The puppy in the East Village that lay on his back
for me to rub his belly. His owner embarrassed,
saying, aw, buddy, trying to pull him back up.
To be loved like that! To be able!
That must be fifteen years ago,
back when I believed things I don’t believe now
about being a good person.
We know what we know when we know it,
I said to a guy on a blind date
who thought I was too plain to have dinner with:
I just want to be up front, not waste our time.
I tried to make him feel better for treating me
like shit—smiling, acting cool, like sometimes
these things happen. I’m mean to men
with perfect throats who take selfies in the mirror
at the gym: let doors close on them in stores,
never say excuse me if I bump into them.
That dog must be dead now, and that has something
to do with how small life is and how quick,
how contained we are inside something
we can’t contain. It must be a burden, being
beautiful, though I can’t see how.
Her Blue Body Everything We Know
was the first book of poetry
I bought with my own money.
Expensive, mom said, for a book.
Waldenbooks in the mall. Alice
Walker in the food court while
my mom and sister kept shopping.
She talked back to Christ, talked
sex, showed the body, unapologetically,
to a queer boy on the page.
A teacher said, Her novels are better,
but she didn’t understand
what I needed. I never wrote
inside it. I didn’t want to change it
because I couldn’t change myself.
Olds: say fuck the father.
Brooks: a girl gets sick of a rose.
Levertov: Little by little, one comes to know
the limits and depths of power. I knew
I wasn’t the same as these women
who pushed their way onto the page.
Harjo: She had some horses she hated.
Plath: If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two—
Clifton: what did i see to be except myself?
Men. Men had not written for me.
Imagine me, then, in West Virginia
needing someone to talk to.
Reading Alice Walker ask why Jesus said
the poor will always be with us
making that harder for us to fix,
or a poem about a lesbian three-way!
Sexton: I have been her kind.
Rich: I came to explore the wreck.
Lorde: Love is a word, another kind of open.
People have told me her poems
aren’t good. But they looked
this queer kid in the face.
Said: Refuse to be erased.
Aaron Smith is the author of three full-length collections of poetry published by the Pitt Poetry Series: Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize; Appetite, an NPR Good Read and a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize; and Primer. His newest book, The Book of Daniel, will be published in the fall of 2019 by the Pitt Poetry Series. A three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, his work has appeared in such journals as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Best American Poetry 2013. A recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New York Foundation for the Arts, he is associate professor in creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.