Pro-Sex Poems of Love and Desire: Brainard, Shepherd, Smith, Liu and Teare

Photograph by Ocean Morisset_2013

Joe Brainard (Arkansas/Oklahoma/New York City, 1942-1994)
Sex (written in 1969)
I like sex best when it’s fast and fun. Or slow and beautiful. Beautiful, of course can be fun too. And fun, beautiful. I like warm necks. And the smalls of backs. I’m not sure if that’s the right word: small. What I mean is the part of the back that goes in the most. Just before your bottom comes out. I like navels. I like under-arms. I don’t care for feet especially, or legs. I like faces. Eyes and lips and ears. I think that what I like most about sex is just touching. Skin is so alive. I like cold clean sheets. I like breasts and nipples. What I’m a sucker for most is a round full bottom. I really don’t like that word bottom. I think underwear is sexy. I like hair on heads, but hair on the body I can take it or leave it. Skinny builds don’t turn me on as much as normal builds. Probably because I’m skinny myself. I have a weak spot for blonds. I like to fuck sometimes but I don’t like to be fucked. What I really like is just a good plain blow-job. It’s rhythm that makes me come the best. I don’t think that, in bed, I take a masculine role or a feminine role. I guess I must be somewhere in between, or both. Sex-wise I’m not very adventurous. I am sure that there are a lot of things I like that I don’t know I like yet. I hope so. So—now you have some idea of what I like in bed.
. . .
Part of the so-called “New York School” of artists, dancers, musicians and poets, Joe Brainard died of AIDS-induced pneumonia in 1994.
Joe Brainard

Joe Brainard

Reginald Shepherd

Reginald Shepherd

Reginald Shepherd (1963-2008), a gay, African-American poet, wrote the following commentary in February 2008:
“[At a recent poetry conference poet Randall Mann asked] a provocative question about why so many contemporary gay male poets avoid writing about sex…..a question I’ve asked myself about my own work, which is full of desire – but not much actual sex. I replied that for a lot of socially and financially comfortable gay men, they are born insiders and then this thing happens to them that pushes them from the centre to the margins, and they then spend a great deal of energy trying to get back home to the centre by asserting how safe and normal and respectable they are, with their good taste and their well-groomed dogs, and how they just want to be like everybody else – which most of them are, except for the alcoholism and the crystal meth addictions – (sorry, bitchy comment). I remember someone at a meeting of the mostly undergraduate gay student group during my brief sojourn as a PhD student at Harvard saying that gays weren’t any more artistic and sensitive than anyone else. I responded, ‘Yes, and that’s the problem.’
Gays may have inalienable rights which they insist on – good luck with that. But one thing they apparently don’t have anymore…is Sex, since fucking, blowjobs, rimjobs, and even handjobs, are what disgusts straights to have to think about…..
I’d like to marry my partner (if only to have access to his health insurance, which I sure need, what with my HIV and my chemotherapy, and my slew of other medical problems). I’d like to have a kid (kids in the plural would be too much to handle). I’d even like a dog, though we’d have to fix the back fences first. But I am definitely not like everybody else, nor do I wish to be. As Alan Parsons Project sang, “I wouldn’t wanna be like you.” I’m not even like all the other boys!”
. . .
Reginald Shepherd (Bronx, New York, 1963-2008)
Under the Milky Way
Some stars, brightest early, falter
and fade, while some increase in magnitude
throughout the night. Sometimes
fistfuls of scattered light croon
through my star-spattered sleep; sometimes
the stars are silent. Sometimes the soul loses control
of Plato’s horses swimming viscous air: the sensual,
the beauty merely intellectual. Sometimes
not. Some nights I can see Gemini,
white shadows Gemini leaves. I’m lying
with my hands here in my pants, hard
for you but to no end. I’m rummaging
this rumpled bed where we last fucked
looking for clues to you, a print
of dried semen or an invisible “I love you”
in Vaseline. I wanted to take your picture
as you lay spread open, white briefs bunched at
your ankles, but what can cameras
keep? Your portrait’s burned into my retina
upside-down. Buoyed above the tedium
of the working week’s routine, sometimes
obscured by clouds, it’s a glittering prize
for the swiftest, the fairest, well hung
in the desiring sky. Your body,
I mean. I think of your body
as a museum of careless gestures:
the way you light a cigarette or turn
a sticking doorknob, the way you shake your head
at something you’ve just read. Impulses
chase themselves through a closed circuit,
the expenditure of energy unavailable for work:
I call it desire, or just unsated hunger.
Your body is too far above me to read
by its light: I walked right into two blue eyes
and drowned myself, can’t remember
if you pulled me out. Here I am
washed ashore, your summer skin
sees right through me. I’m leading myself
by the hand again somewhere I’ve been
too many times, I’m floating on mercury
toward you in a tissue-paper boat and you’re
looking away. Here I come.
. . .
Shepherd then goes on to quote poet Aaron Smith:
“Recently at a gay publishing party a friend told me that he wants his new book to be about something other than cock because that’s all that gay men write about. While everyone around him nodded in agreement, I was thinking: Can you please tell me which poets are currently writing about cock? Because those are the poets I want to read! I couldn’t help but sense an undercurrent of conservatism in his statement – as if gay sex has no place in the pristine rooms of contemporary poetry, a sense that we have already done that. I wonder—this early in the 21st century—is there really nothing else we can say about the gay erotic?…..And I caution poets against listening to the voices that say we’ve heard enough about sex (or about discrimination or about “coming out” or about AIDS)…”
. . .
Aaron Smith
I’ve been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that’s about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,
I remember the desperate
things we did
and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,
Without you here I’m viciously lonely
and I can’t remember
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary
I watched two men
press hard into
each other, their bodies
caught in the club’s
bass drum swell,
and I couldn’t remember
when I knew I’d never
be beautiful, but it must
have been quick
and subtle, the way
the holy ghost can pass
in and out of a room.
I want so desperately
to be finished with desire,
the rushing wind, the still
small voice.
. . .
From Blue on Blue Ground © 2005 Aaron Smith
. . .
Aaron Smith
The Bar Closes (But You Don’t Want to Go Home)
While the man you love bites stories
into someone else’s back, there’s a flicker
in your eye only seen in late-night
television (the heroine stretching her face, half-
grin, half-cry), all you’ve done wrong
clarified in a liquidy theme song.
You say, the only party is my party, the only
death worth dying is the disastrous one.
If everything was black and white,
darling, the world would look more
like an afterlife, certain and grand
and unexplainable. But even the shoreline
against the city tonight is indecisive,
jagged and rocky the way desire used to be
before you knew enough to know it was desire.
. . .
Aaron Smith is the poetry editor for Bloom Literary Journal (“Queer Fiction, Art, Poetry & More”).
. . .
Timothy Liu (born 1965, San José, California)
Almost There
Hard to imagine getting
anywhere near another semi-
nude encounter down this concrete
slab of interstate, the two of us
all thumbs—
white-throated swifts mating mid-flight
instead of buckets of
crispy wings thrown down
hoi polloi—
an army of mouths
eager to feed
left without any lasting sustenance.
Best get down on all fours.
Ease our noses past
rear-end collisions wrapped around
guardrails shaking loose their bolts
while unseen choirs jacked on
airwaves go on preaching
loud and clear to every
last pair of unrepentant ears—
. . .
Timothy Liu
Holding Pattern
Intermittent wet under
cloud cover, dry
where you are. All day
this rain without
you—so many planes
above the cloud line
carrying strangers
either closer or
farther away from
one another while
you and I remain
grounded. Are we
moving anyway
towards something
finer than what the day
might bring or is this
an illusion, a stay
against everything
unforeseen—tiny bottles
clinking as the carts
make their way down
the narrow aisle
no matter what
class we find ourselves
seated in, your voice
the captain’s voice
even if the masks
do not inflate
and there’s no one
here to help me
put mine on first—
my head cradled
between your knees.
. . .
Timothy Liu
Hard Evidence
A room walled-in by books where the hours withdraw.
At the foot of an unmade bed a bird of paradise.
Motel carpet melted where an iron had been.
His attention anchored to a late night “glory hole”.
Of janitorial carts no heaviness like theirs.
Desire seen cavorting with the yes inside the no.
A soul kiss swimming solo in an open wound.
The self as church where the whores now gather in.
. . .
Timothy Liu is an American poet and the editor of Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry. A graduate of Brigham Young University and the University of Houston, Liu is a Professor of English at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. His journals and papers are in the Berg Collection archives of the New York City Public Library.
. . .

Brian Teare (born 1974, Tuscaloosa, Alabama)

Eden Incunabulum
“As his unlikeness fitted mine”—
so his luciferous kiss, ecliptic : me pinned beneath lips bitten as under weight of prayer, Ave—but no common vocative, no paradise above, and we not beholden to a name, not to a local god banking fever blaze his seasonal malady of flowers—nor to demi-urge nor the lapsarian system’s glittering, how later we spoke between us of sacred and profane as if the numinous could bring death—the only system—to bear burn outside him and hang its glister wisdom and singe in the viridian wilt. Lilt, to break salt in that sugar where skin was no choice and sanguine, not blameless, though, Ave, I loved our words for want beginning liquor, squander sip and fizz : fuck, ferment I loved and bluebottles tippling windfall rot, bruises’ wicked wine gone vinegar beneath the taut brief glaze of wings, but it was not yet nameable, what we later called disease : script brought us by the trick snake’s fakey Beelzebubbery. In the dirt with his dictionary skin, tight skein of syllables knit by un- numbered undulating clicking ribs, the snake slunk and stung and spelled the dust with his tongue and tail and was nothing, a black forked lisp in the subfusc grass hued blue as the blue sky tipped its lip to ocean horizon and filled, hugest amphora, and sank, evening, Ave, I will tell you now I loved it all. That in his hot body there was something similar to the idea of heat which was in my mind, that when we alembic, lay together, we bequeathed the white fixed earth beneath ardent water and a season’s kept blood, and I not a rib of his, not further hurt in his marrow—for the idea of death was in him, the only system—and we lay together in the field that was not yet page, not begun with A—, not alpha nor apple, not Ave, not yet because what we knew was the least of it then. It was difficult to sleep with the love of words gone gospel between my thighs where nightly he’d jack the pulpit, Ave Corpus, Ave Numen, gnosis and throb unalphabetical, I will tell you I loved it all, fastest brushfires and dryburns his body’s doublecross, garden lost to loss, incurable season : wilt, lilt : singe, our song. And the snake, lumen skin of alphabets, rubbing his stomach in the dust until his tin eyes filled with milk, his slack skin flickered and split and new black sinew out of the slough dead lettered vellum legless crept and let fall wept whisper, hiss, paperhush : with the skin language left behind I bind time to memorial : Book of Our Garden Hours, illuminated bloom : Here a gilt script singe sings of heat split in its leaves, and the bee gives suck to the book : Ave Incunabulum, love’s first work : Ave, In Memoriam— [ J—05/1999 ]
Incunabulum: a book printed at an early date (esp. before 1501)
“As his unlikeness fitted mine”—from Tennyson’s In Memoriam
. . . . .