Wilderness//Kingdom

by Jory Mickelson

Jory Mickelson’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Mid-American Review, Diode Poetry Journal, The Rumpus, Ninth Letter, Vinyl Poetry, Plenitude and other journals in the United States, Canada, and the UK. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poet’s Prize and a Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry. The author of two chapbooks, he also tweets @poetryphone. He lives in Washington (state).


 

God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.
Georgia O’Keeffe

 

God didn’t make me a painter so much as a lover
of them, the ache to possess what lies
within the frame, but not all the hours
outside it. As if I could capture where I grew up
valley with its cincture of snow
the slopes dark-pinned and white-collared,
the granite, a cistern for winter’s cold
to drop into.

As a young man I longed for
love along the rivers and wept because of that
love in me. The voices of saints
and ancestors dead and distant as I wanted
my desire to be. Consolation: water
against red willow. No need for other
promises on the banks—
with the sound of water, all is
possible.

And now this desert town, love
surprising me a lifetime later, I put
my arm around your neck hoping
we’ll be mistaken for drunk, this town
and it’s beautiful filigree of Friday night
yells—the blaring
of the moment’s chosen song.
 
& & &
 
You love somehow elementally, in stone,
and water and open views, fields, in breaking
bits of wood to keep the fire gold
without counting the cost. This no account
town, that we won’t be
kowtowed by tonight. The boys and their bluster,
beneath a congregation of stars
and if we drew closer to the sound,
the dim bar’s mirror that lost
its luster before I found
my way in—my way to reconcile
—no smoke these days, but its ghost
palpable, like the violence of boys—
It’s Friday night and a fist needs
something to do other than knuckle felt.

& & &
 
Snapdragon. Duck egg. Slow smolder
of garbage in a heap. This place
no land, but to land in.
The heat of violence, mostly kept
to the parking lot on late summer nights.
How men stop talking about desire, then
dive into it. Faggot going off like gunshot
to provoke rather than wound, sure as
a push, a shoulder or grab at another’s girl.
The sun seeps into asphalt—felt
at dark as wavering, angry lines.
How intimacy is always a body
crushable into another body and at the start
of want, no one minds the gluttony.

& & &

All my life I’ve wanted love
to make me wise and hurt
less, but it isn’t true. I have saved
nothing. The way your name
illuminates the undergrowth
and if late enough and quiet
enough the toad in the yard will mouth
even the stars in their black pond.

The rubber tires of trucks pop the parking
lot’s gravel, slowing past us as we make
our way. The world we inherited and the one
it might become. Western or the West. Best
friends, boyfriends, brothers—the late song
still strong in the truck cab, muddling
distinctions. Friday night and if you want music,
you have to pay for it. If you want
to fight it’s free.

We manage though to slip out
of reach of the weekend and goodtime
threats of violence along the thicket of coyote fence,
picket of scrabbled wood. After 13 years
it’s still a shock to call you husband. And if this
was our honeymoon, then let me call you
husband. In the heat of the small desert
town’s summer dark.
Let’s not be mistaken for anything
other than men who learned to touch
without the need to wound. I was afraid
along the river then, so long ago
the sounds of snowmelt over river stone
and if I had learned to let this love have
its way, I would’ve known then
the whole world was filled
with longing. And it is, and
every other thing. The car door closing,
the sun not yet up and the engine
turning over. As far as I am able
to go, I will go with you.


Jory Mickelson’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Mid-American Review, Diode Poetry Journal, The Rumpus, Ninth Letter, Vinyl Poetry, Plenitude and other journals in the United States, Canada, and the UK. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poet’s Prize and a Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry. The author of two chapbooks, he also tweets @poetryphone. He lives in Washington (state).

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