The Fluffer Talks of Eternity
By D. A. Powell
I can only give you back what you imagine.
I am a soulless man. When I take you
into my mouth, it is not my mouth. It is
an unlit pit, an aperture opened just enough
in the pinhole camera to capture the shade.
I have caused you to rise up to me, and I
have watched as you rose and waned.
Our times together have been innumerable. Still,
like a Capistrano swallow, you come back.
You understand: I understand you. Understand
each jiggle and tug. Your pudgy, mercurial wad.
I am simply a hand inexhaustible as yours
could never be. You’re nevertheless prepared to shoot.
If I could I’d finish you. Be more than just your rag.
About the Poem and the Poet
I featured W. H. Auden’s “The Platonic Blow” a few weeks ago about a blowjob. Though much longer, D. A. Powell’s “The Fluffer Talks to Eternity” deals with the same sexual act, though I am not sure that in this poem it is not metaphorical. I once saw an independent film called The Fluffer about a film buff with a crush on a porn star who is straight, for whom he would end up working as a fluffer in gay porn. Just in case you don’t know, a fluffer is a person employed to keep a porn performer’s penis erect on the set. “The Fluffer Talks to Eternity” was published in Poetry in February 2010 along with his poem “Pupil.”
Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were Chronic (2009), which won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award;and Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (2012) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Powell is known for his syntactically inventive, longer eight- or ten-beat lines in poems that are often untitled. As a teacher at Sonoma State, he noticed that most of his students’ poems were written to fit the demands of the page. His experiments with his students in writing on unexpected surfaces (such as candlesticks or rolls of toilet paper) led to his own breakthrough in “subverting the page”: he turned a legal pad sideways and wrote the first poem for Tea. Powell explains that “by pulling the line longer, stretching it into a longer breath, I was giving a little bit more life to some people who had very short lives.”
Powell has also taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of San Francisco. He has been awarded the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Paul Engle Fellowship from the James Michener Foundation. His poems have been featured in the Norton anthology American Hybrid (2009) and Best American Poetry (2008).
D.A. Powell is openly gay, and often explores his sexuality and the body through his poetry. This exploration of the body is noted with some sadness if anyone knows anything about Powell himself. Powell is HIV positive, which is part of the reason why his first three books have been called “The AIDS Trilogy” because of their exploration of the cultural and individual impact of the disease. Too many critics and writers focus just on Powell’s identity as a gay man with AIDS. They spend so much time on that aspect of his life, and they miss the man’s soul seen through his poetry. Powell’s humor is one of the greatest appeals of his work. Despite the moments where Powell is lifting the small details of existence up for reflection, he takes the reader to another place, such as he does in “The Fluffer Talks of Eternity.”
The poem is a monologue of a man who “fluffs” men before a porn shoot. Powell is working in a voice spoken from a sensitivity of life, of its absurdity, or its all tiniest beauties. He is able to conjure sensations and imaginations that real poetry should do. Poetry sometimes should just shock us out of our comfort so that we can then reassess our reality and determine what it actually is. That is often the beauty of poetry.