86 – Towers of You

Strictly speaking, this is some rather esoteric erotic poetry from the perspective of a woman named Irian Valcòn, who will come up in Captain’s Log eventually. But it’s informed by a lot of tender, hungry feelings toward actual people. I like when I have an opportunity to lay my hands on a person and look at them like art or architecture, observe them at length and with all my senses, run my hands over every part, appreciate every shape and sound and texture. When I’m kissing you and I close my eyes, I’m not imagining someone else or anything like that – I’m imagining your body turning into a fractal castle that throws out buttresses and breezeways each time you touch me, connecting me at every point with the evolving edifice of you.

“Loa,” October 2006

Sharp little feelings like thorns in places
To walk my fingers up the thousand steps
starting at your shoulder, climbing your neck
build civilization between our faces –

a theocracy, taking their gospel
from the whispered words between our kisses.
In your stained-glass eyes they depict wishes,
cast us both as goddess and disciple.

Light runs from your mouth, spills over your lips,
a star burning in the cup of your tongue.
My skin ignites with every molten drip,
leaving behind the ribcage harp you strung.
You pick out my fate with your fingertips.
Between us, all the sins of worlds… undone.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

79 – Naked

I gotta get back at the Shadowplay rewrite, if only because the world is always and perpetually lacking for decent queer love stories and erotica, and Keshena is a person who, ahem… gets around. She has some of the same issues relating to women that I do, obviously, as she’s the poor puppet I invented to try out all my neuroses on. This one is from her perspective, but it has some of my own wistfulness in it.

Sometimes – especially if you are, like most of our congregants, a little fucked-up – and please, join the cult, take a taco – sometimes, you feel like the kindest thing you can do is spare someone the burden of knowing you. Sometimes you meet someone so arresting that all you can think is, “If I touch that, I’m gonna ruin it.” When you encounter someone from outside your little bubble of trauma and toxic people and mental illness, someone who doesn’t live in that world, you feel like a filthy animal on someone’s white carpet, terrified to move in case you destroy everything you touch.

I stayed away from women for a long time because I felt like that. It seemed like my love did people harm. An old friend who didn’t make it out of the Well once aimed a finger and a Texan laugh at me and said, “You got a head fulla bad machinery, darlin’.” And I do. This old thing don’t work right, and it will definitely leave oil stains on your sheets.

The fact is, it can be shocking to see a wound. Most people don’t like to without a little bit of warning. But it doesn’t harm them to see it, and it isn’t a sin to share your pain with someone, so long as they consent. In the words of Spider Robinson, trouble shared is trouble halved. When I am brave enough to stay, to be honest, to be naked… generally people aren’t as scared of what they see as I thought they’d be. Generally they’re a lot less scared of what I have hidden than I am.

Eyes on the ground, my creaking back is bent
from rolling stones down the hill behind me,
burning memories so they can’t find me.
But somehow, I sense this dream is different.

The ground is sticky for creatures like me.
This craft can only get airborne one time.
Just take your moment when our wings align,
and slip into the next cheap memory.

What if we were to stay this time instead?
What if we made a promise that we kept?
What if when the lady wakes up in bed
she isn’t alone with the tears she wept –
not just another notch above our head
not to retreat when we’re out of our depth?

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

73 – Sacrament

Oh, child… I feel dizzy, like I’ve had a couple of punches to the head. Love always makes me feel that way. Love likes to rough me up and leave me bleeding in alleys. It’s cool; it’s all consensual, that’s what I’m into. If my life doesn’t scar me I assume I’m not doing it right.

There’s this girl. I know, I know, another one? This is a different girl, even though the story has some marked similarities. Listen, I used to be really bad about falling in love with straight girls, okay? I’ve gotten better; I try to only let my infatuations get out of hand with the willing these days.

This girl is even harder for me to talk about, because the way I feel about her is so hard to put into words. I felt it from the second I met her – like a dislocated limb pushed back into place, a sense of recognition so acute it was painful. She didn’t feel the same, or she hid it well; I used to joke that we became friends because I interrupted her reading and refused to go away until she talked to me.

She’s always hidden how she feels well, from everyone. I’ve seen more than anyone else, but I have this particular blind spot where people’s feelings about me are concerned. So does she. Our blind spots intersect very neatly, such that we’ve been missing one another for a lot of years.

For so many years I’ve been crying thinking of her, of what I did to her. Nothing ever hurt as much as losing her. I went through plenty of heartbreak in the intervening time, with people on whom I had more claim and more right to grieve – people I lived with, slept with for years – and none of it cut deep enough to really hurt me. I couldn’t understand why for a long time, but now I think I do.

When I walked away from her, I gave up on that part of myself. Not consciously, I don’t think – I never swore off dating women, I went on identifying as bisexual, even fucked a few women over the years, but no one more than once. There were no women in my life at all for more than a decade. I’ve got a couple of female friends now, but that’s new, just in the last year. For about sixteen years I just avoided women entirely. Until she came back into my life, I thought I couldn’t feel that way anymore. Maybe my parents were right, maybe it was a phase. Everybody looks at women like that sometimes. Everybody has a bi phase in college. Settle down and get married to a penis-haver like a good girl.

Obedient creature that I am, I did get married. In fact, she married me – just not the way I hoped when I was sixteen. She was the officiant at my wedding. I needed her to be there, couldn’t imagine getting married without her. I never dreamed it would cause her pain – I’d concluded when we were nineteen that she wasn’t interested, that this bone-deep hunger I feel around her was entirely one-sided. That didn’t do a damn thing to make it go away, mind, but I’d long ago got comfortable with that ache.

It makes me feel foolish, in the best way, that it takes so little, the merest hint that she wants me around, and… god. My head feels like it’s on fire. It’s such a strange kind of tenderness I feel – more visceral than precisely erotic, because I had forbidden myself to think that way about her, and so every innocuous touch always hit me like a live wire. I remember one morning when I was about fifteen, waking up at a sleepover on the floor, with one arm around her. She was wearing a t-shirt that had ridden up some, and my fist was resting against her bare belly.

Slowly, so slowly, I spread out my fingers to lay my hand flat on her skin. Just that. It wasn’t a move, I didn’t have anything else in mind, I didn’t even know why – why I needed so much to do it, or why I felt such shame and self-loathing when I did. It felt holy – her skin as cool as marble, so still I could feel her heartbeat, the morning sun spilling over her shoulder. I lay there and felt adoration ricocheting through me, like a swallowed bullet, tearing up my insides with the effort to keep still, to preserve this moment for just another breath. And yet I was so ashamed. I felt sure it was wrong, I was wrong somehow. I knew I was trespassing, and I didn’t know why.

“Ayizan,” October 2006.

I never stopped thinking about that. I never stopped waiting for the day when I could be close to her and feel like she wanted me there. That’s all I ever wanted – to be with her and know that I’m welcome, that in her eyes, I belong there.

I recall every time I’ve touched your skin
and my skin prickles with the memory,
holding my breath to keep you next to me,
feeling the fragile moment stretch and thin

Your pulse is a cacophony under
my fingertips – it makes me want to weep,
to be so close to something I can’t keep –
drowning in my own heartbeat, like thunder.

For a moment I imagine a tree
growing from my sternum, up through your spine,
millions of roots between your heart and mine
finally able to see what you see –
roots that only grow deeper over time,
roots that will always bring you home to me.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

69 – Anam Cara

A patient reader over time will notice my tendency to refer to a specific “her” in a specific way. She’s a motif that pops up in my writing quite a lot. She’s also a real person, and that’s why I don’t talk about her a whole lot… because I don’t want to hurt her.

It’s hard to write about real people, even harder to write about experiences you shared, because none of us sees the same event the same way, and there’s so much we don’t tell even the ones we love. So much of what we don’t say is the very worst of what’s in us, our pain and fear and solitude. So much of our memories is emotion and judgment we apply to them after the fact, hindsight understanding that turns a word into a lie, an abandonment into an accident, a betrayal into a miscommunication… We rewrite our memories every day as we grow and change. That can mean that when you share how you remember your life with someone… you risk damaging how they remember it.

“But Gentle, you insufferable torrent of surplus vocabulary,” I hear you protest, “You haven’t held back a fuckin’ bit on oversharing about your family, so how do you come over all shy about this one girl?”

Well. Because we’ve all got “that one girl” in our history somewhere. Or guy. Or robot, or being. Whatever you’re into. We all fell in love for the first time, once. The thing about first love is, it’s everything they tell you – beautiful, stupid, tragic, life-shattering and so, so silly – and it’s often almost entirely unrelated to the person you fell in love with. It takes most of us years to learn how to help someone open up to us, how to listen to them instead of projecting our bullshit onto them, how to appreciate everything they are rather than just the parts that reflect our own desires and answer our own needs. When we’re young, when we fall in love for the first time, it can start from the barest thread – a look, a smile, an arm brushing against yours. You embroider it into whole cloth, a world of it, population you and Her. The Woman.

“My Madonna,” February 2007.

I stood outside of a lot of venues, waiting for Her. A lot of times, her paramour du jour stood with me. We rarely talked a lot – I didn’t like her boyfriends, and I couldn’t explain why, even to myself. What little conversation we exchanged was always the same, and I liked it, the ritual of it.

Dramatis personae: Gentle, aged 16; tall, red-haired, surly. Boytoy A, aged 16; probably brunette, probably stocky, probably a suitable target for adjectives like “corn-fed.”
Gentle leans against the wall outside the (dressing room/band locker room/restaurant/movie theater), pulling a rather selfconscious James Dean ‘tude. Boytoy A approaches from stage right.

Boytoy A jerks his chin up in silent greeting. Gentle returns the gesture.

Boytoy A: She in there?

Gentle nods.

Boytoy A: How long?

Gentle: She said ’bout ten minutes.

Boytoy A nods and takes up a position against the wall also. His posture and demeanor take on an even more selfconscious James Dean ‘tude of his own, which Gentle courteously commences to ignore.

Sometimes it was me arriving second, and then the roles were reversed, but it was always the same. No one ever needed to say who we were waiting for. She was the connection between us, the only important thing we shared, the only important thing, period. Just Her, The Woman.

I loved her madly, and badly, and eventually I realized both. I’ve realized since how limited her understanding of what I was going through must have been, how much I hid from everyone. It hurts me, every day – and I still think of her every day, more than once – to imagine that she thinks I fell away from her because I didn’t love her. It hurts me more, though, to imagine tainting what we had, the strength and strangeness of our friendship, with… something I didn’t even yet know I wanted.

I knew every second that I was with her that I wanted to be closer to her. I couldn’t explain how, or what I was missing. I didn’t want to have sex with her; the idea was horrifying to me, a transgression. But then, it took me years to realize that the way I saw other women wasn’t the same way that straight women do. It took me years to understand that, yes, our relationship was Platonic, because she wanted it that way, and I would have died rather than make her uncomfortable around me. But yes… my feelings for her were romantic, profoundly so. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I didn’t care what that looked like, but I was jealous of her boyfriends, and also contemptuous of them. I knew that they were temporary, and I was not. I knew that what I had of her was more real, more honest, more complete than what they saw, and I thought that the difference was that they couldn’t see her clearly past their dicks.

I realize now that I was blind in the exact same way they were. I loved her, and I needed something from her that she couldn’t give, and when she didn’t give it to me, I ran away. Not because I didn’t love her. Because I couldn’t trust myself to love her the way she wanted to be loved. I couldn’t trust myself to let her be herself, rather than what I needed her to be.

I still don’t trust myself that way. That’s why I don’t talk about her very much – because I don’t want to destroy her memory of our friendship by making her feel that I was lying, or pretending, or constantly scheming after her body or any of that shit. Some of this is internalized homophobia – this is why lesbians are often so tentative, so unwilling to approach each other. We’re so afraid of being seen as predatory, of suddenly not being “safe” when we admit to liking other women. It feels like coming out means an audit of every relationship you ever had, every friend in turn desperately needing to ask, “Well, have you ever thought about me that way?”

But mostly it’s just… she saw something in me that it took me until now to see in myself. She kept me alive when I was a teenager, more literally than I think she knew. For years, she was all I was living for. And I was honest with her, more honest than I would be with anyone else for a decade and change after that. What she didn’t know about me wasn’t her fault, and I didn’t hide it on purpose. I didn’t know it either. She did nothing wrong, is the point, and I don’t want to take her happiness from her by recontextualizing our shared history. That’s the difference between her and my family. She did nothing wrong.

I think she’s happy now. As far as one can tell through the internet. She got married. He’s a cute guy – brunette, corn-fed. So did I, come to that. I learned how to love the right way. I’m not… better, though, not the way she is. I haven’t moved on from a lot of things that happened back then. I don’t think I could trust myself to see her any more clearly now than I could when I was sixteen; it would just be a different kind of blindness. She doesn’t deserve that. The world is better for me knowing that she’s in it, and generally happy. I promised her, “I will always try to do what would please you if you knew,” and I still do. She surfaces in my art again and again. I retell the story a thousand different ways. I learned so many ways to love from her, and so many of them were wrong at the time, but all of them have brought me joy, and brought me here.

I want so much to explain. But… that feels self-serving. She couldn’t benefit from knowing more about the horrorshow I was living out of her sight, and I couldn’t make her memories any more beautiful by telling her I loved her in a different way than she loved me. I think she knew. I didn’t know what I really wanted from her, but I was never shy about telling her how I felt. I can only hope that her memories are as good as mine… and try not to spoil them with irrelevant details like, y’know… myself.

Walk down this road with me a little way.
Yeah, I know we’ve been this way before.
I still know the fastest way to your door
from where I am, no matter how far away.

But you don’t live there anymore, and I…
I realize now just what I did to you.
I realize now just how little you knew –
you had the truth of me, but not the why.

What’s the etiquette on sharing a dream?
I could only darken your memory,
taint whatever good you managed to see,
make you feel it was never what it seemed.
A dream more real than what they made of me –
to keep this creature from you feels more clean.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

48 – Wisdom

My wife’s computer spontaneously shit itself a week or so ago, and so she’s been playing a lot of console games while we wait for the new machine-baby to arrive. There’s been a lot of Smash Bros., which is why this sonnet is about Zelda.

It’s also about Zelda because Zelda, as a concept and as a franchise, is really, really important to me. I had an NES, and then a Nintendo 64 a bit later, and I remember a lot of nights where I ended up sitting in the dark, transfixed by Mario, and Starfox, and Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time.

Link and Zelda is maybe the purest expression of that ancient knight-errant-and-fair-lady trope in our modern mythologies, and when I was a teenager falling in love with other girls and trying to insist I wasn’t… the formal, ritualistic purity of that relationship, the deep devotion of it alongside the constant consciousness that it can’t ever be closer than it is… I fought hard not to notice how much I related to that feeling.

Roughly 1990. I’m on the right, and four.
My best friend has fallen down, I have taken care of her, and I feel like a hero.

In every game we played, I was the Knight. The other girls didn’t want to play the boy characters – fine, great, more swords for me, give it – and I was a head taller than everyone else starting at five years old. When they fell down and scraped their knees, I bandaged them with my scarves and carried them home. I felt proud. I felt useful. I felt like a Knight, and unlike when my grandmother endlessly harped on me to “act like a lady,” acting like a Knight didn’t make me feel weak, didn’t make me feel small, didn’t make me feel like a toy on a shelf, something pretty and pointless, something to be seen and not heard.

I put that part of myself – and pretty much every other part – away around the time I was fifteen. I tried very hard to conform, to follow all the proscribed steps. I thought that would keep me safe.

You know the rest of the story. No one is safe. I let them take my swords because they promised me a palace. Only obey for a while longer, stay for a while longer, and your kingdom will come.

Children, they burned down the kingdom. But swords and ocarinas don’t burn, so grab yours and let’s storm the palace.

I only saw a flash of your blue eyes –
your cry the same blue light, cutting the rain –
your face alive with fright, but not with pain
you let something fall as the horse sped by.

I’ve known you only minutes now, all told,
or should I count the words you’ve said to me,
the secrets heard, the fear you let me see,
the burdens we were both too young to hold?

Trouble is, each move you make has power.
There’s not a breath I can afford to waste.
Whether seven or seventy-two hours
in every single mask I see your face
and I promise, when I find your tower,
I’ll butcher the pig who’s taken your place.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

2 – Forecast

I have not failed you yet, friends. I was very distracted today but I remembered about half an hour ago that I promised you a sonnet. For reasons related to my distraction today, it’s about sex. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure more than half of Shakespeare’s sonnets were about sex, so apparently that’s a laudable and even classic topic for a sonnet.

It feels explosive laying next to you
A current arcs between your moving lips
Between my own I trap your fingertips
And hold my breath, the dark electron blue.

Your tongue in tatters, tell me something true:
In rhythm with our four rotating hips
I kiss your heart and taste the beats it skips;
this tune we’re playing feels like something new.

Your body arches, taut like power lines
The wind runs high and hot before the storm
The shadows underneath your skin are warm,
Enfolding you like tentacles and vines.
Tornado chaser of a different form,
I catalogue your cries like weather signs.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

Desert Desires

In the morning:

I send a song to you. I choose it carefully.

There’s always a reason.

I’d tell you if you asked;

no one ever asks.

I only seem to do this for one person at a time –

it’s my way of courting.

Like leaving flowers at your door

A mouse corpse on your mat

I did not make it; I simply caught it.

Dead things say “I love you.”


Around 10 AM:

I light incense in two places around my apartment,

and I ponder rituals that could accompany this moment.

Like everything, I insist on doing this backwards.

I crave faith, conviction, a sense of meaning

I cherish catechism; my fingers naturally curl to count a rosary.

But though I make the moves on hands and knees,

though I see things and hear voices,

though I go through all the motions of the martyr,

I never pull the trigger

because I still don’t feel a thing.

Around 1995:

Religion was like any other fantasy world when I was a child

Jesus was a hero but not as brave as Ged,

A lot whinier than Frodo.

No cool powers.

Woo, he makes fish appear and walks on water?

So he’s a shitty Aquaman, is what you’re saying.

No one divided the Bible from Bradley and Bradbury

So it just seemed like it had too few dragons to me.

My first memory blinds me — the sun on the water in a copper bucket

that also contained me.

The bucket was just big enough for me, and the water

and the infinite light of the sun.

I could never see how this world needed God.


Every day since sixth grade:

I loved her all wrong, then and now —

Far too close in all the wrong places.

Like tongue-kissing a goddess

Like bringing frankincense and myrrh to McDonalds

Like living all my life on my knees

Before the sixteen-year-old girls we were.

Over time it’s become a genre

A color I paint in

One of the shapes that shows up again and again.

If you knew her, you could never miss it —

She’s in every drawing, every story — or something like her,

the pieces of her I stole, and kept, and tended

in my dirt-floor basement heart.

The garden I grew there spawns each day

mycorrhizal homunculi with her eyes.

They tug at my arms, whisper in my ears

Beg to be drawn, to be cherished, to be beautified

To be loved, forever.

To always be loved.