Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WITH CHAOS IN EACH KISS, by TIMOTHY LIU

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

WITH CHAOS IN EACH KISS, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: Outside your door, an ocean
Subject(s): Love; Music & Musicians; Homoeroticism; Lesbians; Gay Women; Gay Men

Outside your door, an ocean
of violets, wave upon wave, so many petals
torn by the wind and rain.
I stood there waiting
until the door opened onto a room
that held a few chairs
and a grand piano,
floral paper cutouts framed under glass
hanging at eye level,
a gold-leaf print
with a solitary boat not sailing on water
but its absence.
For hours we spoke of music,
a score of Don Quixote on the table,
a song slowly composing itself inside my body --

(the two of us anchored to our chairs
as we sat facing opposite walls)

and I thought of our hands that labor
for beauty yet unknown to the world,
a calendar of empty hours
suddenly filled
with birds and fields of wildflowers,
an oversized violin left out in the sun.


You start to reach for my hand
as we part, desire a place

where we can rest, our hands
driving the darkest horses

across a thundering field
where no human voice returns.


The other instruments faded
months after Ginastera's Variation for Viola
while your strings continued to echo
in the concert hall I dreamed, pure music
exploding from a hive of bees.
There is a gulf
that separates reality from desire.
You stood there with a viola made of glass,
the rows of velvet chairs between us
a river I refused to cross, not knowing
which way to turn --
if only you had reached
into that churning sea of faces before
the music once again began.


Our voices would take the place of music.
Near the window, a piano with its lid

propped open like a yawn, our watches
ticking on. For hours I had stood outside

your studio listening to all the notes.
When you asked me in, I was too afraid

to ask you for a song, my ear still red
from pressing hard against the door.


When I heard another voice on your machine,
I knew you had been unfaithful
to your music, turning towards human love
instead of a god.
It was then I saw an open grave
with three men kneeling at the edge looking in,
unable to lie down in that silence.
Unquiet hearts --
why do the houses that we build in time
become our prisons, as if our beds were not
a place to rest? And why was there a ring
of keys glittering at the bottom of that grave?


Not asking to see the room
where you and your lover
sleep or wake (the city
we share will be enough)
nor the walls that hold

your shadow, the sunrise
igniting an open window
where you pull up a chair
and begin to rehearse
in that unprofaned hour.


Since that night when you first held me
hostage against a body seasoned
with seven faithful years of marriage,
all my minutes now are filled
with longing. I did not know
what you had freely given
would cost me in the end, your hands
behind my back like thieves whispering:
we do not know what we are doing.


Nothing is easy about this love.
Not the marriages we carry
in our hearts like dry corsages.

There is an ocean within my body
I cannot contain, a history
twisting upward in broken columns

as merchant ships at last reach
harbor, bringing flowers and news
of you, bell of my body ringing

under arches that have not fallen
while roses perfume the world
with the splendor of their dying.


I slept alone. Only the voices of dead singers
kept me company. When you first held me,
I told you I was sad -- not meaning then
but all my life. We stood there like a world
that had no words. Now the cats are crying
to be fed, but I do not rise. All I can do
is dream about that field where I had knelt
cutting wildflowers to leave outside your door.


I do not ask for summer roses
when your body is near. Nor a gown
the bride has outgrown. Love me
not as a wife but as the stray cat
who sleeps on your chest each night.

I who am poor at heart surrender
to your shirts, that unearthly
flower of desire opening whenever
you are near, a joy that lingers
in the room long after you have gone.


Memory is not the doll that gets left
behind when the house catches fire.
Nor that photo you returned, the one
where I am six, holding a Siamese cat
named Mimi now buried in that backyard
where I stood. You should have kept it --
love is not less because of loss.

This morning I am listening to a tape
of Hindemith's Trauermusik, your viola
the closest I can get to the voice
of sadness that is always singing
beneath the visible.
How antique clocks
have endured our deepest longings --
an unheard music winding through
our daily routines without reprieve.

Where was I that summer when crowds
began to applaud as you walked on stage?
Only a notebook entry: May get to walk
by the river tomorrow.
All that time
I had closed my eyes while the orchestra
performed Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.
Later you would ask if I somehow knew
the part that reminded you of Chekhov:

Anna Sergeyevna seemed to regard the affair
as something very special, very serious,
as if she had become a fallen woman.

A critic said that the piece would run
more smoothly if that part were cut out,
the only measures that mattered --
not the saxophone off-tune -- the viola
at rest in your lap, you sitting there
on stage, me in the dark, the two of us
listening to all that there was between us.


Without love, I should remain
a ghost that wanders the earth
looking for fire that burns for me
in the corner of someone's eyes --

How can the ocean continue to sing
if all of our strings are broken,
if there is no place on this earth
where we can lie down for an hour?


Hour after hour, they arrive
at your door, unable to explain
the distance practice can create
in a room that has become
too intimate, duty and beauty
caught between the steady swings
of a metronome keeping time.

You ask me why I think of death.
I have no answers, only flowers
that have not finished their song --
all day long you gaze at them
while your students labor
to bring music into the world.

And when they finally get it right
in that hour that has turned
ethereal with what we cannot share,
do you forget that what is given
to life the soul out of sadness
can only last in that moment
when all that we love holds still?


Without fear, love would lie still,
cadaverous, unable to throw a ring
of keys across the room.
Or cry out
in a sculpture garden where nothing
but beauty reigns.
Never enough
time for us to lay our bodies down
across a stone bench.
Or feel the sun
renew a flower with possibility
even as honeybees empty chambers
of all their sweetness.
What we want
is the drone of a hive as it begins
to swarm, a storm of transparent wings
in the season's uncertain crescendo --

that litany across a mellifluous sky.


Each dawn comes to me like a burning violin.
The dirge that starts the day issues from s-shaped
gashes in the sky even as the dogwood blooms
outside, stigmata on each petal punctuating time.
Like Isaac on his father's back, you carried me
up the mountainside, but I was not willing to die.
Isaac surrendered to the will of heaven, not saying
a word. In Rembrandt's The Sacrifice of Isaac,
the hand of Abraham covers his son's entire face,
no pain to be seen in Abraham's face, no hesitation,
no sign that he is conscious. But I must speak.
For in every wound there is a truth, a revelation
like a ram caught in a thicket, each brush stroke
on the canvas obedient to a law I cannot live.
I woke up crying, what shall I do with my life?,
fearing the paralysis of each hour until I heard
your voice: I need you the way that I need music.
It was then I knew. Only love can make us visible.


You rest with your partner, eager
to tidy up the nest and welcome

another dawn. I try to imagine
each kiss not meant for me, each

caress, the words I long to hear
on a tongue I pray still burns

for me, though I can no longer feel
it in my mouth, now empty, no song --

only a phoenix rising with a shriek.


There is only one path, the one
that you're on, happiness
in your own hands
and not in someone else's.
Death said, Wait
and I will give you rest.
Death said, Later
and you shall belong to me.
But water was running
over the path, and I was swept away.


I slept. A white room with an ocean
painted on all four walls, a cradle
rocking on the center of a cold floor.
An infant crying out your name --
Horses dashed into the void, lovers
singing notes off key on a bridge
that stretched across an empty sea.


Your sudden retreat left me useless,
horizontal, unable to let go of the future
or the past: two roses on the dashboard
with a straight pin stuck through each.
What I wore on my lapel you hid away,
taste of my cock still fresh in your mouth,
me almost naked on a music room floor.
Your mind was already racing halfway home
with a can of chicken broth -- to nurse
your partner back to health for all the guilt
you felt -- that would always be your story.
Now my heart is filled with Marguerite
imploring Faust to dig two graves, not three,
your viola lost among Boito's pure lament.
Forgive me for tasting Christ in your blood
that cried out from your diabetic veins,
a secret you kept for fear of impotence
and shame, taking no thought for tomorrow
while our anxious hearts created a world
in the cab of my truck, in the backseat
of your flooded car, the rain coming down
in sheets across Houston's concrete skyline,
all concerts canceled in that brief bliss
of calamity that passed with the weather,
water under the bridge. Forgive me --
we were only human with chaos in each kiss.


In a world of endless pleasures,
why did I keep looking for you
while words kept falling out
of all my books? Why did I want
to become your final pleasure
while tankards of beer spilled
over? There was music left
unheard, unveiled sculptures
that would have made you frown
if you had known how I waited
to look at you, you who deny
your own face. How have I become
this man who fell in love
with less and less? What lie
did I swallow that the world
should hide its face from me
and trees hold on to their leaves
instead of letting go.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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