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Turandot Fragments

i. La legge è questa

He asks if I’ve noticed a pattern, & I check the memories

buried by the accumulation of my winters.

He means: Are you usually the disinterested one?

I count the men, the restaurants, & I am drunk on it—

the gleaming white of tablecloth, the ambient light. The after?

It is possible to go without touch for so long

that a caress turns skin more animal, more alert.

But he can talk about art & translates Rilke from the German,

so here we are: a second date: a pattern. I try to explain,

look for the answer in an opera by Puccini, Turandot,

the ice princess who places the heads of her suitors on stakes

if they cannot answer her riddles.

ii. O giovinetto!

There is a photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans, The Cock (kiss)

an incandescent grasp in the dark, lit up by lips not just touching

but begging. Tillmans: Paradise is maybe when you dissolve your ego—

a loss of self, being in a bundle of other bodies. (1) They make it look

easy, this dissolution of the self you’ve taken such care to excavate

from the ruins of your temples. They make it look

merciful, binding elements into rock, the sharp knot

of one man’s neck blooming into the softness of another’s.

A consummation of contradictions: body & light.

There is a patch of sun on the sidewalk where Jason once kissed me.

A police officer watched from his parked car. Answer me this:

What would it take to disarm another man’s kiss?

iii. Sui libri sacri

My body is a stage spiked for holy men,

where for centuries they scour & exhaust

sacred texts for a solution to my desire. Finding elegance

in the oleander’s pallid slate, three men collect

its blooms by the armful & prepare dried wreaths

to be laid upon either marriage bed or grave.

Do these priests grow weary of pressing flowers

between books? Of reciting words heard only as whispers

in the wings? The scent of their work fades

like memories of home, exchanged

for a language which sings so nearly of death—

no blue lake, no garden, no forest.

iv. In questa reggia

I pass a dried-up condom on the sidewalk, & my god,

it’s like desire is falling from trees, the fruit of it

rotten with disregard. The phantom stirs

from a consummation I used to believe was holy.

& after, I watch my reflection rise from my pulp-heavy

body, red & torn open from ripeness at the altar

to a cosmic drama that just won’t stop. Possession

is a field I live into, carrying its seed, its expanse

across my daily commute. I hold a hand over my heart

like a pledge. How do you consent to a Spirit?

Or to its consequence: a stillborn love:

shadow reincarnate: eclipse in the chest.

v. Nessun dorma

Sleeplessness swells into its nightly chorus

of angers, & my sharp-edged hatreds leave crescent moons

in my skin. Stars tremble with resistance

to the supposed coming of dawn.

What is born each night & dies each morning?

A grocery store balloon shaped like a heart.

I carry a god effigy along the river

where gay men are said to have cruised

before invention delivered their pleas

to come on my chest in pocket-sized scrolls.

The shatter against the stillness thrills me

before water carries the likeness away, quiet as ice.

vi. Tu che di gel sei cinta

Out of the darkness, a pin-pricked mist in a blanket of ice,

Tillmans’s Blushes #26, a photographic abstraction on the border

between something and nothing. (2) A play with destruction, blood

frozen forever in light, a last breath spent on the promise of love.

What flickers red & warm like a flame but is not fire? Pain.

Or its ghost, barely perceptible, rising to the surface

before water becomes something else: a sheet pulled tight

over a body. How a block of ice is a block of ice

until a chisel undresses the shape beneath, felt only by the hand

that works the blade, by the mouth pressed to the cold.

Until warmed by a name foreign to the tongue.

Or until morning, when everything is gone.


(1) Tillmans, Wolfgang. Interview with Nathan Kernan. ASX, 10 Dec. 2013. [Back to poem]

(2) Birnbaum, Daniel. “A New Visual Register for Our Perceptual Apparatus.” Wolfgang Tillmans, Yale UP, 2006. [Back to poem]


JOSHUA GARCIA’s debut collection, Pentimento, is forthcoming with Black Lawrence Press (2024). His poetry has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Georgia Review, Ninth Letter, North American Review, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the College of Charleston and was a 2021-22 Stadler Fellow at Bucknell University. He lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.


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