Boston Review

Greg Wrenn

Poet’s Sampler

Introduced by D. A. Powell

Greg Wrenn is a young man with an old soul; he has surely passed this way a number of times before. And he has stored the memory of each life within his cells: these poems are formed from an intelligence that emanates as much from the body as it does from the mind. How sharp the pains and joys remain in the tranquillity of the lyric utterance is a testament to the care and precision that Wrenn takes in forming each line, in striking the balance between the shock of the word and its transformation into flesh. He makes a true faith of the ecstatic, building his cathedral of eros and death, stings and caresses. In haunting dramatic monologues of doubt (St. Thomas), grief (Mary in the frieze of the Pietá) and the complex admixture of desire and cruelty (the biblical Reuben on his younger brother Joseph), Wrenn guides us through the darkest circles, a Virgil, a Beatrice, and a bit of a Jerry Springer all rolled into one vatic voice. I feel that I am learning poetry anew at the dark end of this cul de sac, where terror and pleasure preside equally over one American family.

To the Virus

You slept for seven years
underneath cotton sheets.

You slept for seven
years, wake to far-off thunder,
a kettle’s faint cry.

Your mouth is parched, ringed
with teeth like a lamprey.

You were afloat with reverie
now the hard floor is yours.

Why did you choose
these rooms
at the end of a cul-de-sac?


Sweetly he appeared
        to me with a gash under
his nipple. Suddenly the slit
        I had desired to thrust into.

Only he saw me entering
        him, eagerly, with my finger.
—How could I stop myself? Ecstasy,
how I’ve made a faith of you.

Reuben on Joseph

I should have snuffed him out
in his crib. Instead, through the bars,
I often pinched him.
He was to be my baby, no one else’s,
and know that
he couldn’t pinch back.

In the backyard, underneath the birdbath,
there’s a pit that’s my cistern.
Don’t ask me how.
I want a deeper one, hidden
by the camellias, the begonias,
not for rain
but to put him in.
They’ll think he’s dead and mourn.

Late afternoons, pretending I’m fetching
water for my tub, I’ll go feed him.
Brush his hair. Stick his chained paw
with a scissor, which I’ll have used
for laryngeal surgery:
he won’t be able to cry out.
And I’ll read him
erotic stories, Bobbsey Twins,
Hardy Boys. I’ll trace my
cursive L’s, uppercase,
on his flat stomach to impress him,
keeping him awake
so he can’t play possum, leaving me.

I’ll show him what I learned
in the Okefenokee—I went there with a boy
collecting plants that catch flies
in their sticky little mouths.
When we were slogging alone, the kid breathed
warmly into the crotch of my pants.
I stopped beside a cypress. Then
bit back. Later, on my stomach,
the stirring, it felt familiar.

Before the first lesson, if he resists,
I’ll dig my nails into his throat
but not deeply:
the tissue will be tender
from the stitches. I’ll put spit
on my ears and his
to cool them, we’ll be angry and hot.
(I’ve found it stops the ticks
from burrowing there and talking
in feminine voices, calling me gay—
I hear things.)
Then we’ll be ready. I wonder
what I’ll think about, my mouth
on his nape.

        I’m not ashamed
I dislike him. I have every right.
Once he followed me silently
down the driveway to the leaf-choked gutter.
Water was rushing against the curb
of the cul-de-sac, spilling into the street.
Facing me, at the edge of the stream,
he took my left hand into his and kissed it,
as if I were a princess about to board
a swan boat. I felt close to him, loved;
we kicked the wet debris
and laughed until our sitter called us inside.
He hasn’t kissed me since.
He’ll never stand above me at night
to stare at my sleeping
body and record what I say in my sleep.


I believe in your stubble
against my cheek.

And the margarine swaths
of light around your eyes.

You’re a raccoon
staring into flashlights.

They stroke their beams
over your stiff fur

and linger where your oils
have slicked it flat.

—My bouncing baby boy,
we’re alone in muggy air.

Why wear a rag at your hips?
Why cry crocodile tears?

It’s to no avail.
John holds your other side

but looks away, exhaling grief,
inhaling, the sound of

a rabbit biding its time
in a snowy field. Your father

can’t see us
beyond those firs,

where the canal slows
to a standstill into a pool

of grace: that would be
the end of illusion, of pretense,

the fire-retardant curtains opening
to reveal the patio and its ficus.

At last the romper
drawn up off the mother.

Pleasure divested
of its humiliating story.

I’ll lower us into the shallows,
shooing away any manatees

any dancing larvae.
I’ll watch you wrinkle.

The Ray

In the center of his still-life,
the gutted ray hung on a hook.
The underside was a bloodstained

door, the mouth almost
pleased. He wanted to forget
everything he had seen. All he had done.


Greg Wrenn currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where he will be teaching high school English and philosophy in the fall.

D. A. Powell is author of Lunch and Tea. A past recipient of Boston Review’s Poetry Award, his most recent work, Cocktails, is forthcoming.

Originally published in the April/May 2003 issue of Boston Review

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