Peter Weltner

Trois Poesies Pride '18

 

 

Michael’s Gift

 

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.



Orlando

 

1.

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.

 

2.

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.

 

3.

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.


4.

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.

 

5.

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.

 

6.

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.

 

7.

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.

 

8.

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.

 

9.

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.

 

10.

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

 

1.

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.

 

2.

Woods’ half-light,

humus, decay

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,

a child

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.

 

3.

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,

classes, studies

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.