lebe und leide und lärme.
live and suffer and howl.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Blindman’s Song,
trans. Stephen Mitchell
Having been a lurker in dark corridors’
a malingerer in booths, a swiveler of stools,
a cocksure cruiser of bad-liver bars in borrowed clothes,
I go where everyone goes
and I go unseen.
Here—take my hand and shake it.
Only I know where this hand has been.
I could have asked for a straight out, and got it.
I took the crooked way.
Now I see it sidelong,
and pay for it on credit.
Till the pander-man knock-knocks
I prick my ears for come-and-get-it.
Don’t let him cash me in
till I collect.
I was worried, so I watched.
Watching was a thing to do
to bring me a little bit closer to you
whether or not you knew it.
(Oops! You missed a spot.)
Where you’re rough I feel rough.
Looking’s not enough. I want touch
that separates who’s touching from who’s touched.
I understand the way the killer works,
on three-week clocks.
Little itch, a little urge, a little ticklish hypothetical
then I splurge. And hustle to mop up.
To me it’s not just stroke. More
than sore-knees from keyhole-peeping
the pussy floss its teeth.
It never happened if I don’t get caught.
To keep me in I had to keep it out.
And I needed to be kept:
a risky secret,
I had more power the more I went unsaid.
Then I put it to my lips. I was pronounced
emphatically. My syllables were set.
Now I’m a byword, passed
mouth to mouth to mouth.
While others get turned back, I pass,
but, passing, I grow less,
a blond john doe with a flinch and a wasted face.
I want new ways to be erased—
a righter lie, a stranger’s cut-or-kiss.
Someday I’ll pass right through
to someone else.