At the Bathhouse, Scholars Discuss the Oceanic Feeling
A Miltonist and a Poet walk into a steamroom.
The Miltonist says, I want to watch you fuck him.
The Poet does not hear this because the Miltonist
does not say this. But the Poet knows this truth.
Freud says it’s natural we long to see ourselves
as one with the world. That the ego has a way
of denying dangers it sees in threat of this desire.
The Poet will claim he does not want to possess
the Miltonist. A typewriter drips on his enjambed
chest as the Poet fucks a man for the Miltonist.
What these two boys know is especially this: perhaps
everyone wants to be desired for possession. Satan
heaves on the arm of the Miltonist as he watches
the Poet fuck. Their tattoos, a permanent possession
under the dim wattage of steamroom fluorescents.
I watch you finish and finish myself, wipe the sweat
from my eyes, the past from my feet, as we leave.
I’ve learned—to fish, to compromise, to hike, to not eat meat, to not eat dairy, to not eat, to purge, to plan, to sustain.
Also—to cook, to clean, to bend over, to bend over backwards, to bend over the back of the sofa, to clean the sofa, to get crabs out of the fabric, to get crabs out of our pubic hair with a fine-tooth comb and permethrin lotion, to permeate hearts, to pretend, to purge again.
Once upon a time I cooked a piece of my pulmonary artery, that which leads to the failing human heart, on the George Forman Grill atop the dung-colored Formica counter. Soon did I learn—artery is not kosher, and the boy was in the method of keeping.
For my father I joined the Boy Scouts of America.
For Cameron I wrote resumés.
For Jared I learned Spanish.
For Zach I feigned interest in Buffy, for my brothers, NASCAR.
For Paul I became brave.
For Jason I assembled a bed from IKEA.
For Robby I accepted Jesus Christ.
For Randy I dreamt of Alaska.
For Will, I read Milton and for myself—or my therapist, rather—I make lists, only partial here, because my “mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.” Forever and ever, Amen.
Outside a man teaches his son to ride a bicycle. It is yellow with a Spiderman action figure in the spokes of the back tire. There are no training wheels. A-ha! I want to tell the boy, keep on trying. I want to tell the boy, someday you will look back on all the things you have learned, and why.
What I’m always doing: falling for the Catholic
boy. For the boy who sits across from me
in the playground of graduate school,
a bona fide queer—I dated men for ten years
before this, you tell me, when I ask about
your girlfriend. In the tiny corner kitchen
of a one bedroom apartment party,
I sweat. I sweat and lean hard against
the white tile counter, watch you
across the winding map of dining nook
and living room, where in another corner,
you stand with your girlfriend. She holds
court with someone else, someone who
interests no one, and you see me watch
you. You smile, raise your left hand
in a tiny salute, a wave, a solidarity.
I’m thinking of you as the Catholic
youth pastor you used to be, of your old
boyfriends watching you at Mardi Gras,
when your youth held a carnival
to raise money for world missions.
How they worshiped you, no doubt,
like your girlfriend now. Then I’m thinking
of your Christ, the human, suffering one,
the relic, the body of strained muscle taut
against plank and nail, the Art, the body
that breathes, it seems, under
a certain weight. When Robert says,
the more flexible heterosexual body
tolerates a certain amount of queerness,
I’m thinking of what any of us can tolerate,
of my own body, of you, and your Christ.
Outside the window of my office
in this house we bought eight months ago,
a thin squirrel hops through grass
taller than he is, his brown body visible
only in swift gusts between green blades.
Despite the aftershock of winter’s cold,
I need to cut the grass. But yesterday I ran
errands while you graded papers.
Later, I slipped into bed three hours after
you had already fallen asleep.
Two-and-a-half years ago we sat together
on the couch in my uncle’s hospital suite,
babysitting while my aunt took an evening away
from what had become the daily routine of dying.
But my uncle was not a baby. He was a body,
emaciated, swollen, carefully propped on pillows.
When he could walk, he would disappear for days,
leaving his wife and three sons at home.
And I thought this will be us, the disappearing
act yours. Here is the truth: some mornings,
I miss him. Drawing off his yellow tank top,
running my hands up his back, pulling
his thin frame into me, the candy on his breath.