Jun 022015
Jowita Bydlowska photograph2Image: Jowita Bydlowska, ice & fog series
“Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: an always present I is constituted only by confrontation with an always absent you.”

—  Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, trans. Richard Howard



There should have been a meridian with bleeding cloudlines ransacking the view while the cowslips sunk under a spell as your feet fairly fell them         Neither of us can recall the urgency we felt on top of a skyscraper to take six buses into the middle of the countryside (in March, no less); neither of us can remember what we had hoped to find in green-arbored labyrinths—the azure blur of a sky spotted swellingly with eerie moorland gusts—apart from solitude yet here we are still joined like marionettes at the hip with no fortunes in our hands and no lethal means of severance         Binocular vision you hawk your gaze askant and swear you can see Snowdon in the east so I turn west toward where Snowdon actually is and say nothing encountering only fog and lowlying smoke which I thought we had left the city to avoid         On an outcropping of rock I imagine the primed back of Friedrich’s wanderer and his planted dangerously dangling toe and feed you pieces of applewood cheese straight from a knife’s serrated edge almost wanting to draw blood but smiling pathetically instead         You do not even touch my skin, I can no longer remember the last time you spoke my name aloud while looking me head-on in the eyes, I look upward and around to view nothing but to sense rather the perilous power of nature and a sublime kind of erection and I no longer wonder if what I sought was the same as what it was you did         (the same horizonline refusing a pattern resisting a building’s pointed linearity the same banal mood that stems from the threat of rain the same stench of our lackadaisical bodies—yours rank like a dying lamb’s, mine bold as a guillotine’s—the same sound of potent silence between us which not even touch being absent can assuage)         I take a mossy patch of stone beneath my skull for a pillow and shut my eyes against the balking barrenness of fields the yawningly monotonous hillocks pretending for a moment a moment quicker than the flick of that steed’s tail that you and I are back in the city—the smell of you helps the memory along its fiction—with the same gulf between us only less room than the moors serving now to exaggerate rather than to obfuscate

st-jerome-writing-caravaggioSt. Jerome writing, Caravaggio, detail



Wings were never heavy but with time
quadrilles distending their forms
lolling veins and elbows loosed quick

behind a trick door in wrought paneling
so that even we lost count     I swear
ghosts would prefer this interlude

to the fortune tellers lines so obscure
no gesture no future no bird can be sure
A quick lull tarnishes the tune so that

all bodies go placid facing one another
expectant eager erstwhile     You bow low
but I sense the breeze shard a shutter

neighboring pairs rescind wrists singly
collectively renouncing in a moment
of delusion     Amorphous colors

croon casually still the wind always wins
I spy a swallow behind your shoulder
neck low as if it is being bled     I see

the trick door open and then close again
but there is no mirth when a hand crashes
down upon a boned key in disrepair

No one knows how to move but you
yet we all see stillness as a weakness
What happens in private remains uncharted

our future wants only a veil to be told.

The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas-Caravaggio_(1601-2)The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio, detail


A Conjuration; A Demolition

The trees never enough when our moon forked across leaves leaving a trace of freckles where once there had been pitch and a dull hum of distant trains         What tongues I knew then I can no longer say but I crushed my fingers into fists and spoke for hours on end in time with you I believe and the intransigent twitch some swallow made nocturnally in its nest

Did we conjure anything dangerous or did we manage to dispel definitively the demons along 9th Street where once there were tongues of a different sort who can say?           A vacant lot now where a derelict church used to seep solace across a street corner whose ends they’ve elevated erasing the languorous lengths on which we took childish chances with ancient words

I still gaze into the sky sometimes think fondly of hunters’ belts but there is an emptiness now where once we had seen vastness has necks worth all risk         Scarce memories running naked such sickled oaks you and I beneath deluding ourselves we were waxing I can honestly say from higher ground my tongue knew no thing no matter what spells from it you supped

Michelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_St_John_the_Baptist_-_WGA04154St. John the Baptist, Caravaggio, detail




Splayed you recall a language I have lost
red anemone shouting city to shatter
a slumber sketched in southern hues

the crass linen folded under arched thighs
an expectant autumn raged sluggish
to score all that we said and all that we did

I asked you what you saw in that darkness
from what chaos you returned primed
eager keen to greet the canvas haphazardly

to quell an impending sacrifice to convey
all that we were and all that we had yet to be
mounting you was mounting me the geometry

skewed that the city offered only bones
I gnawed you shrugged I withered you throve
in one tight moment the legs flailed

like a murder the hips pushed back on oak
as if insisting the narrative was subjective
how to carry you how to ask you carry me



Red anemone shouting city to shatter
an eager autumn expecting you to say yes
I watched you sleep your jaw skewed

to flatter the light the branch outside cracked
and we came together again it is enough
it is never enough in that scene scored slow

to allow for the proper rise and fall
southern pitch of highway the road east
where bone meets thighs where hips

are incidental to the narrative withering
the chaos from which you return sluggish
heaving crass to greet any morning lover

who would keep you from answering the call
gristle grooved but it is all that we share
we say all we can say and do all we can do

like a symphony conveyed and stretched
your hands holding the image by its tips
your eyes pleading in a language I have lost

David_and_Goliath_by_CaravaggioDavid and Goliath, Caravaggio, detail


Moses, Part 1

My brain full of you he showed up uninvited with a chain demanding signatures     the legalities of putting the Red Sea between us sotto voce as if anyone still held sway over whether or not the guillotine would crash     Worthlessly I fell into bottles like a sibyl whose prophecy fulfilled only the worst I had heard him spill some oceans ago when I cared for dogma and restrictions some language ago I’ve since lost shaken from my tongue like tea leaves or unwanted cum     I tried to make good with you but my touch wasn’t enough and I’ve lost you like I lost myself nearly a whole decade ago     A connection surged     I knew you like no one for a spell and however many miles we traipsed along city streets I was bent on building a narrative with you around across in between     I wanted to tell you about him but thought that my lips were enough     I stood in the rancid wind and the blistering sun for two straight hours trying to move from the spot where I had rooted myself in speaking out to you my own fears     your song would somehow do     A passing man spoke to me passingly about the end of days rattling a cup in my face like a temptation or an accusation the train looped in a tunnel like he might be right then stopped     last night I slept in fits with your hip against mine and I blamed some other man the whole time for the river being closed where for once I lacked the gall to call in the fucking gods


Moses, Part 2

When once we were familiar     your scent on angora a reminder of your weight
pressing on grinding into me those moments when we were one     and I
alone watching you sleep openmouthed like a baby in need of burping a thwack

across your back break my mother’s back please     the travesty of hospital lights
and a father who flatlines awake claiming to have seen the light     the word
his creed returned to him and I only know you can act as interpreter or guide

What books must he devour to make his god which is your god see him go
with no regrets and no bad blood     I wonder at silence after you and I watch
a documentary about Israel’s moment of silence whole cities motorways people

falling to their knees for the dead     for what is memory but a constant war
between what happened and what continues to happen in dreams over which
we have no control     and yet we keep returning back to the scenes of crimes

like monstrous voyeurs     When once you loved me I could see orbits in your eyes
a cosmology I recognized but could not name     pain was behind it all I see now
so bring out the leather the whips the buckles notch me a good one before

you leave    I have welts on my palms like a stigmata I never earned     how
to tell you the truths I know     a man who named my body his for four hours
locking me in a bathroom the size of a prison after I had swallowed poison

trusting too much for my palms were always open     despite the marks
not even the priests knew what to do with me calling me faggot witch heretic
When once you read me like a book that was the book of books     we ran

in fields in dreams we never shared like illusions were enough to save us
our hands embraced from an eventual severance     Solomon knew what you
were on about just as I knew playing Bathsheba would never keep you close

how to make you love me desire me part me like a sea     red and swollen
I take him inside of me and pretend his face is yours     the beard
you grew for me Jesus on a poplar tree     upside down like the fool in a Tarot pack

and perhaps we were fools     the sun for you was where you dove
into books with indecipherable languages in susurrant tongues     you saved for me
something like mockery in a carpark or a switch shaved for a poppet’s hiding

When once I skinned you     tomahawk in the crux of my hand like a blade
I wanted only to keep you mine forever     foolish frenetic failing each time
you spoke but did not mouth the word love     calling me dear as if that were enough

when you see somehow what you have done to me     When I see somehow what
on earth I have done to your heavens perhaps there will be a bridge between
the godless me who is always caught with his pants down in rivulets that would rival

the reddest sea your namesake scaled as if it were child’s play     a bridge between
that cleaved part of me and the stoic part of you     a prophet mine if I had believed
and yet when it was too late when all of the blood had crusted over like copper

left to weather     when all of the stories my body still had left to tell you
were silenced gagged rendered mute     I see you in some window reading a book
that has nothing to do with me but which is me all the same     I am there

imprisoned waiting to be claimed redeemed but your god has told you in runes
I am not worth salvaging     I park at the bottom of the carpark to write this
in the hollow of my hand across an expanse of thighs     When once you were mine

I could have translated this for you     I could have made you understand I was yours
and you were mine no matter what the tablets said     A man whose name
I do not know plays charades and I make him turn the lights out to feel bristle

against clavicle     he is not you but he will have to do     In losing me
you have lost the book we were writing with gods and demons and love
that is something as harsh as menses but always strong on your lips like mine

those words we made that no scholar can unravel when once you knew
before you did not know that we were saved     that the desert was ours to blame
as we let the sun shine on our bared skin like a new religion     a backward prayer

entombmentEntombment, Caravaggio, detail

—K. Thomas Kahn


K. Thomas Kahn‘s work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, The Quarterly ConversationMusic & LiteratureBerfroisBookslut, Numéro Cinq, and other venues. He is Reviews Editor for 3:AM Magazine and Words Without Borders.


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