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Tory Adkisson



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.



                   Cleveland, Ohio


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.

-from The Flesh Between Us (SIU Press 2021), selected by Fall 2022 Guest Editor, Michael Walsh 

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.


Victoria Chang


Victoria Chang

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