Trois Poesies Pride '18
A plaster cow and donkey, five sheep, one chipped,
two shepherds chopped from pine, their crooks
twisted oak limbs, the magi garbed in silk ripped
from old scarves. Joseph’s badly faded. Mary looks
downcast with re-painted doll-like eyes. The baby
Jesus is wrapped in cotton swaddles. The palms
are plastic. So’s the manger in the cave. Michael can see
it’s backlit like a stage, not by the star. What qualms
he feels as he ponders the shoddy nativity scene
in the church yard are not calmed when his mother
whispers in his ear, “It’s Christmas, son. Hell’s
shut down for folks like us, heaven-bound.” Mean-
ing what? Could it be really true there’s another
world less sad than this? Be good, he’s told, or else.
He’s bullied at school, called a gay boy, a faggot by
the tougher guys. He never wants or means to stare.
They beat him with willow switches, make him cry,
leave him hurt and dirty in an arroyo. He doesn’t care
his teachers think him lazy during classes.
He’s tall, strong, but hates to fight and knows more
than other kids, stumbles sometimes, wears glasses,
boasts he doesn’t believe in God anymore, would implore
Him to make them quit it if he did. Is it selfish
of him to pray for himself when he doesn’t even try
to stop abusing himself? Maybe he’ll die. It’s absurd
the world’s unkind. “Make a wish, make a wish,”
his mother says. “It’s your birthday.” With a sigh,
he blows out the candles. They must know, have heard
of why he’s bullied. It’s past time. He runs away,
leaves Corpus Christi to the morons, takes a bus
to Frisco, crashes in a pad, is invited to stay
in a derelict Victorian where gay hippies fuss
over him like a baby. He needs to escape
after a few days. What they do is sin. He’d lose
his soul if he were to succumb. “God’s what you make
of yourself,” his mother had said. “What you choose.”
But he’s chosen to defy her the Christmas I meet
him in the Capri, nursing a ginger ale. Great genes,
I think. In my bedroom, naked, only a cross
round his neck, he begs me to let us greet
the new year together since the crowd scenes
in gay bars scare him, fill him with a sense of loss.
We date for three months. It’s fine. I don’t know why
I feel it can’t last. He finds a job in Fields Book-
store, likes to cook, go to movies, try
new trails in west Marin. He’s very good look-
ing, though he isn’t persuaded when I say
so. But I tell him to leave anyway. I stop calling
him, dropping by his room on a bay-
side alley off the Embarcadero. Everything
I do is hurtful. I’m just one more mean school
yard bully, a trite, blaspheming, uncaring lover
who abuses his love by looking for another
better than him. Better than Mike? From the letter
he writes after he’s left, I know I’m a fool.
He’s enclosed the cross he wore, still a believer.
May each of us, at the end of our days, be spared
the wrath of our cruelties, the rage of memory’s
curse, reminding us of our unkindness, those who cared
for us whom we failed. We, who do only what pleases
us, may we be forgiven for not loving enough,
for achieving only what was convenient,
what desire sought, who believed we could bluff
our way past death and need never repent.
In our last hour, relieve our minds and souls
of our hard words, each unkind, uncaring thing
we’ve said and done, you, who are music, who sing
in imagination, the angel fable says controls
our final moments, save us as we die, preserve
the love, the gifts we were given and didn’t deserve.
A continent apart, you can only read,
watch TV, scroll screens. You know
no one in Orlando. You repeat
their names, gaze at faces as losses grow
with each report. A man you knew
well long ago was exposed, charged,
disgraced. Yellow on Thursdays, blue
on Mondays. Deviants duly purged,
morality restored. What you’d had to hide
throughout your youth. The roles you’d play.
The authorities, religions that lied,
betrayed you before them. You’ve nothing to say
that a boy might escape unscathed from the saying of
or save him this day from destroyers of love.
First night in a gay bar, everything,
everyone beautiful, the pleasures, joy,
surprises shared, no retreat, no taking
them away once found. First tricks, boy-
friends, the dancing, the parties, Dionysian
freedom, no scornful deity to fear.
Pickups in parks, knowing looks, brazen
cruising, no ‘faggot’ spat to have to hear.
The truth of a life lies in what can’t last.
The whispers, phone calls, each list
posted as after a battle, the past
turned into mourning. Lips kissed,
bodies embraced. Heart beats with heart,
pulse with pulse. Then gods torn apart.
Lights out. Reporters, the curious gone
to pursue new terrors. Save by a few,
all’s forgotten, the survivors alone
left to remember, graves to attend to,
obits to write or post on a screen,
to try to go back to what’s called normal.
A gap like a hole in the night seen
widening, black, implacable as a wall.
Alchemical gold retreats to lead.
Clothes hanging in their closet he tries
to wear. Sleeping in an empty bed.
Words of comfort he hears as more lies.
He stares at the bare chair, the unset place
across the table. Into endless space.
The dead are dead, “fucking dead” the brother
of a crack soldier killed by his men
said at his funeral. There’s no other
life. Only the unsayable “never again.”
A mob-like savagery incites the heart,
demagogue’s lies that aim
terror’s guns, the violent part
killers enact for the sake of fame.
Words said after bloodshed are platitudes,
clichés, a betrayal
of truth. Finitudes,
limits discovered when there’s nothing to say.
This is some of what you’ve said you remember best: his face
in the steam frosted mirror behind you as you two shaved,
the way he held his fork when he ate as if he were starving,
his black hair, dark brown eyes flecked with gold and cop-
per, his lithe body as he danced twirling, whirling in place
like a top, how each hour he cared for you, slaved
to make you happy, how he twitched and moaned when coming,
the taste of his sweat, his fart’s musty smell, the hiphop
he’d work to, how he clenched his fists when pissed, how he’d race
you back home after the bars’d closed, the day he’d saved
you from bullies–who’s dead, who’s loss now, grief, everything
you miss, his life with yours, this mourning that must not stop.
Laguna Beach, Nineteen Seventy Six. David
and Tomàs dancing at the BoomBoomRoom
or Dante’s, strolling the strand hand in hand after bid-
ding goodnight to their friends–married, groom and groom,
years before it was legal–carrying their shoes, their jeans
rolled up, wading in the surf high as their calves, slowly
crossing the sand to the steps where Tomàs leans
on David as they bask in the night, in its peace. This is me.
This is one survivor looking back at the unbearable.
This is a fantasy of faces I’m no longer able to see
or picture clearly, of two men sitting on the Oak Street
steps, attending to the moonlit Pacific as to a fable
that tides tell, to the ancient stories of time, of be-
ing as alive as the ocean’s rhythms, the waves’ steady beat.
What do I hear? Nothing strange, nothing
foreboding, the sea’s music lulling them
toward sleep as they listen to it sing,
the Pacific like an organ roaring a hymn.
And I, l see their eyes, their half-shut lovely
eyes, their arms embracing as lovers will do
and know how young they’ll be when–no prophecy
foretells it–they’ll die when the plague’s still new.
I stand on a high cliff overlook-
ing the beach, the ocean gray as rain,
as grief, a raging surf I once took
as meaningful when it’s nothing but pain.
Last night, I dreamed of them together, Tomàs
and David, the first lovers I’d met who’d intended
to be more faithful than any they knew ever was.
They died apart. What they suffered then’s never ended.
There’s nothing like this in the world, you say,
forty years later, the beach crowded with beautiful
boys and girls, surfers, tourists, locals
enticed by a balmy, clear, perfect June day,
the water warm, the waves not too strong. A gull
glides by two kids tossing their yellow beach balls.
A man’s rubbing lotion on his wife’s thighs. In a bay-
like cove cliffs hide, no friends embrace, their hearts full.
No one’s making love there. No one’s beckoning us. No one calls.
Let it rain in Orlando, steadily, hard.
In the sudden breaks
between storms, while it’s trying to clear,
the sky’s still as gray
as damp cement,
the clouds dirty wool.
The streets are lakes,
the gutters streams. On a day of peace,
pensive, unkempt, wet,
a boy sits in a doorway
wearing tight black jeans
and a black hoodie
over a white t-shirt
as if garbed in mourning.
He’s playfully feeding crackers
to pigeons and starlings.
The birds look apprehensive,
perched on dangling wires and rooftops,
black, gray, or muddy white
like the clouds, like the boy.
They swoop down, fly–with bits of biscuit
dropping from their beaks–back
to safety. When the sky glows red
just past sunset, he opens the door,
walks in the bar,
the beginning of an evening
when he’ll dance to the pulse, the band’s beat,
hoping to meet someone he’ll love
if just for the night,
to hold hands with fearlessly
on the way home through the park,
no reason to use words,
no need to try to explain
the dark to each other, what it means,
since they both already know.
Let love be silent sorrow.
Let it rain in Orlando.
After Hearing News of the Deaths of More of My College Classmates
The sea’s in its summer season
here, thrumming, drumming its
rhythms on the shore.
A pelican, a raven,
a red-tailed hawk, just those three, no more,
sweep through the fog. A man sits
on a bench, trying to sleep,
his clothes filthy and torn.
He reeks of pot and alcohol.
Mist is seeping deep
into a silent city. A fog horn
mourns through the Golden Gate. If only all
men and women
might lie in their beds at rest
free from grieving while each dreams
of tomorrow. On the beach, a dozen
snowy plovers, skittering on the sand, are blest
with plentiful worms from retreating tidal streams.
underfoot, the worn, leathery smell
of damp bark, the height
of the tallest trees
frightening when day
grows almost dark as night,
ivy thickets, the swell
of creeks in spring, wild
flowers blossoming, a breeze
shaking leaves, nuts that fell
with a cracking sound on the forest floor,
long ago lost in the depths of it,
deliberately gone missing, sore
from hiking so far in, sit-
ting on a boulder, alone,
pondering fragments of a lichen-bearing bone.
Winter on College Hill,
the steep climb back up
from the Tavern, the Inn,
the flakes you’d cup
in your gloves, the thrill
of real cold, the thin
light of the chapel
through the flurries,
its bell intoning each quarter hour,
the next day, an icy shower
waiting before bed while far away,
near the woods, Colin Miller’s son’s play-
ing his bagpipes, its plaintive music
strange on such a crisp night, like mourning
too soon, like a trick
of time, you think, reaching
your frat house, the guys inside still busy partying.
Peter Weltner was Danse Macabre's esteemed 2017 Artist-in-Residence. He has published six books of fiction, including The Risk of His Music and How the Body Prays, and, in 2017, The Return of What’s Been Lost, five poetry chapbooks, among them The One-Winged Body and Water’s Eye (both in collaboration with the artist Galen Garwood), and six full length collections of poetry, News from the World at My Birth: A History, The Outerlands, To the Final Cinder, Stone Altars, Late Summer Storm in Early Winter (with photographs and paintings by Galen Garwood), The Light of the Sun Become Sea, and most recently Unbecoming Time (Marrowstone Press, 2018) He and his husband live in San Francisco by the ocean.