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
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
this world did not exist.
EACH OF US CHIMERA
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.
IN MY DREAM, TURING SHOWS ME HIS GREATEST MACHINE
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 www.tobiaswray.com.