Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tenderness --- Terrance Hayes

For it is all or nothing in this life, for there is no other.
                 ––Larry Levis


It does not stop. It does not stop until you are safely home,
Smoking the cigarette you will not finish and watching snow
Which does not stop parade outside the window.
You have rummaged the mail for a letter
From the woman you wish was your lover, thin loop of her name
Flowering the envelope, but it was not there.
You have gone through the house opening everything:
The refrigerator, its bare white space, then the cabinets' black caskets,
Then the poetry book, & finally the army jacket
Which could not warm you in the cold.
It was your father's. His name embroidered black on the pocket
You let people think your own.
What did the old man ask in the grocery store: Patriot?
What was that look as you backed from his face
And told him it wasn't yours?

But now you are with the book which cannot be enough,
Dialing Nancy to read her words too good to be your own;
Her doe voice wavering in the electric reel of the answering machine.
"I had some Levis to read you," you say imagining her straining
To hear your music in the background, then erasing the message.

You wanted her to hear the part where the poet speaks
Of love & passion... Any nakedness, the first time I saw it then,
Was still wonder. Even now, as you read it to yourself, it tells you tenderness
Is possible, is in the world, though earlier you said otherwise.
It was her admitting she wanted to cry but not crying,
A separate grief shaking free, then lodged again in her throat.
There was tenderness.
It was you who went in your camouflage jacket to the door,
To the snow falling on Pittsburgh, on Forbes Avenue, the city's ghosts.

Yes, move, for a moment, away from tenderness.
It was you who thought of Billy Stayhorn's Lush Life
Written when he was nineteen beneath this very sky,
Still the color of Andrew Carnegie's beard, still dragging
Men home by the collar, girls with sad and sullen gray faces....

Whatever the song says, whatever Levis says,
Each is the same message you will chariot through the week.
You should have held that woman. A brief embrace,
That would have been tenderness.
You should have held your father when he gave you his coat & went away.
That would have been tenderness. . . . all or nothing in this life. There is no other.


The cigarette is half finished,
Breathing alone in the tray. The snow has eased its report.
I know one of the rings of Hell is for men who refuse to weep.
So I let it come. And it does not move from me.



Muscular Music, Tia Chucha Press, 1999

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