SELF-PORTRAIT WITH MY EIDOLON
All I know is how to shiver.
I was born in rain and continue to live there.
I want to believe when you say
it’s warm and I can’t feel it. Belief is a word that rests
cold and heavy on my tongue.
If, someday, it evaporates, I will relinquish
time as just another figure to measure
my existence along with my height, weight, waist,
and dick size. Men are very particular
about these things. When the seasons change
so do I, signaling you with a cuttlefish’s
war paint, the undulation of color on my skin
hypnotizing you into a long sleep
you might never wake up from. I’m not so cruel.
Some days I want to know your cloudless
world, the soft sighs in every stanza of your palms.
Some days I want to wrestle
an angel to the ground just so he can know
its flavor. I see in you a childhood
full of dust devils, a country with my name.
I see in you a place to mouth
dumb questions to a god that doesn’t have
words enough to answer.
Some nights it came
with long, unmanageable hair
on staggered footfalls,
its breath spiked with whiskey,
a pair of ravenous hands
forever willing to bless my neck
and thighs with bruises
shaped like cat’s eyes. Its hands
didn’t know the meaning of kindness—
it would watch me sleep for hours
before peeling back the rind
from my softest parts to pierce them
with its tongue, masturbating me
until it grew so titillated its tall
horns scraped bits of stucco off the ceiling.
Only then could I draw its thistle
flute into the smallness of my mouth
and play the only song I knew
that would make it go away,
a shrill whistle like an animal call,
the sound of one heart closing as another
opens, drawing darkness in
with each beat. It was like that:
a cruel song, but sweet.
ODE TO SNEAKERS
arranged in a pile, stinking like wildflowers,
used gym socks protruding
from their mouths like stamen.
Why is the stink of bacteria so alluring to me?
The accumulation of single cells in a dark,
damp sole, the minutiae of Adidas, Chucks,
& Nikes lying on the floor
with mute tongues. This is my secret
that stops being a secret
when I write it. There are four guys
living here, around twenty or twenty-five pairs
between them. Upstairs I hear them snoring,
masturbating, watching old war movies
while I lean low & lift a shoe to my nose
to inhale its bitter acid. I’m breathing in
a chronicle of the day’s many male
labors—running track, basketball, P90X—
with closed eyes, aware that this metonymy
can’t draw me to a field, or us any
closer, than taste or touch might.
It’s too dark. Too difficult to grasp anything beyond
myself—& even then, being invisible is exciting.
Just listening is exciting. Above me
thunder rolls, mattresses squeak, bombs
are going off. Down here, I’m face down in the chasm
between shame & denial, my erection
a bridge to a better, more sensual world.
Tory Adkisson is the author of The Flesh Between Us (SIU Press 2021), winner of the Crab Orchard Series Open Book Competition. His poems have appeared widely in journals such as Third Coast, Crazyhorse, Adroit Journal, Boston Review, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakland and teaches writing at UC Berkeley.