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.