SAWYER, MICHIGAN, JULY

In the kitchen I begin a list of things that rise naturally

or have the appearance of rising:

smoke and steam, the sun, the ocean, seas.

But today from the neighbor’s yard

a constant train of smoke is traveling

dependably sideways through ours.

From the moment I woke up it was so.

At first I thought it was a fog

but then I saw her, a woman

raking wet yard waste over a flame.

I come here sometimes in the summer

or at Christmas after I have made

the rounds, slept on everyone else’s couches.

My aunt puts me to work around the property.

She makes jewelry. My grandmother this July

is in the basement making quilts

for her daughter’s shop. We talk little, but some.

Her husband died early of AIDS so now that I’m older

each of us is learning what the other thinks of the gays.

This whole side of the family is made up of devout women.

Even toward the end of her life when my mother couldn’t speak

one coherent sentence she managed to produce

a line from scripture one morning over breakfast, that her

redeemer lives. Besides this, I think of the time I was very young

when she said that gay men, although she had nothing

against them, were going to hell.

My aunt hands me a pair of gloves and tells me

what needs moving that she hasn’t been able to move

because of her hip, what needs to be weeded.

I ask about a tree that looks like it’s dying but she says

it’s just naturally weepy, and then, Well what

do you expect, she says, living as we do on sand.

No such thing as a weed, I like to remind myself

while I’m weeding, only the question of which plants

don’t you want growing around your house.

My aunt loves what she calls black grass and lets it grow.

When my mother died it was her sister

who showed me what it means to let things rise

around you, standing in the driveway between

pillars of coffee steam and Virginia Slims smoke

which she balanced in her hands.

At night there is a train that comes right by the house,

so incredibly close and so loud that I wake up each time

in terror thinking the sound has come from inside me.

 

 

 

HOMOSEXUALITY

About the house across the marsh from ours

my father had the theory that it

belonged to two men who must have been

lovers on the weekend.

This was based on the architecture

(Bauhaus) and something about

how the cars would be parked in the driveway.

 

 

 

ON ANONYMITY

We knew so little about the plague we underwent

Fresh-named

Even now I must review it

In life I had been stripped     sucked     paid for     scraped

In every Atlantic seaboard town

Sex was my green trapeze     my scanty armor

I preferred men     the gendered accoutrement

Of the French-Canadian duo     their arms around me

The way a bachelor fellow if he loved you

Would tie your wrists to a high branch with a thousand knots

Beauty     the betrayer

Was a mountain I moved through     my first and last muse

To have adored an ass     an old man     a roomful of people

I worked hard to erase the heavy netting strung between

One stranger at a time     O you must dissolve inside me

According to early reports the first cases took hold in the most promiscuous

So no one stands on a rug that cannot be pulled out from under him

I have been waiting to say this     I’m waving my arms now

Courage     dignity     a forced bloom

You do not belong to the family you believe you belong to


Author’s Note: “On Anonymity” is an erasure poem. The source text, Anonymity (1994), was written by my late mother, Susan Bergman. Reviewer Meg Wolitzer described the book as “a stark and angry account of the death of the author’s father from AIDS and the family’s subsequent uncovering of his covert homosexuality.” Original word order has been preserved and words have not been added or altered.