Our Lady of Love Lost

In memoriam, Elle Janet Plato, 1966-2016

i.

It’s all mixed up.
Loving, laughing;
flirting, fighting;
dancing, drinking,

dying. It was
summer. She said
she needed more
Scotch. Her hand on

mine as we moved
across the floor,
sleeves tangled, blue
& white, limbs twined

& interlocked.
It might have been
nothing. It might
have been something.

She growled at me.
That was fighting.
That was foreplay.
That was a rough

draft for loving
off the grid;
for a life left
unscripted, her

beautiful life
a narrative
poem truncated,
capped off with a

sudden haiku;
for her, now gone
forever, still
tangled up

in a maybe
that aches inside,
still so confused,
and a bit lost.

ii.

The shimmer of heat waves,
a mirage, a bending
of light and hope that makes

something seem near when it
isn’t, when it is far
away. Cascades of light

like a waterfall, drops
becoming curves and lines,
becoming sparks and pricks.

The fluted melody
lyrical as longing;
voices blend and balance

at the edge of hearing.
Imagined pebbles plop
in imagined waters

sweet as amusement, yet
there is no sound, no joke,
no water, no liquid

love paused and suspended
in midair like ripe fruit
waiting for a open

mouth to find it. There is
beauty here, but is it
what I see, what you see?

iii.

Bodies we know, bodies we don’t.
So many bodies. 50 years
past: hemophiliac John Doe,
bled out near a gay bar somewhere.
40: a frosh one dorm over
whose father took him home midterm,
to rape him over and over,
yelling, “So, this is what you like.
How about now? Still liking it?”
35: when the brain cancer
came back the last time, his parents
agreed to take care of him if
he never again talked with us,
his friends. 30: Wild and campy,
Tom taught naughty British show tunes
to our small town, barely two years
before he died of AIDS. Our first.
25: K., “lost at sea,” but
none of us at home believed it.
Really, the only lesbian
on a Navy ship? The rumor
was that she was tossed overboard
because she wouldn’t sleep with them.
Now, now. Another 50 more.
So many. So many. And now
she’s gone, too. And I’m not. With no
last note, no goodbye, no see you
later. Just … gone. Another love
lost. Another. And another.

iv.

Wind whistles past the fence,
past the yellow police
crime scene tape, and carries
dust away, carving stoic lines
in flexible faces.
Where did the laughter go?
Did it fall in its flight,
a stone grown too heavy
to be carried, marking
the place of a body?
Did it fall like bullets
in the nightclub, the ones
that didn’t hit someone?
Did it blast and then burst,
shattering against wall?
Explode and then dissolve
like a smoke bomb? Did it
float away like feathers
and sequins and mirrors? Where?
Where did the laughter go?

v.

Neon lights pulse, pound,
syncing dancers together.
They pause. Full stop. End


First publication at thebrillantinaproject, August 26, 2016. Written partly in response to the Orlando Pulse massacre.

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Dancing the AIDS/H.I.V. P.T.S.D. Blueshift Boogie

* blueshift *

My new lover sits on the bed’s edge
with his back to me, asks if I’ve been
reading the papers. No. Oh. He says
he’s been sleeping around. A lot. I
get angry. I didn’t know. He says I should
read the papers. Why?! He won’t answer.

* blueshift *

I go to the library. I read the papers.
What is this thing called PCP? How
do you pronounce Kaposi’s sarcoma? Do I
have bruises on me? Are they the wrong
kind of bruises? Every smudge of color
on my skin (purple, blue), scares me.

* blueshift *

“First you put your two knees close up tight.
Then you sway ’em to the left, and then you sway ’em to the right.
Step around the floor kinda nice and light…”
I break up with him. I’m never going to have sex again.
I’ll never have sex. I’ll never have sex. Never.
I click my heels. Dorothy, take me home to Kansas?

* blueshift *

They don’t have AIDS tests in Kansas yet.
God damn. What was I thinking? Do they even
have doctors? I mean doctors who know
what AIDS looks like? I can’t ask. I don’t know
anyone I can ask. Even if I did, I can’t get
the words out. Words logjam In my mouth.

* blueshift *

God bless Roger McFarlane! There’s a hotline now,
Lord love us, there’s a hotline. I call. It’s busy.
I try again. There’s a knock on the door. I hang up.
It’s later now. I keep trying. When I get through
I’m shaking. I tell him I’m scared. I tell him I
am. So. Scared. Then I start crying. Then I stop.

* blueshift *

If I have it, I should be sicker than I am.
That’s what they say. I’m not convinced.
If I get tested, it’ll go in my record. They say
they won’t tell anyone. I don’t believe them.
I leave the clinic without getting tested. I will
never have sex. Never. Who would want me?

* blueshift *

Okay, okay! He’s just so goddamn cute. We’ll both
get tested. There’s a free clinic in the city.
We drive over on the weekend. We give blood,
fake IDs, fake names, a friend’s address.
The results are negative. I don’t believe it.
I go back and get tested again. And again.

* blueshift *

On the Limitations of Superpowers

Call it rage, call it fear, does it matter?
It’s a quiet shriekhowl corked inside
a good person trying to help,
trying to float on darkness
flickering with starlight
(ancient memories
of light and will
vibrating
on edge
in
octaves
and sawtooth
chords tuned sour,
memories of
dissonance wrapped in
thin silk to quiet their
thousand unnatural shocks).
If this was the ocean’s surface,
the stars would dance and flicker, shifting
in place. If this was a bed, hands reach out
as if what is already there isn’t
enough. As if there isn’t enough
love, pain, or sense of direction,
or whatever it takes to
make that shift from one place,
one state of being,
to another.
If this was
magic,
if
this was
super strength,
I would still need
to be able to
break or charm something not
me, other than what I love,
other than love. If I could fly
would I still float above the ocean,
tethered like a buoy over hidden depths
and clefts in which shine pale oblique lights
of hunger and horror and beauty
made fey and strange? This is it,
isn’t it? What’s the point
of leaping over
tall sky scrapers
if I can’t
hurdle
you?
If I
can’t see you
in the shadows,
if I can’t even
say who you are aloud?
Try to remember. Try to
forget. The body remembers.
Try to forget. Try to remember.
A fist wrapped around a wrist as thick as
a thumb. I’m numb. My fingers are full of
bones and thorns. Bones break. The thorns fracture
and scatter like an invasive
species, and grow like dragon’s teeth.
Even a superhero
with lightning in their hands
is thwarted. Even
superheroes
shooting webs
are mute
(grasp/
release)
(connection/
severed) their tale
retold, repainted,
and sanitized. What’s safe
to say? The secret gesture
that says “me, too,” and we both know
what is meant when our hands flip and point
to a heart caged in bones, like all the rest.

Untitled

robin’s egg blue reminds me of peacocks,
of eyes, of Robin, of my mother’s
voice as I tried to choose a dress
for my first prom, of my son,
of my daughter, laughter,
wine glasses gone wild
and filled full with
water, of
paper
squares
folded
into these
tiny ornate
surprising jewel-tone
structures, of first dates, and
last dates, of first dates that are
also last dates, of safety, risk,
of being broken open like birth
breaks open the heart, of breaking like
an egg, like a dry stick, of broken things,
of lost things, of going on living,
of labor, death, of things I love
to remember and am so
afraid I’m forgetting,
of things I want to
forget and am
afraid to
call to
mind,
silence
of the blue
egg now empty,
cheeping of hungry
young birds, of the farmer’s
eggs at market, the scattered
wisps and threads of blue reflections
in certain nebulas, of cirrus
clouds, of fairy dust scattered in midair,
of fairy beads shimmering cheaply
on my wrist, of the glowing teal
stone for which I carved a bone
and cast a puddle of
molten silver like
a spell, of beach glass
broken and then
polished smooth
and soft,
yes,
of lips
and mouths as
soft and cool as
beach glass, of dancing
wild as drag queens under
a summer afternoon sky,
of stained glass windows spilling light
over a casket, a rosary
(of sorrow, of joy), of hallows that are
a whisper of white barely contained
inside a curve, of floating with
flower petals on the air,
the way wind tangles hair
and blows it into
my mouth, the way
violets
beg for
sweet,
the way
columbine
makes fists of blue
bruises and unfurls,
of mornings, of something
so beautiful I only
imagine it touching my hand
hollow over hollow and filled with hope

On Aurality

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.
I practice reverse hedgehog position
as if it’s some kind of yoga. Deep breath.
Focus on the edge of the plate as if
it’s someone else’s navel. Resonance
means dialing down the grins and arrogance
all unintended, but still. My phasic
reflex stutters vibrational, compressed.

On Almost Falling

Orbiting at the edge of warmth, the sensation
of almost falling that lends a sense of sweet grace
and sweeter gracefulness, teetering and tossing
up one hand, one arm that balances and falters,
then finds its way to rest as if upon altars
or some other sacred space, the curves crisscrossing
as they define the shape of comfort, a safe space
which nonetheless pivots toward awkward salvation,
a station point, a counterbalance, like shifting
from foot to foot, from eye to eye … a dizziness
that swings and sways from slow waltz to breakdance and back,
that falters familiarly and still strange, and tracks
the lines of largeness sketched in halting drowsiness,
drawn toward perigee before pausing, wistfully.


This uses a sonnet form that I haven’t been able to find anywhere, so I might have made it up. It felt like dancing, and really seemed to suit what I wanted to do with this poem. The form has the rhyming scheme of ABCD DCBA EFG GFE, with twelve syllables per line. I liked how couplets appear in the middle, moving part of the poem, swinging towards and away those pivot points as if they carry tension, instead of resolving it.

I Like to Read Poems (A Double Sonnet)

I like to read poems that hurt like I hurt,
that swell in my throat like sugar, and cut
my tongue like rosehips (red, bitter, and curt),
like black tea carves new landscapes in the mouth.
Poems that don’t fake it, and don’t have to. They
can take it, being chewed up like gristle,
and sometimes you have to put them away
or swallow whole. Standoffish ones, bristle
and glare, part bear, part ice, loping across
a bridge crumbling under their weight, and fate
alone says if the bridge falls or they pass
thru. A brute squad poem, grotesque at the gate,
but gentle as giants, hungry as joys.
I know I can trust these words without choice.

These are the poems picked last in gym, that swim
six inches below the water’s surface.
They slip into my mind like a church hymn,
into my veins like those hypodermics,
with a punch and clench, a spurt and a draw.
They don’t need me to feel sorry for them,
they’re way past that. They’re confident and raw-
boned, monstrosities of difference and numb
to judgment, straddling the lovely worlds
made lovelier with them in it, who don’t fit,
who’ve been broken and reglued, and whose words
are lacquer, the spit and stick, the gold slip
holding things together, brassy and shy.
Oh, just bite me, I snarl, while reading, and cry.