I lived in a closet. Also I lived in a closet
Belonging to my then-best friend’s then-beau
Who lived with three other men in a Central Square
Walk-up, spacious and sunlit, except
For the closet. The closet abutted Horace’s bedroom
(Horace is like, but not quite, his real name).
Horace lived as a rent boy for a B-school professor.
The others did—I never knew what they did,
That is, “consulting.” I was proud to be the new
Coat check girl at a cavernous bowling alley
Recently made over into a cavernous rock club.
I was working for tips. I wanted to say
I was working. Really I was playing
At self-sufficiency. Mostly I was playing
Records nobody else liked for two hours a night
Or four if the next DJ never showed up. I liked
To pretend that other people were listening.
Sometimes they called me up. I felt at home
Where no one could see me. I liked the Verlaines
And Treepeople, Small Factory, Circus Lupus
And Some Velvet Sidewalk, the Dead C and the Spinanes,
Who sang about thirsty anomie in a voice
Like sour cherries, sweet with overtones
Of sharp and ripe and bloodstain. When I moved out
I lost two crates along with a cardboard box
Of 25 ten-year-old vinyl LPs I took home
(Home meaning the closet) when the former producer
Was throwing them away: wrapped, black-and-white,
With a picture of a naked toddler, peeing.
Their most famous song was about not being
Famous, not being in school or employed, just “hanging
Out in the Boston rock scene.” The band was called
Sorry. They broke up before
I could see them. The album was called Imaginary Friend.
I didn’t know. But I knew. I took off the dress
Kay offered and apologized for my striped boxers.
I called myself a kid in a candy store
When I was a teen in a lingerie store. I wanted
To move to a place I knew secondhand, from TV,
To Top Shop, Boots, postcodes in England-land. I had mixed up
The opposite of nostalgia—a longing to be
Some place I could never call home—with my wish
To become someone new. There’s a wasp between
My windowpane and its wire-mesh screen. She wants
To get out. She hovers and dives towards some
Way, not knowing there can be no
Way unless someone unlocks the glass and lifts
The window itself and lets the wasp into the room.
For you read me. I wanted to write a book and I told
Everybody I knew that I wanted to write a book
About the softest pop groups I could find:
The boys wore striped sailor shirts and they sang
Like girls and the girls wore striped sailor dresses and sang
Like every first kiss was simultaneously
The Holy Grail and no big deal, which was true
And is true. The Field Mice. Heavenly. Blueboy. I loved
Them all. I love them all. The demand that we shed
Our previous selves is garbage. We are not wasps
And need not leave our shells behind. I had
To move to England to see them where they lived.
They said that love could break a boy’s heart,
Keith Girdler sang. I think there’s no such thing.
I wore the sailor shirts but not the floppy collars.
My then-best friend gave me bad advice about passing,
Telling me women dress for one another.
Never for ourselves. My then-girlfriend needed
To date a boy. I was glad to help her find one.
I didn’t know. But I knew. Maybe everyone did.
The wasp rams the glass, black and gold. I thought I wanted
To free myself from my body, which was
Not possible. Land
On this windowsill with me.
Like photographs of tailings in Montana
turning cobalt-blue in mining pools—
No. This is something the earth did to itself,
catastrophe beauty, sublimity, condensation,
diminutive bubbles whose source no one can see.
They are the springs of human action,
pure until we get up close, or try
(but we can’t) to see them from above,
sometimes surrounded, or obscured, by experts,
thick rounded recent fences, and milled steel,
so we can view them safely now.
In the adjacent dissonance of the hot puddles,
effervescence rules; forever new,
forever ephemeral, mud-pool eyes and eyestalks
communicate incessantly with each other,
a language with no spoken or written form.
Do they know they won’t last? Do they think they’re failing?
Would it be better for us to have no feelings?
Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard. Her most recent books include the chapbook For All Mutants (Rain Taxi, 2021) and the full-length After Callimachus: Poems and Translations (Princeton UP, 2020). A new book of poems, For All Mermaids, will appear from Graywolf in late 2022. She’s @accommodatingly on Twitter.
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