Before

After I hear the rumor that you're gay. After I steal your number
from the office at school. After I shake by the phone and after

I finally do call and your father answers
And you, Michael, say Come over.

After your dad walks in on us—thank God not touching
or even on the same bed. We've been talking.

You've shown me a calendar you bought at Structure,
men in their underwear but as good as naked.

Your favorite is July because there the men touch each other,
arms over and around tanned shoulders. I was once scared

as you are, your kiss like a little confession, the calendar
something to hide where no one will find it, hold it

against you. After you hear their door shut, you lean
over me, press your mouth against my mouth.

After I kiss you back, you show your body off like a kid
who brings a gun to school, not knowing what it is

or that it's loaded. It's easy to say our breaths rushed out
like the breaths of two men racing, because, to you, we are

racing. But I don't know that. After your eyes roll back,
and you roll off me, and I roll onto you, you push me off,

saying that you aren't gay, that I made you do it.

Histories

I look at pictures of an invasion, black and white
and blazing, despite how the blacks have gone gray.
I rip out photographs from an old issue
of National Geographic—or rather pieces of each:
Love carved into a park bench, a woman's glove,
a swan, blurs of flags in the wind. The rivers
descending through the farm-green fields curve
like fractures of a jigsaw puzzle, bend back
toward themselves. The little poet I am
must be so angry. I don't know what I'm writing,
but I write and write in journals without lines,
so that I can spin the pages any way I want.
One poem goes up the spine while another dribbles down
in lines intended to be tears. I love the impressionists,
make galleries among poems for Renoir, mostly
because I love his name.

I look at the photographs' paused geography,
imagine how diligently the rivers must have worked
to curve back. We all want, in some way, to reach back,
to ourselves or where we descended, and whisper.
At one point, the caption explains, the Volturno River
nearly meets itself for a moment of reflection.

In my journal, I invent the rest: how hard earth is
for the waters to never mix, how at times
the tidewater rises, and the river swells as if to take over
that narrow margin. You can't help, I write,
but hear the concatenation of a river or a history.
Where did I find that word? I wonder
if I even knew what it meant. But who wouldn't love
the thought of standing in one place and drinking
from two generations of water? Reading it later,
I'll know why I was upset and will want to cry again
where I did, in the margin, for the boy I was
when I was fifteen and didn't know it was okay
to write or desire without metaphor. I dreamt I was nothing
but a kite's anchor, collages of men's faces,
makeshift buildings of paper. Years later
I'll wonder how I didn't know I was lonely
when everyone around me did.

Heaven

David took us to Kingsley Lake, to that place
he went for his senior trip. I pass it now
on the road from Jacksonville to my college town.
It is a cheap place to swim—which is perhaps why
we went that Saturday, when it was ninety-something
degrees and the window unit couldn't cool that
old house. I imagine him, somehow no younger,
poor boy on a bus, barely able to graduate, and later,
climbing up that tall wet ladder toward the sky.

He is my stepfather, but it seems inadequate
not to call him father, too, when he has spent
thirteen years silently trying to be. He took his daughter,
my brother and I, and the three of us climbed
that same ladder, knowing at the top we would look down
and be afraid to jump. He waited in the water at the bottom,
laughing, as Kelli and Brian looked over the edge.
But I didn't look, only leaped forward, held
by four seconds of air, that hungry, dry ether.

Is that what Heaven is like—four seconds
and a splash? You spend your whole life afraid
of stepping out of the body that has become
all you know. And when you do step out,
or leap from that windy edge into all of that
brightening light, maybe you'll wish
you could go back and die over and over.
I know I closed my eyes that whole way down,
so it makes no sense that I can now remember
David's face when I jumped for the first time.

To the Living

Listen, I am talking to you.
William Bronk (1918–99)

I am afraid for each of us, daily,
and often in more than one way—
I am afraid for us all.

Not because we are not careful
but because we are not safe. Living:
heating left-overs, searching to match

that unmatched sock, letting the mail pile up.
I am scared for each of us as we separate
the egg white from the yolk. Not because

we are out of reach but because we are
out of touch—I press a shirt,
though I don't know when I'll wear it.

I print a second copy just in case,
never thinking of myself
as sensible. But I worry.

I would know if something were to happen
to you. Wouldn't I? I would know
if you weren't all right.

That makes it easier, somehow.
The world is much smaller and I am
glad you are all still here—maybe not

around—but still with me.