Poetry

“21” by Richard Siken.

Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don’t make a noise,
don’t leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will
come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a
graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights
on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to
dream about. We used to dream about them. We used to do a lot of
things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the
bread and devour it. I’m in the hallway again, I’m in the hallway. The
radio’s playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I’ll
keep walking toward the sound of your voice.

Poetry

“Dirty Valentine” by Richard Siken.

There are so many things I’m not allowed to tell you.
I touch myself, I dream.
Wearing your clothes or standing in the shower for over an hour, pretending
that this skin is your skin, these hands your hands,
these shins, these soapy flanks.
The musicians start the overture while I hide behind the microphone,
trying to match the dubbing
to the big lips shining down from the screen.
We’re filming the movie called Planet of Love-
there’s sex of course, and ballroom dancing,
fancy clothes and waterlilies in the pond, and half the night you’re
a dependable chap, mounting the stairs in lamplight to the bath, but then
the too white teeth all night,
all over the American sky, too much to bear, this constant fingering,
your hands a river gesture, the birds in flight, the birds still singing
outside the greasy window, in the trees.
There’s a part in the movie
where you can see right through the acting,
where you can tell that I’m about to burst into tears,
right before I burst into tears
and flee to the slimy moonlit riverbed
canopied with devastated clouds.
We’re shouting the scene where
I swallow your heart and you make me
spit it up again. I swallow your heart and it crawls
right out of my mouth.
You swallow my heart and flee, but I want it back now, baby. I want it back.
Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I didn’t want to see it this way,
everything eating everything in the end.
We know how the light works,
we know where the sound is coming from.
Verse. Chorus. Verse.
I’m sorry. We know how it works. The world is no longer mysterious.

Poetry

“Saying Your Names” by Richard Siken.

Chemical names, bird names, names of fire
and flight and snow, baby names, paint names,
delicate names like bones in the body,
Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing,
names that no one’s ever able to figure out.
Names of spells and names of hexes, names
cursed quietly under the breath, or called out
loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again,
calling you home. Nicknames and pet names
and baroque French monikers, written in
shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled
illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing
photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined
with gold. Names called out across the water,
names I called you behind your back,
sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable,
the names of flowers that open only once,
shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops,
or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep,
or caught in the throat like a lump of meat.
I try, I do. I try and try. A happy ending?
Sure enough— Hello darling, welcome home.
I’ll call you darling, hold you tight. We are
not traitors but the lights go out. It’s dark.
Sweetheart, is that you? There are no tears,
no pictures of him squarely. A seaside framed
in glass, and boats, those little boats with
sails aflutter, shining lights upon the water,
lights that splinter when they hit the pier.
His voice on tape, his name on the envelope,
the soft sound of a body falling off a bridge
behind you, the body hardly even makes
a sound. The waters of the dead, a clear road,
every lover in the form of stars, the road
blocked. All night I stretched my arms across
him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing
with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe.
Let him lay his head on my chest and we will be
like sailors, swimming in the sound of it, dashed
to pieces.
 Makes a cathedral, him pressing against
me, his lips at my neck, and yes, I do believe
his mouth is heaven, his kisses falling over me
like stars. Names of heat and names of light,
names of collision in the dark, on the side of the
bus, in the bark of the tree, in ballpoint pen
on jeans and hands and the backs of matchbooks
that then get lost. Names like pain cries, names
like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented,
names forbidden or overused. Your name like
a song I sing to myself, your name like a box
where I keep my love, your name like a nest
in the tree of love, your name like a boat in the
sea of love—O now we’re in the sea of love!
Your name like detergent in the washing machine.
Your name like two X’s like punched-in eyes,
like a drunk cartoon passed out in the gutter,
your name with two X’s to mark the spots,
to hold the place, to keep the treasure from
becoming ever lost. I’m saying your name
in the grocery store, I’m saying your name on
the bridge at dawn. Your name like an animal
covered with frost, your name like a music that’s
been transposed, a suit of fur, a coat of mud,
a kick in the pants, a lungful of glass, the sails
in wind and the slap of waves on the hull
of a boat that’s sinking to the sound of mermaids
singing songs of love, and the tug of a simple
profound sadness when it sounds so far away.
Here is a map with your name for a capital,
here is an arrow to prove a point: we laugh,
and we’ve got nothing left to lose, and our hearts
turn red, and the river rises like a barn on fire.
I came to tell you, we’ll swim in the water, we’ll
swim like something sparkling underneath
the waves. Our bodies shivering, and the sound
of our breathing, and the shore so far away.
I’ll use my body like a ladder, climbing
to the thing behind it, saying farewell to flesh,
farewell to everything caught underfoot
and flattened. Names of poisons, names of
handguns, names of places we’ve been
together, names of people we’d be together.
Names of endurance, names of devotion,
street names and place names and all the names
of our dark heaven crackling in their pan.
It’s a bed of straw, darling. It sure as shit is.
If there was one thing I could save from the fire,
he said, the broken arms of the sycamore,
the eucalyptus still trying to climb out of the yard—
your breath on my neck like a music that holds
my hands down, kisses as they burn their way
along my spine—or rain, our bodies wet,
clothes clinging arm to elbow, clothes clinging
nipple to groin—I’ll be right here. I’m waiting.

Say hallelujah, say goodnight, say it over
the canned music and your feet won’t stumble,
his face getting larger, the rest blurring
on every side. And angels, about twelve angels,
angels knocking on your head right now, hello
hello, a flash in the sky, would you like to
meet him there, in Heaven? Imagine a room,
a sudden glow. Here is my hand, my heart,
my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated
cities at the center of me, and here is the center
of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we
can drink from, but I can’t go through with it.
I just don’t want to die anymore.