting your return, hoping that my mere thread got you through the day, kept the hybrid monsters you speak of far at bay

Yes
Yes
Yes, I say I do not hesitate You will take the boat across the sea to the land where there once was a labyrinth and where a great man—after whom you were named—saved a kingdom from bestial rule Of course I will go with you We leave at dawn It is all so fast The salt days I spend below deck in a makeshift boudoir done in red damask and spun of many trapezoidal lines mimicking the shape of our love which is only carnal and therefore always vulgar You take me from behind smelling of brine, the gristle of a chicken’s flesh stuck between your teeth, pushing into me as the boat rocks against an unsteady sea And that was all In the morning I offered you a golden thread, as is our custom, but you only smiled as you tucked your shirt into your pants, as you groomed your mane in the oval mirror above the wash-stand

‘Come,’ you said ‘This is our promised land’ Overnight we had docked on a shore devoid of any colour The upper deck was empty and gritty with crusted salt The shore was lonely, an ochre curvature virtually negated by the lapping grey sea It was still early morning, the sun coming up just over the edge of the sparkling Aegean, lighting the crags and filaments in the background Basalt ‘I am a god—can’t you see?’ Your smile is the last thing I see, the lips red from my teeth the night before But no This is not true For I see your back, the ample muscles showing through your t-shirt, the physique you worked so hard to attain Walking back Walking away

Wait Does your form of godliness then exclude love, exclude the promise, the wax seal of two bodies in a red room knowing the red insides of each other, night after night after night, broken only by social necessity and the wiles of a golden thread? You would have me dead to be so exalted when arriving back in the city, your finger weighed down by no ring, your bedroom empty, waiting for the perfect woman to accessorise your hero’s life I do not ask for what is due to me for you have denied me that Your back as black as the basalt, the air cold and shrill like an echo But do not leave me here to suffer My absence will eat away at you like the bones I will whittle on this desert island—which could be Mykonos or Naxos or somewhere the Americans will at least come to colonise for surely this is located, co-ordinate by co-ordinate, on some map or other—for there will be nothing else to do They will make up stories about me back in the city as is their way They’ll say I joined a troupe of maenads (eunuchs and women and men all among them) and fell into frenzies when the moon was right and the wine was ripe Well who wouldn’t? How does one stave off the ebbing of a heart that continues to flow, to work as if by some indestructible mechanism? How does the thread factor into all of this, how does it untangle itself when you hold so many of its pieces? How does one let go when there is nothing with which to distract oneself?

I swear this to you To your retreating back To your retreating boat with the red flag ballooning in the wind (is that you, black spot, waving stoically from the prow?) I swear if I die before you return—for there is always that hope, always that wish—it will be you who carries my bones from this place.

 

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