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Tobias Wray



What is history if not a story full of holes?

                          Sex between men

                          was illegal in parts of the UK

                          until 1982. These proceedings provide vibrant

                          and detailed evidence of the worlds of London’s

                          historical homosexuals.

At his, the curtains drawn.

But the next day, uniforms at the door:

the air gummed like cold

blood. We’ll swing

like prisms from a chandelier.

                          Until 1861, all penetrative

                          homosexual acts committed

                          were punishable by death.

                          Then, hanging was replaced by life imprisonment, and after

                          the passage of the Labouchere Amendment, by up to two years’

                          incarceration. Some chose chemical castration. The animal smell

                          persists on the surface

of a scoured body. We fuck ourselves

full of holes. He, like an angel. Are these men

my fathers? Oh, how the body persists.

What legacy, what long computation.

                          To prove sodomy one needed

                          at least two eyewitnesses

                          and evidence of both penetration

                          and ejaculation. As a result

                          most trials in the Proceedings

                          are for the lesser offense of

                          assault with sodomitical intent.

For the sake of symmetry,

diagonal to the window, like a poem.

Bent over, his ass was an apple

cut in half. The whole fruit bears no threat—only this

interior flesh, its intent; the stem pulled

through and out. We are only awake on the inside, he

bathes the holes with promises, with future dates and time: you

I will fill, you I will fling down, fling into, flee. 

                          From then, what is known about behaviors

                          and attitudes within these communities

                          can be found mostly through trials

                          of blackmail. Otherwise, for all intents

                          and purposes,

                                                this world did not exist.



Soon after he came home to Arkansas,

mother’s cousin Larry became a stone on a hill.

She tells of the monkey leashed


and taught to ride his shoulder

as he walked the couple blocks to Main

when they were young, the sixties. They didn’t


know each other well, but my mother shows me,

as we drive by his old house,

where the big cage would rest,


there, and she tells me how the cotton drifted

like snow into brightening ditches

up and down every street. I imagine


a white-faced capuchin, a pirate’s pet,
with a smart red vest. She spins

and I retrieve the memories. I ask her


anything—the old names of mountains

and saints, how to stay awake,

how her cousin Larry died, and the others,


how she thinks the world thinks. She tells me

and I remember. We creatures of the small

and yet collective. Our understanding


shimmers like schools of thought, glinting

as it turns. She says she never suspected
me. That I would have this


avuncular need. Larry, too, my original: how

some gay men say family to mean refuge,

refutation. I needed to imagine him,


to see his end. The flat and unsurprisingly plain

stone, lain next to Eulah and Oren. Beyond

sentiment, July, 1989: nothing to do


with AIDS, nothing to do

with ghosts, those flimsy fads, nothing to do

with wanting someone to have gone before


and come back. Even epitaphs can lose

their certainty. He died before we ever met,

but I wanted to touch what remained,


to keep the conversation ever approaching.

Visiting from Milwaukee, my ex noticed

so many of the markers read UNKNOWN.


Older than me, he’d never seen that before.

The first thing he did back at the car

was gasp dramatically. What?


Looking at his phone, he said Carole King

had died. But it was a hoax. She lives

somewhere in Idaho. Someone once told me


gay men have become a commercial

of themselves. But I thought we were done

buying that bullshit. Look,


something is owed. If we must be both,

adjective and suffix, let us go before

and come back. They say


fetal genetic material

migrates to a mother’s brain and remains

postpartum, reprogramming connections.


Some mirrors have more questions.

They say time, too, listens from behind.

At almost seventy, Mom lives


in event afterglow. No one’s story is over, yet

half our family has fit

back into the earth, into its endless holes.


We try to make them proud.

It was a rhesus, she corrects me.

A rhesus monkey,


she says after reading this. He kept it

in a chicken-wire cage and carried it

around town on his shoulder.


That was when the cotton gin

was still going, gave the streets and the air

a certain quality, wispy. Mom said


he didn’t have the same energy

she was used to feeling from other

men. He was missing something,


neutral, flicked off or... Her father

asked her what she thought of him, fishing

for some confirmation, she figured. There were


questions when he died. She said

that he was different, said she didn’t

know. I like to think of him that way,


impossible to know. We are in the process

of a certain unraveling, as if the past

exploded and this is the sense


the parts have made. I ask her anyway.

Our understanding glinting as it turns.

Let this be why he came home,


not to die but to recombine. Cotton

lining every ditch, she said,

like something torn apart.



Turing and I fling ourselves

into a river black as a lake.

We kick, ungrapple, kick,

his hand heavier, pulling us down.

His hand clamped like a small

mandible over mine, my first jarring

attempt at diving; his aim, true.


We sling down to where

the machine, far below, 

curries lights over the fanged weeds.

Like a flat, open palm, the mechanical bottom

seems to hold the river up.


We reach its circuited face

where the strands button off.

Turing tinkers with a panel,

his hands clawn, over-busy, his hands

the quietest thing above the lights.

From his work, bubbles

fury overhead, lit, then lost.

I lose time. He is there,


but then he is gone. He has flown

into some moment I wasn’t attending,

leaving no instructions for proceeding.


How beauty, pith-like, sits

in the center of incomprehension.

This, his last machine, seems

to creature the blind dark, offering

anything that passes there long enough

its own set of eyes.

-from No Doubt I Will Return a Different Man (winner 2021 CSU Poetry Center’s Lighthouse Poetry Series Competition), selected by Fall 2022 Guest Editor, Michael Walsh 

Tobias Wray’s No Doubt I Will Return a Different Man won the CSU Poetry Center’s Lighthouse Poetry Series Competition. His work has found homes in Blackbird, Hunger Mountain, Meridian, and The Georgia Review, as well as the Queer Nature: A Poetry Anthology (Autumn House Press). He currently lives in Los Angeles and is soon to start teaching at the University of Central Oklahoma. Reach him at


Victoria Chang


Victoria Chang

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