This is the new lightning I can make
With a red-hot throat, an ultra fuchsia
Stalk of hollyhock that shoots up
From the ground. It’s spun around
By bumblebees. This is the language
Of your comrade jumping off
A bridge outside of Oakland, CA
The day after the day after defeat.
Trees — oak and ash — keep going
Full of a wild wind. There’s a ring
Of fire and you want to know if
You’re in it and if it’s a metaphor
What then? There are people
Under this bridge. There is wealth
Under that. Etch another image
Of our untrammeled prosperity
With your credit card of memory.
Say you remember me, what I was
Like before the news finally hit
Me, how it bloodied my relations
And my lover’s awesome body,
Which had been so full, so wet
And rich it glistened with the beach.
The restriction of pleasure creates
An urgency, the red around the eyes
That see me as a part of the romance:
The feline luxuries of amber heat
And the long touch of fingertips.
As material, I hold that hand. I remain
A mountain, a part of the category
Of action. You spill me a mountain
Like a scattering of rare gems on silk
The healing is now what feels good.
And it feels good to be a mountain,
Home to jack rabbits and coyotes
Both treading the golden poppies
And bear grass of California hills.
The healing is now a crowbar against
My enemies—when I disentangle
What is beautiful from what is moral
From what is legal from what is
Going to keep me alive from what
Gives me life from what is just
From the cosmic from the human
From what’s a matter of opinion
And what’s a matter of necessity.
There’s the necessity of opinioning,
Orienting the arrow of ourselves
To pierce the flesh, even the flesh
Of a malady that we experience
But cannot always name or define
Physically. And the poem is a voice-
Mail recorded to express my love.
It’s my sentiment, given sincerely,
Represented in the grammar of my
Enemy, with the lexicon of tyrants
I said I love you, and I meant it.
I remember I cannot know anyone else’s
Queerness. I access only my own inside,
Warped by experience and turns of phrase
They were like drunken summer beetles.
Swarming, bobbing, and floating funny,
Gone down with the warmer currents,
I make the decision to sabotage my life
By turning true. It’s what that felt like,
Those were the class politics: everything
Suddenly unclasped from the future
And where the suburbs were ready
For me to go, but I didn’t. I sabotaged
My career with smallness and the sex
I adore. Like every human I know, I am
Propelled by circles and elliptical schemes,
Facing all the unknown dangers around
Here somewhere. It’s 9:13 PM. There’s
Three books on the table, my cellphone,
One glass holding a tea bag, some tea
Called Dry Desert Lime. I’m at Gaylord’s
On 40th (which isn’t as gay as you might
Think) and rotating with me and the dangers
Of the universe is some fairly awful cafe art,
No doubt portraits of young celebrities
From another local artist’s local life:
The river of stars that stream by my me.
These rifts between us, like the gulf
Between Oakland and SF when BART’s
About to close tonight. But I want to live
Like an infinite line that suddenly arrives,
Brightly, at the burst of a single point.
I go up to risk everything, I thought,
To tell you that tiniest bit of who I am.
Berkeley is so messed up. I pass
The magnolia tree out front, try it
— To cream like magnolia creams.
It has its shape and soft turning
Leaves felted rust. The magnolia’s
In trees of swaying, rustling white.
Now how many last gasps caught
In its movements, held by canopy
I twist my thighs as instructed
Together. Branches in tandem w/
What I drew. I drew myself into air.
Waking up on Minna St. No more waking
Up with Kevin’s underwear that one time
I found his tighty whities pawing me,
The cotton paws of his briefs like coffee
Waking me up to the possibilities of light,
How it might be rubbed into the crevices
Of my own body or spit out like bile.
I was there taking care of Ted and Sylvia,
And the oldest cat whose name runs
Away right now. I remember her still,
Her unexpected purring as I stuck her
With the needle of the I.V. drip, cutting
Through a field of blushing pink skin.
I check my e-mails from seven years ago,
And I see her dear name was Quincey.
It was for her that I came home at night,
To the home of my new friends, Dodie
And Kevin who wrote their Cat Manual,
Appended with the latest of his poems,
We come back Sunday evening so all
Will be well. Kevin will feed the cats
Before he leaves on Friday morning,
You don’t have to come until evening.
So it began, my duties with them. So
I scrambled powders into the wet food,
And disposed of all their piss and shit.
I held her firmly, negotiating medicines.
Aged Quincey purring, stirred something
In me in the quiet made by Minna Street.
After hours I read old tabloids, Juliana’s
Chapbook (Nuclear), I tried to appreciate
The art of friends I’d come to call mine
In the future: Cliff and Scott, Nayland,
Darrell, and Glen and Elliot: a group pic
Of 90’s art fags, the crap was everywhere.
Should they poop on the living room rug,
There’s two cleaners (we’ve left them on
The kitchen table): a nontoxic cleaner
I mix up in a squirt bottle that reads
“Ecodisoveries,” and another squirt bottle,
“Clean ’n’ Smart.” It’s strange what I did
For my heroes, I guess, cat sitting
Gave me something terrible to aspire
To, like sleep my way through that crowd.
Sleeping’s one way I make peace with
The forces making shapes of my feels:
The tears falling apart from my body,
Becoming their own distinct material facts
Of the world. That it is speckled by loss;
That it is dappled by a rain like the light
Of a Renoir we can say everyone looks in
Different directions when it comes to love.
When it comes to being a sick kitten,
When it comes to rending their garments
In a fit of bereavement, I have been one
Of those women, too, shredding cotton
Blends, drooling, pressed in by the weight
Of the flowers. I take several petals in hand
To feel their satin and embrace sensation.
Velvet, the zone of thought, that I’ve my own
Self to squander even sometimes in the manner
Of my own choosing. How ridiculous, that
I could stick my finger in any socket
In this apartment (the ferality of disaster),
That so many friends might be the ones:
The ones we need, the ones who stay
In San Francisco till the very end of days.
And when I think of it, the end of days,
I think of all the unlucky who will never
Know what it’s like to be woken up
By Agnes’s mewling or Quincey’s purr
As she’s filled with fluids beneath softly
Furred skin. I also think of the lucky, those
Never to have to experience what we will,
The no water, the no food, the no comfort,
No safety, no sleep, no real Earth left on
Earth, where Kevin and Quincey are gone.
No more waking in the commune’s whitey
Tighties, no. No more I love you’s, Annie
Sings, Oh oh. I’ll not wake up on Minna St.
Today, surrounded by the old apartment,
The one I was invited into to strip down
And get up on Kevin’s wardrobe. Carefully
I hit my head on his San Francisco ceiling,
Filled with the dots and stains of decades.
I fell asleep, I swear, to Kevin taking photos
Of me naked on the couch in that living
Room where he asked, instructed me, Eric,
Can you leave your butt a little more
Exposed? I’ll arrange over you a red blanket
Artfully like a Venus is not the comparison
He would make. Not a marble, I’m no Barberini
Faun leaning back into the sunshine, my torso
Taut as the curls that crown me, nipples pert,
The slumber sloughing off. We’re all fading
Stars, bit actors playing parts for the studio
System’s big bucks, trying it scene after scene
Every blue moon. It’s beautiful, dark red
Lilies I left them on their tiled kitchen counter.
Exploding their pollen, lilies “crack open,”
Another dimension of the drama of the living.
When I have the chance, I’ll call it cat sitting
As I feed that rascal swimming through shag
Carpet, gorgeous. My grief, I give her comfort
Beneath the skin of her. Beneath the darling
Skin of death, there’s a pageant of coins
And gestures, a glass bead game, a black
River pushing around bones in an ancient cup.
Beneath the skin of death, another friend
I made to see something more of myself.
It’s as much as I can do — and I’m not leaving
All that power behind in the grave. I wake
Up on Minna Street only a dozen times in life.
Eric Sneathen is a poet living in Oakland. His first collection, Snail Poems, was published by Krupskaya in 2016. New poems have been published by bæst, Mirage #5/Period(ical), New Life Quarterly, and Amerarcana. With Daniel Benjamin, he organized Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today and edited The Bigness of Things: New Narrative and Visual Culture (Wolfman Books, 2017).