Category Archives: Poetry

The Fluffer Talks of Eternity

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.


The Guest House

The Guest House
by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Taken from SELECTED POEMS by Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin Classics, 2004).

Cory Muscara is a former monk and bestselling author of Stop Missing Your Life. He has taught Mindful Leadership at Columbia University, is an instructor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and for the last ten years has offered mindfulness workshops and retreats around the world. Muscara is the host of the top ranked podcast, Practicing Humanhost of the mindfulness app and platform, Mindfulness.comand author of the bestselling book, Stop Missing Your Life: How to Be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World.

I saw him read this poem on Instagram and his soothing voice seemed to make this poem mean so much more. I think it’s a wonderful poem to start off the new year. His comments after the video are also a great analysis of the poem.

About the Poet

Mowlānā Jalāloddin Balkhi, known in Persia as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī and in the West as Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 C. E. in Balkh Province, Afghanistan, on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire. Rumi descended from a long line of Islamic jurists, theologians, and mystics, including his father, who was known by followers of Rumi as “Sultan of the Scholars.” When Rumi was still a young man, his father led their family more than 2,000 miles west to avoid the invasion of Genghis Khan’s armies. They settled in present-day Turkey, where Rumi lived and wrote most of his life.

As a teenager, Rumi was recognized as a great spirit by the poet and teacher Fariduddin Attar, who gave him a copy of his own Ilahinama (The Book of God). When his father died in 1231, Rumi became head of the madrasah, or spiritual learning community. 

Rumi’s oldest son, Sultan Velad, managed to save 147 of Rumi’s intimate letters, which provide insights about the poet and how he lived. Rumi often involved himself in the lives of his community members, solving disputes and facilitating loans between nobles and students. The letters are described as having lines of poetry scattered throughout.

In 1244, Rumi met Shams Tabriz, who had taken a vow of poverty. Their meeting is considered a central event in Rumi’s life, and Rumi believed his real poetry began when he met Shams. They were close friends for about four years. Over the course of that time, Shams was repeatedly driven away by Rumi’s jealous disciples, including one of Rumi’s sons, Ala al-Din. In December of 1248, Shams again disappeared; it is believed that he was either driven away or killed. Rumi left the madrasah in search of his friend, traveling to Damascus and elsewhere. Eventually, Rumi made peace with his loss, returning to his home.

Rumi’s mourning for the loss of his friend led to the outpouring of more than 40,000 lyric verses, including odes, eulogies, quatrains, and other styles of Eastern-Islamic poetry. The resulting collection, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi or The Works of Shams Tabriz, is considered one of Rumi’s masterpieces and one of the greatest works of Persian literature.

In his introduction to his translation of Rumi’s The Shams, Coleman Barks has written: “Rumi is one of the great souls, and one of the great spiritual teachers. He shows us our glory. He wants us to be more alive, to wake up… He wants us to see our beauty, in the mirror and in each other.”

For the last twelve years of his life, beginning in 1262, Rumi dictated a single, six-volume poem to his scribe, Husam Chelebi. The resulting masterwork, the Masnavi-ye Ma’navi (Spiritual Verses), consists of sixty-four thousand lines, and is considered Rumi’s most personal work of spiritual teaching. Rumi described the Masnavias “the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion,” and the text has come to be regarded by some Sufis as the Persian-language Koran.

In his introduction to an English edition of Spiritual Verses, translator Alan Williams wrote: “Rumi is both a poet and a mystic, but he is a teacher first, trying to communicate what he knows to his audience. Like all good teachers, he trusts that ultimately, when the means to go any further fail him and his voice falls silent, his students will have learnt to understand on their own.”

Rumi fell ill and died on December 17, 1273 C. E., in Konya, Turkey. His remains were interred adjacent to his father’s, and the Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb) was erected above their final resting place. Now the Mevlâna museum, the site includes a mosque, dance hall, and dervish living quarters. Thousands of visitors, of all faiths, visit his tomb each month, honoring the poet of legendary spiritual understanding.


The Passing of the Year

The Passing of the Year
By Robert W. Service

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
  My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
  And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
  Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
  With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
  You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter’s chime
  Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
  You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
  And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
  Let us all read, whate’er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
  Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
  For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
  What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
  So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
  That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
  What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
  What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
  What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
  What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
  What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
  What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
Old weary year! it’s time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that’s true,
For we’ve been comrades, you and I —
I thank God for each day of you;
There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

About the Poem

“The Passing of the Year” by Robert Service is a beautiful and thoughtful poem about the passing of the year and the beginning of the new. At this critical juncture, the poet, sitting comfortably, talks with the old year. There isn’t much from the poet’s side as it’s much about others with whom the poet converses. They don’t talk with the poet but show how they are, either happy with the passing of the year or sad. However, without remarking much about the poet’s personal affairs the poet bids thanks to the old year at last. Such a poem like this is always rewarding to that person who sits alone and visualizes the year in a recap.

About the Poet

Robert William Service, the renowned poet of the Yukon, was born in Lancashire, England, on January 16, 1874. In 1883 he moved with his family north to Glasgow, Scotland. He attended several of Scotland’s finest schools, where he developed a deep interest in books and poetry, along with a sharp wit and a way with words.

Service’s innate curiosity and fondness for adventure stories inspired an urge to travel—to go off to sea and to see the world. Although his parents discouraged this adolescent ambition, his desire wasn’t extinguished (and would one day be fulfilled). Service bided his time with assorted jobs—one at a shipping office that soon closed down, then another following his father’s footsteps in a position at a suburban branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Working under light supervision, Service managed to pass the day with reading material he’d snuck in: Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and John Keats. Service developed into an excellent student of poetry, and attended the University of Glasgow to study English Literature. He was quickly identified as one of the brightest in his class, though he also proved to be a bit audacious. After a year, the young poet left the university.

Soon his interests realigned with his aims for adventure. His reading turned to Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, and their stories of world explorers in search of fortune and, more important, their own identity. In 1895, at the age of twenty-one, with a significant amount of savings, Robert announced his dream of going to Western Canada to become a cowboy. He soon set sail for Montreal with only his suitcase and a letter of reference from the bank in tow. Upon arrival, Service took a train across Canada to Vancouver Island, where he lived for many years and gathered much of the material for what became his most celebrated poems. Many of his experiences working on cowboy ranches, and the colorful personalities he met during his travels around the West, eventually found their place in his work.

Numerous publications followed, including Songs of a Sourdough, published in 1907, which won wide acclaim. His forty-five verse collections accumulated over one thousand poems, the most famous of which include “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” and “The Men That Don’t Fit In.” To add to his poetic output, Service wrote two autobiographies, Ploughman of the Moon (1945) and Harper of Heaven (1948), as well as six novels. His poem about Dan McGrew and several of his novels were adapted to film. The poet himself managed even to garner an acting credit, appearing briefly opposite Marlene Dietrich in the 1942 movie The Spoilers.

Service served as an ambulance driver during World War I, after which he published Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (Barse & Hopkins, 1916), a collection of mostly war poems. He later married a French woman, Germaine Bougeoin, and the two lived in Europe, mainly in the south of France, until the poet’s death in 1958. By then, his prolific and prosperous career in poetry had earned him the distinction—as stated in an obituary in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph—as “the people’s poet.”

He died in Lancieux, France, on September 11, 1958.


A Visit from St. Nicholas

A Visit from St. Nicholas
By Clement Clarke Moore – 1779-1863

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

About This Poem

I know very few poems by heart, but I can say this one all the way through from memory. It was always a favorite of mine during my childhood. My mother used to read it to us when I was young, so it always brings back fond memories of a happy childhood, back when life was innocent and simple.

On December 23, 1823, a poem called “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was published anonymously in the Sentinel, the local newspaper of Troy, New York. This piece offered a different take on Santa Claus, a figure who was, until that time, traditionally depicted as a thinner, less jolly, horse-riding disciplinarian, a combination of mythologies about the British Father Christmas, the Dutch Sinterklaas, and the fourth-century bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra. 

The poem in the newspaper painted a different picture: it gave Santa eight reindeer, and even named them; it described a Santa who could magically sneak in and out of homes via chimneys; and it created the venerated, cheerful, chubby icon that is everpresent in holiday cards, movies, television shows, and malls everywhere. The poem, of course, is now known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” after its famous first line. Thirteen years after it was published, Clement Clark Moore took credit for its authorship, though his claim to the poem is now in question. Many believe the poem was actually penned by New York writer Henry Livingston.

 

About the Poet

Clement Clarke Moore was born on July 15, 1779, in New York City. He received a BA from Columbia College in 1798 and an MA in 1801. Moore was the author of Poems (Barlett & Welford, 1844), which included the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore also published several academic works, including A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language(Collins & Perkins, 1809). He taught at the General Theological Seminary in New York City from 1821 to 1850. He died on July 10, 1863, in Newport, Rhode Island.


The Christmas Wreath

The Christmas Wreath
By Anna de Brémont

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
  Within thine ivied space
I see the years beyond recall,
  Amid thy leaves I trace
The shadows of a happy past,
  When all the world was bright,
And love its magic splendour cast
  O’er morn and noon and night.

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
  ’Neath memory’s tender spell
A wondrous charm doth o’er thee fall,
  And round thy beauty dwell.
Thine ivy hath the satiny sheen
  Of tresses I’ve caressed,
Thy holly’s crimson gleam I’ve seen
  On lips I oft have pressed.

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
A mist steals o’er my sight.
Dear hallow’d wreath, these tears are all
The pledge I now can plight
To those loved ones whose spirit eyes
Shine down the flight of time;
Around God’s throne their voices rise
To swell the Christmas Chime!

The Comptess Anna de Brémont was born Anna Dunphy in 1864. A journalist, memoirist, fiction writer, and poet, she authored two poetry collections: Sonnets and Love Poems (J. J. Little, 1892) and Love Poems (Argus Printing Co., 1889). She died in 1922.


The Fateful Day 

Two unknown American sailors in a photo booth. Image courtesy of Friends of the National WWII Memorial.

The Fateful Day
By Fremont “Cap” Sawade

‘Twas the day before that fateful day,
December Sixth I think they say.
When leave trucks passed Pearl Harbor clear
The service men perched in the rear.
No thought gave they, of things to come.
For them, that day, all work was done.
In waters quiet of Pearl Harbor Bay,
The ships serene, at anchor lay.

Nor did we give the slightest thought
Of treacherous deeds by the yellow lot.
Those men whose very acts of treason,
Are done with neither rhyme nor reason.
For if we knew what was in store
We ne’re would leave that day before.
For fun and drink to forget the war
Of Britain, Europe, and Singapore.

For all of us there was no fear
This time of peace and Christmas cheer.
Forget the axiom, might is right,
Guardians of Peace, were we that night.
We passed the sailors in cabs galore,
Those men in white who came ashore.
But some will ne’re be seen again,
In care-free fun, those sailor men.

The Sabbath Day dawned bright and clear,
A brand of fire ore the lofty spear,
Of Diamond Head, Hawaii’s own.
A picture itself that can’t be shown,
Unless observed with naked eye,
That makes one look, and stop, and sigh.
What more could lowly humans ask
To start upon their daily task.

The men asleep in barracks late,
Knew no war, that morn at eight.
The planes on fields, their motors cold,
Like sheep asleep among the fold.
The ships at anchor with turbines stilled,
Their crews below in hammocks filled.
And faint, as tho it were a dream,
A sound steels on upon this scene.

A drone of many red tipped things,
The Rising Sun upon their wings.
Those who saw would not believe,
And those that heard could not conceive.
A single shocking, thundering roar,
Followed by another and many more.
To rob the sleep from weary eyes,
Or close forever those that died.

A hot machine gun’s chattering rattle,
Mowed men down like herds of cattle.
A bomb destroys an air plane hangar,
The planes within will fly no more.
Bombs explode upon a ship,
Blasting men into the deep,
To sink without the slightest thought
Of what brought on this hell they caught.

What seems like years, the horrible remains,
Blasting men and ships and planes.
And just as quick as they had come,
Away they went, their foul deeds done.
To leave the burning wreckage here,
The scorching hulks of dead ships there.
And blasted forms of dying men,
Alive in hell, to die again.

At night the skies were all but clear,
The rosy glow of a white hot bier,
Showed on clouds the havoc wrought,
And greedy flames the men still fought.
But from the ruins arose this cry,
That night from those who did not die,
“Beware Japan we’ll take eleven,
For every death of December Seven.”

And from that day there has arisen,
A cry for vengeance, in storms they’re driven.
This fateful day among the ages,
Shall stand out red in Hist’rys pages.
Those men whom homefolk held so dear,
Will be avenged, have no fear.
And if their lives they gave in vain,
Pray, I too, may not remain.

About the Poet and the Poem

Fremont “Cap” Sawade, who passed away at age 94 in 2016, wrote this the poem right after Pearl Harbor. Sawade was assigned to an Army anti-aircraft regiment in Honolulu on liberty, having breakfast the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor eighty years ago today. Loud explosions sent him racing to his base in a cab. He could see the Japanese planes flying low, dropping bombs, and strafing battleships with machine gun fire. Back at Camp Malakole, Sawade ducked for cover when the Japanese Zeros strafed it. The attack caught the Americans completely off guard. Sawade said his unit didn’t even have ammunition for their big guns.

Two days later, with the wreckage of the Pacific Fleet still smoking, he sat at a desk at Hickam Field and started writing a poem. He’d never written one before. He hasn’t written one since. But over the next week, this one flowed out of him. He called it “The Fateful Day.” It captures how idyllic life was, before the attack. How lucky the service members felt to wake up every day with a view of Diamond Head. The poem captures their surprise, and then their anger at the Japanese, including a slur that was common then, offensive now. It captures the horror — “A hot machine gun’s chattering rattle/Mowed men down like herds of cattle” — and the raw thirst for vengeance.

He came home from the war to his native San Diego, worked a variety of jobs, including 10 years as a building inspector for the city of El Cajon. He got married, raised a family, and lived in Rancho Bernardo with his wife, Gloria. Over the years, he showed the poem to a few friends. He shared it a time or two in military newsletters. But the truth is he never thought it was anything special. However, today, nearly 80 years after he wrote it, it serves as a primary source for the thoughts of the men who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor that fateful Sunday morning.


A Birthday

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti – 1830-1894

My heart is like a singing bird
  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
  Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
  Is come, my love is come to me.

Today is my 44th birthday. I took today off work, so I doubt I’ll be spending it with anyone. I am going to Burlington to have lunch with a friend of mine, and I might even take myself to dinner tonight and enjoy a lovely meal. Other than that, it’s really just another day. My mother will probably call, and my sister and her two kids will call to wish me happy birthday. That’s about it. Today’s poem is dedicated to it being my birthday.

About the Poem

Love poetry is a common theme in English literature, but there are a few truly great poems about being in love (and being happy). “A Birthday” is an example of a poem which celebrates being in love using colorful and majestic imagery. It is written by one of the Victorian era’s greatest poets. The poet is not celebrating her own birthday but celebrating the birthday of her lover.


Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving
By James Whitcomb Riley – 1849-1916

Let us be thankful—not only because
  Since last our universal thanks were told
We have grown greater in the world’s applause,
  And fortune’s newer smiles surpass the old—

But thankful for all things that come as alms
  From out the open hand of Providence:—
The winter clouds and storms—the summer calms—
  The sleepless dread—the drowse of indolence.

Let us be thankful—thankful for the prayers
  Whose gracious answers were long, long delayed,
That they might fall upon us unawares,
  And bless us, as in greater need we prayed.

Let us be thankful for the loyal hand
  That love held out in welcome to our own,
When love and only love could understand
  The need of touches we had never known.

Let us be thankful for the longing eyes
  That gave their secret to us as they wept,
Yet in return found, with a sweet surprise,
  Love’s touch upon their lids, and, smiling, slept.

And let us, too, be thankful that the tears
Of sorrow have not all been drained away,
That through them still, for all the coming years,
We may look on the dead face of To-day.

About the Poet

James Whitcomb Riley was born in Greenfield, Indiana, on October 7, 1849. He left school at age sixteen and served in a variety of different jobs, including as a sign painter and with a traveling wagon show. He was the author of several books of poetry, including Home-Folks (Bowen-Merrill, 1900), The Flying Islands of the Night (Bowen-Merrill, 1892), and Pipes o’ Pan at Zekesbury (Bobbs-Merrill, 1888). He also served on the staff of two local newspapers, the Anderson Democrat and, later, the Indianapolis Journal. Riley was known as “the poet of the common people” for his frequent use of his local Indiana dialect in his work. He died in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 22, 1916.


Homosexuality

Before we get to the poem, I wanted to update you on the job search outcome. My boss did take my suggestion and hire the candidate I had advocated for during the process. Now onto the poem.

Homosexuality
By Frank O’Hara

So we are taking off our masks, are we, and keeping
our mouths shut? as if we’d been pierced by a glance!

The song of an old cow is not more full of judgment
than the vapors which escape one’s soul when one is sick;

so I pull the shadows around me like a puff
and crinkle my eyes as if at the most exquisite moment

of a very long opera, and then we are off!
without reproach and without hope that our delicate feet

will touch the earth again, let alone “very soon.”
It is the law of my own voice I shall investigate.

I start like ice, my finger to my ear, my ear
to my heart, that proud cur at the garbage can

in the rain. It’s wonderful to admire oneself
with complete candor, tallying up the merits of each

of the latrines. 14th Street is drunken and credulous,
53 rd tries to tremble but is too at rest. The good

love a park and the inept a railway station,
and there are the divine ones who drag themselves up

and down the lengthening shadow of an Abyssinian head
in the dust, trailing their long elegant heels of hot air

crying to confuse the brave “It’s a summer day,
and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.”

About the Poet

On March 27, 1926, Frank (Francis Russell) O’Hara was born in Maryland. He grew up in Massachusetts, and later studied piano at the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1941 to 1944. O’Hara then served in the South Pacific and Japan as a sonarman on the destroyer USS Nicholas during World War II.

Following the war, O’Hara studied at Harvard College, where he majored in music and worked on compositions and was deeply influenced by contemporary music, his first love, as well as visual art. He also wrote poetry at that time. While at Harvard, O’Hara met John Ashbery and soon began publishing poems in the Harvard Advocate. Despite his love for music, O’Hara changed his major and left Harvard in 1950 with a degree in English. He then attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and received his MA in 1951. That autumn, O’Hara moved into an apartment in New York. He was soon employed at the front desk of the Museum of Modern Art and continued to write seriously.

O’Hara’s early work was considered both provocative and provoking. In 1952, his first volume of poetry, A City Winter, and Other Poems, attracted favorable attention; his essays on painting and sculpture and his reviews for ArtNews were considered brilliant. O’Hara became one of the most distinguished members of the New York School of poets, which also included Ashbery. O’Hara’s association with painters Larry Rivers, Jackson Pollock, and Jasper Johns, also leaders of the New York School, became a source of inspiration for his highly original poetry. He attempted to produce with words the effects these artists had created on canvas. In certain instances, he collaborated with the painters to make “poem-paintings,” paintings with word texts.

O’Hara’s most original volumes of verse, Meditations in an Emergency (1956) and Lunch Poems (1964), are impromptu lyrics, a jumble of witty talk, journalistic parodies, and surrealist imagery.

O’Hara continued working at the Museum of Modern Art throughout his life, curating exhibitions and writing introductions and catalogs for exhibits and tours. On July 25, 1966, while vacationing on Fire Island, Frank O’Hara was killed in a sand buggy accident. He was forty years old.


The Platonic Blow

The Platonic Blow
By W. H. Auden

It was a spring day, a day for a lay, when the air
Smelled like a locker-room, a day to blow or get blown;
Returning from lunch I turned my corner and there
On a near-by stoop I saw him standing alone.

I glanced as I advanced. The clean white T-shirt outlined
A forceful torso, the light-blue denims divulged
Much. I observed the snug curves where they hugged the behind,
I watched the crotch where the cloth intriguingly bulged.

Our eyes met. I felt sick. My knees turned weak.
I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to say.
In a blur I heard words, myself like a stranger speak
“Will you come to my room?” Then a husky voice, “O.K.”

I produced some beer and we talked. Like a little boy
He told me his story. Present address: next door.
Half Polish, half Irish. The youngest. From Illinois.
Profession: mechanic. Name: Bud. Age: twenty-four.

He put down his glass and stretched his bare arms along
The back of my sofa. The afternoon sunlight struck
The blond hairs on the wrist near my head. His chin was strong.
His mouth sucky. I could hardly believe my luck.

And here he was sitting beside me, legs apart.
I could bear it no longer. I touched the inside of his thigh.
His reply was to move closer. I trembled, my heart
Thumped and jumped as my fingers went to his fly.

I opened a gap in the flap. I went in there.
I sought for a slit in the gripper shorts that had charge
Of the basket I asked for. I came to warm flesh then to hair.
I went on. I found what I hoped. I groped. It was large.

He responded to my fondling in a charming, disarming way:
Without a word he unbuckled his belt while I felt.
And lolled back, stretching his legs. His pants fell away.
Carefully drawing it out, I beheld what I held.

The circumcised head was a work of mastercraft
With perfectly beveled rim of unusual weight
And the friendliest red. Even relaxed, the shaft
Was of noble dimensions with the wrinkles that indicate

Singular powers of extension. For a second or two,
It lay there inert, then suddenly stirred in my hand,
Then paused as if frightened or doubtful of what to do.
And then with a violent jerk began to expand.

By soundless bounds it extended and distended, by quick
Great leaps it rose, it flushed, it rushed to its full size.
Nearly nine inches long and three inches thick,
A royal column, ineffably solemn and wise.

I tested its length and strength with a manual squeeze.
I bunched my fingers and twirled them about the knob.
I stroked it from top to bottom. I got on my knees.
I lowered my head. I opened my mouth for the job.

But he pushed me gently away. He bent down. He unlaced
His shoes. He removed his socks. Stood up. Shed
His pants altogether. Muscles in arms and waist
Rippled as he whipped his T-shirt over his head.

I scanned his tan, enjoyed the contrast of brown
Trunk against white shorts taut around small
Hips. With a dig and a wriggle he peeled them down.
I tore off my clothes. He faced me, smiling. I saw all.

The gorgeous organ stood stiffly and straightly out
With a slight flare upwards. At each beat of his heart it threw
An odd little nod my way. From the slot of the spout
Exuded a drop of transparent viscous goo.

The lair of hair was fair, the grove of a young man,
A tangle of curls and whorls, luxuriant but couth.
Except for a spur of golden hairs that fan
To the neat navel, the rest of the belly was smooth.

Well hung, slung from the fork of the muscular legs,
The firm vase of his sperm, like a bulging pear,
Cradling its handsome glands, two herculean eggs,
Swung as he came towards me, shameless, bare.

We aligned mouths. We entwined. All act was clutch,
All fact contact, the attack and the interlock
Of tongues, the charms of arms. I shook at the touch
Of his fresh flesh, I rocked at the shock of his cock.

Straddling my legs a little I inserted his divine
Person between and closed on it tight as I could.
The upright warmth of his belly lay all along mine.
Nude, glued together for a minute, we stood.

I stroked the lobes of his ears, the back of his head
And the broad shoulders. I took bold hold of the compact
Globes of his bottom. We tottered. He fell on the bed.
Lips parted, eyes closed, he lay there, ripe for the act.

Mad to be had, to be felt and smelled. My lips
Explored the adorable masculine tits. My eyes
Assessed the chest. I caressed the athletic hips
And the slim limbs. I approved the grooves of the thighs.

I hugged, I snuggled into an armpit. I sniffed
The subtle whiff of its tuft. I lapped up the taste
Of its hot hollow. My fingers began to drift
On a trek of inspection, a leisurely tour of the waist.

Downward in narrowing circles they playfully strayed.
Encroached on his privates like poachers, approached the prick,
But teasingly swerved, retreated from meeting. It betrayed
Its pleading need by a pretty imploring kick.

“Shall I rim you?” I whispered. He shifted his limbs in assent.
Turned on his side and opened his legs, let me pass
To the dark parts behind. I kissed as I went
The great thick cord that ran back from his balls to his arse.

Prying the buttocks aside, I nosed my way in
Down the shaggy slopes. I came to the puckered goal.
It was quick to my licking. He pressed his crotch to my chin.
His thighs squirmed as my tongue wormed in his hole.

His sensations yearned for consummation. He untucked
His legs and lay panting, hot as a teen-age boy.
Naked, enlarged, charged, aching to get sucked,
Clawing the sheet, all his pores open to joy.

I inspected his erection. I surveyed his parts with a stare
From scrotum level. Sighting along the underside
Of his cock, I looked through the forest of pubic hair
To the range of the chest beyond rising lofty and wide.

I admired the texture, the delicate wrinkles and the neat
Sutures of the capacious bag. I adored the grace
Of the male genitalia. I raised the delicious meat
Up to my mouth, brought the face of its hard-on to my face.

Slipping my lips round the Byzantine dome of the head,
With the tip of my tongue I caressed the sensitive groove.
He thrilled to the trill. “That’s lovely!” he hoarsely said.
“Go on! Go on!” Very slowly I started to move.

Gently, intently, I slid to the massive base
Of his tower of power, paused there a moment down
In the warm moist thicket, then began to retrace
Inch by inch the smooth way to the throbbing crown.

Indwelling excitements swelled at delights to come
As I descended and ascended those thick distended walls.
I grasped his root between left forefinger and thumb
And with my right hand tickled his heavy voluminous balls.

I plunged with a rhythmical lunge steady and slow,
And at every stroke made a corkscrew roll with my tongue.
His soul reeled in the feeling. He whimpered “Oh!”
As I tongued and squeezed and rolled and tickled and swung.

Then I pressed on the spot where the groin is joined to the cock,
Slipped a finger into his arse and massaged him from inside.
The secret sluices of his juices began to unlock.
He melted into what he felt. “O Jesus!” he cried.

Waves of immeasurable pleasures mounted his member in quick
Spasms. I lay still in the notch of his crotch inhaling his sweat.
His ring convulsed round my finger. Into me, rich and thick,
His hot spunk spouted in gouts, spurted in jet after jet.

About the Poem

“The Platonic Blow, by Miss Oral” (sometimes known as “A Day for a Lay” or “The Gobble Poem”) is an erotic poem by W. H. Auden. First unveiled at a party in 1965, the poem was reportedly written in 1948 and remained off the public radar for years. It’s a much longer poem than I usually post, but I think it’s worth reading all 136 lines that comprise the poem’s thirty-four stanzas. The poem gleefully describes in graphic detail a gay blowjob. Auden was one of the greatest and most intelligent writers of the 20th century. Much of Auden’s work is influenced by politics, religion, philosophy, and love. Auden was gay and fairly open about that fact. He often traveled to Berlin before WWII broke out to enjoy the gay scene in the city and to visit his close friend Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood, probably best known for The Berlin Stories which inspired the musical Cabaret, traveled with Auden to China, Spain, and eventually to America. They collaborated together on books about the Sino-Japanese War and the civil war in Spain.

Auden lived in a unique period where same-sex relations were not as taboo they had been considered before the Weimar Republic or after WWII. The Weimar Republic was fading and war was approaching, but there seemed to be this bubble in time that allowed for queer culture to flourish for a few years. “The Platonic Blow” highlights the sexual climate of the time, which was becoming much more open. The poem is blunt, crass, and beautifully written. Not only is the poem about a guy cruising a man, bringing him back to his apartment, blowing him and rimming him, but it is a wonderfully structured poem in which Auden uses internal rhyme, an end rhyme scheme of ABAB, and each line is metered so that there are five stressed syllables. “A Platonic Blow” is unique in Auden’s work because of the explicit and raw eroticism of it.

A special thanks to BosGuy who reminded me of this poem after I’d posted a very different Auden poem last week. I’d posted an excerpt of many years ago, but here it is in its entirety.