How to describe what it felt like
to be gay when I was young?
I didn’t feel different, a given
for a boy who went to church,
didn’t cuss, and stayed inside
all summer. The guy said,
“Thanks for missing the football,
faggot,” after class, and I died
inside the flood of lockers. Not
dead, or unborn: a mercy I was
afraid of, but wanted. Hiding
in the corner to change for gym,
they laughed at my soft, pimpled
back. Boys on one side of the field,
girls on the other. “Aren’t you
on the wrong side, Smith;”
even the coach laughed, and I was.
Days I stared through three-pane
windows at trucks gliding
interstate to somewhere better,
stranger, not quite right, but true.
The gray-weather chest
I carried the summer I rubbed
the pillow between my legs
and thought of the UPS man
and neighbor’s tight belly
until the semen I wasn’t sure
how to clean, but God wasn’t
watching, he turned away,
and I begged him like I would beg
all men before I hardened to stone,
not one rolled away, but invisible;
stone, invisible, not right either.
What do you call the kid of a dad
a mother calls home from evening
shift because she caught him
watching “nearly-naked men”
on television? He didn’t spank
me, but didn’t love me anymore
in the same way. “Don’t tell
your mom about this again,
Dammit!” Damaged, Damned.
I Never Went Back
It was my first spring in New York when Nancy
came to visit. The towers had fallen, and everyone
was still trying to make sense of the loss beneath
the stripped skyline; two giant columns of light
beamed against the night to remind us something
was missing. We wandered the streets near my sublet
on Second: Veselka, St. Mark’s Church, the Belgian
fries place with so many sauces. I’m not sure why
we stopped, the small psychic shop, and the large
woman who motioned us in—gray hair, draped
in a purple nightgown. Nancy, spiritual and skeptical,
refused to say yes or no when the woman pulled
the Tarot, put Nancy’s ring in her palm. If she was really
psychic, she wouldn’t need feedback to tell the future. When she
got to me, she asked if my friend could step outside.
She wanted us to talk alone. I was ready for the hard
sale, when she’d try to get me to empty my wallet
so I’d know how to win the lottery, or tell me
the line in my hand meant a long life and prosperity,
but I wasn’t expecting: there’s a dark cloud that hangs
over you and nothing in your life will ever work out.
She said, I can help you—I said I needed to think
about it as Nancy peered through the window,
pointing at her watch because she was hungry.
I didn’t trust her energy, she said, something was weird
about her. I remember the cool wind on our faces,
and the joint we smoked on the lumpy futon
as we talked poems and men and how she thought the city
was a great fit for me, and I remember the woman
watching us walk away through the storefront glass,
staring at me from inside my own reflection
that I was afraid to look too long at.
I Get Lonely
You heard from a friend
that I get lonely, or more accurately
my mother died and she did
I tell you via text. I’m sorry you say
and I don’t say you didn’t kill her,
but instead think of you gripping
our dicks in the early-evening bedroom.
Look me in the eye you said
knowing my own shame was a turn-on
(sometimes I remember it and come
on the floor in the yellow bathroom).
I’d like one more night together
I wish you’d say, but you and the man
you live with are working really
really hard on your relationship,
it has its challenges.
Aaron Smith is the author of four books of poetry: Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, Appetite, Primer, and, most recently, The Book of Daniel. His work has appeared in such publications as Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and The Best American Poetry. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.