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Fourth Annual Poetry Contest Winner:
D. A. Powell

Here is work that manages to be entirely of-the-moment while at every turn it announces (without preening over it) not merely an awareness, but an actual confidence with such prosodic traditions as the heroic couplet and the pentameter line, such cultural and literary traditions as those of the Old Testament and of meaningfully comic punning. No fear, here, of heritage nor of music nor, refreshingly, of authority. Mr. Powell recognizes in the contemporary the latest manifestations of a much older tradition: namely, what it is to be human. Hence, he can give us at once AZT and Crixivan, the sacrament of receiving the host, here Shirley Temple, here the particular regret that is "men unbedded." His seems a vision born less of suffering than of an understanding of suffering's place within the natural order, and the result is a voice that can say, believably, "the way to haven seems interminable," that can knowingly ask "am I not dust?"—without seeming to seek pity. I admire these poems immensely, for their deftness with craft, their originality of vision, their ability to fuse old and new without devolving to gimmick—and for a dignity as jazzily inventive as it is sheer.

—Carl Phillips

[dogs and boys can treat you like trash. and dogs do love trash]

dogs and boys can treat you like trash.   and dogs do love trash
to nuzzle their muzzles.    they slather with tongues that smell like their nuts

but the boys are fickle when they lick you.  they stick you with twigs
and roll you over like roaches.    then off with another:  those sluts

with their asses so tight you couldn't get them to budge for a turd
so unlike the dogs:  who will turn in a circle showing & showing their butts

a dog on a leash:  a friend in the world.  he'll crawl into bed on all fours
and curl up at your toes.    he'll give you his nose.    he'll slobber on cuts

a dog is not fragile; he's fixed.    but a boy:  cannot give you his love
he closes his eyes to your kisses.    he hisses.    a boy is a putz

with a sponge for a brain.   and a mop for a heart:  he'll soak up your love
if you let him and leave you as dry as a cork.     he'll punch out your guts

when a boy goes away:  to another boy's arms.    what else can you do
but lie down with the dogs.   with the hounds with the curs.    with the mutts

[my riches I have squandered. spread with honey]

     a song of the prodigal son

my riches I have squandered.    spread with honey
the arval bread in my pocket and nary a farthing

lived for a spell among roaches in a rickety squat
between the alcohol detox and the catholic church

peeled my plump white bottom.     a sauvignon grape
[now exsiccated:  the wizened sultana makes no golden cake]

crouched in the gulleys.    wiped with leaves
cooked roadkill:  topped with government surplus cheese

snuck in underage at club 21 (2121  21st street, long gone)

wastrel opal-throated bird:  a moulting quivers along the pinion

I fear my mucus:  its endless volume and amorphous shape
a demon expelling from my lips.   the moon wags its tongue

each dull morning the mirror imagines me a future:  older misshapen forest:  stinging adder and sprawling spider

the way to haven seems interminable.    I creak and shuffle
listen, you wilderness:  make plain and let me pass

[the heavenly noise of domesticity murmurs in the kitchen:clink]

     a song of the last supper

All love is dead, infected
With plague of deep disdain—Sir Phillip Sidney

the heavenly noise of domesticity murmurs in the kitchen:  clink
plates are cleared and stacked on the sideboard.    desserts shimmer
taking coffee black:  antidote to the drowse of too much wine

use it up wear it out:  ain't nothing left in this old world I care about
a damasked table surrounded by bachelors.    some already parted
regimens of azt, d4t, cryxivan, viracept and early slumber

across the table a handsome bearded man.    his foot glances your shin
you'd sink with him beneath the empire mahogany:  lift the perizoma
receive the host:   his wounds.    your faith:   the sash around his waist

[slightly foetid. foetal and stooped. an afterbirth of rags]

     a song of Lazarus of Bethany

slightly foetid:       foetal and stooped.       an afterbirth of rags
myrrh-soaked pus-stained the cracklings the matted hair
but having heels.        I flushed out from my mortared vacuole

then the coins were lifted from my eyes:    my lord
because holy is the viscera.       he seals me waxen
plenary dermis:    unbroken and unblemished
once more in the trunk and legs orbicular                yet

am I not dust?       when I move through the world
the air receives me.       as did the dirt.       as does his kiss

[this is what you love: more people. you remember]

this is what you love:  more people.     you remember
to say "of all the men I know" and "your nice friend kimber"

but it wasn't always so.    living in a big shoe and knotslips
in your bed the size of taxes    [or texas? you don't read lips

as well you should]    some hearing loss due to family
in your ears:  homilies and hominy and decidedly no harmony

no wonder the bad seed topped your list of favorite flicks
having that brood crush you down into the mattress:   you kicked

one fell out and the other nine said "rollover, rollover."
who could go to sleep with the sound of music?    and the hot covers

now you only regret men unbedded.    unwedded to your cheek-y
desire to lift strangers from taxis.   or texas:  why be picky?

but you've gone "gee" in your ratings:   shirley temple and madeline
volunteer work.   neighborhood meetings.   you even bring the gelatine

Originally published in the October/ November 2001 issue of Boston Review

D. A. Powell is the author of Tea, Lunch, and "Cocktails," a work in progress.

He is Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Poetry at Harvard University.

Carl Phillips's poetry collections include In the Blood, Cortege, From the Devotions, Pastoral,

and most recently, The Tether. He is professor of English at Washington University.

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