by James A. Wren


Giving Away My Books

Today, I gave away my books.
No small collection of ten or twelve trash novels
but the whole of what's been nurturing me since my youth,
books that took me from the edge of puberty
into manhood, books that allowed me
to understand my own sexuality,
power and equality in the same sentence,
that gave me my own sense of being
in a world where, more often than not,
I had been left to my own devices.

But don't mistake my action for charity.
Today I turned them out, turned my back on them,
walked straight ahead and never looked back.
What can I say in my own defense?

Only this:
In a few days
I'll be lying beneath
some sunless window
strapped down
to a hospital bed
(the restraints
are for my protection
they'll remind me with a quick
after giving me another
ten mils of valium
to ameliorate the seizures).
And then come the tubes—
like spaghetti left over
from the evening meal—
oozing from every orifice
and people will pass and stare
(the nurses insist that
I maintain contact
with their outside world),
stop and peep inside,
but just for a moment
before they harden,
rigid and cold as ice and
walk away
never once understanding
that the shell of the man
they'd glimpsed
deep down,
still me.

Given the frequency of these little performances
I've come to tell myself—
someday I might even begin to believe it—
that by giving my books to others to read
I'll never entirely vanish from sight
never entirely be forgotten
never succumb and die . . .
And I remind myself, for the third time this evening,
so long as an ounce of my humanity lives on
in someone else's hands
so shall I,
reduced as I've been to marginalia
a few dog-eared pages,
several smudges and thumb prints
and a broken spine or two.


Roadside Romeo

Juliet, my sweet,
you know the rules.
I really do wish you'd stop
looking at me that way.
You know what I mean,
lovely and lonely,
eager for that last chance to escape
—for a moment or an eternity?—
into another world
another time.

But let's talk reality here.
I'm a man of few means,
fewer scruples
and absolutely no desire whatsoever
to climb anyone's balcony at this time of night.

pour me another,
this time try not to forget the twist of lime
and put it on my tab.
I'll take care of you later
—you know I will.
But for now
send a tall one to the gentleman on the right
—yes, that's him, the one with the salt-and-pepper beard
the horn-rimmed glasses
and a wad
the size of my fist, doubled . . .


I Do, Too, Remember!

I don't think
I'm asking too much tonight,
do you?

Just another moment like the last
when you showed up on my doorstep,
looked past my difficulty in walking you through the house
with these damned braces,
you bearing week-old flowers and me pouring cheap white wine.
And don't tell me you cannot remember the details.
In spite of what you might have convinced yourself,
that night we did touch
from head to head
from head to toes
and I brought out bottles of blood and holy water
to make it official.

I remember how your lips caressed my neck
how your tongue explored the depths of my soul.
I remember precisely that moment
when hatred overtook my heart:
since you were giving me so much pain, I felt,
why shouldn't I repay you in kind
or worse . . .
But I waited as your mouth found and nibbled against the
red of my lips
and I was devoured suddenly and without a trace.

But with breakfast came cabfare, half-hearted
apologies and unkept promises
and a quick hunt-and-peck in the direction of my cheek
as you up and left me
to a life in a cold and empty world once more.
My screams weren't from fear of those first few nights
but from loneliness.
But no matter:
those were kept in check at last by the all-embracing silence
that followed.

No, I'm not asking for too much from you tonight.
It's only been some twenty-odd years,
seven thousand six hundred nights, give or take a few,
over six trillion seconds, I guess—
my fingers don't allow me to count that

No, I'm not asking for too much.
And I promise you this much:
I swear I won't do again what I did before,
cover my ears, my eyes
waiting for the calm to come.


All poems © 2001 James A. Wren



"My disabilities," writes poet James A. Wren "are lupus and Parkinson's (both of which leave me homebound and in a semiconscious state most of the time). Not many of my poems include references to both my disabled and gay identities. The third poem published here in an exception."



BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2001