Time to turn up the heat on this chilly February with some Poetry We Admire on the theme of Eros— a specially selected curation of recently published poems full of sensuality, desire, and an exploration of erotic love.
But first, a little foreplay if you will. Let’s set the mood with Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown from November spotlighting Annie Kim’s poem
“Eros the Contagion” from her award-winning collection Eros, Unbroken, forthcoming from Word Works this Spring.
Here’s an excerpt of Kim’s fine poem, a subtly exquisite delight for the senses:
Can you really die of sweetness? Hard
to say yes, though I want to, looking up at these clouds
that make my heart jump: oh joy in seeing
though I can’t touch, like the girl repeating persimmon
as the waitress in the diner tells her about a tree
at the top of the hill she used to see, how beautiful
that vivid orange fruit was all at once.
Now that you’re warmed up, this month we feature some sizzling poems from Sarah Matthes via Tor House, Daryl Sznyter in Atlas and Alice, Kavi Kshiraj in The Hellebore Press, Eloisa Amezcua in BOAAT Press, Sage Curtis in Tinderbox, and Melissa Crowe in Poem-a-Day.
Some bodies are warmer than others
Some sweat is so sweet
The dead crisp foliage of wings
I got to touch you
Brushing one off your neck
Pinky skimming the hot cotton of your summer shirt
The flinch of your body, the tightening skin
You lit up
from “The Seventeen Year Cicadas” by Sarah Matthes
in Tor House
This poem by Sarah Matthes won the 2019 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, and for good reason. Here, the poem’s speaker remembers “standing young and shoeless in a purple dusk” with a friend, daring each other to eat the cicadas (“A dollar for a hollow husk/ two for the living ones”). Then Matthes shows how one innocent touch, even just brushing a cicada off the friend’s neck, can change everything when there is an unexpected heat. We can empathize with the narrator’s new sense of urgency, hear the humming of the cicadas and the stillness when they’ve gone, see and feel the warmth of blood rushing to flush the speaker’s cheeks at this awakening of new eroticism: “I was unsure and I was ashamed/ And then I went around touching everyone for years / Blaming cicadas / Can you imagine it.” The poem also expertly illustrates the fleeting nature of these intense feelings through the extended metaphor of the cicadas, something that comes around maybe once every seventeen years and then it’s gone, leaving you grasping at air “Wondering where did all their bodies go / They were just here, right here.”
i left my heart in my car my heart was a car my car was exhausted
from “first date” by Daryl Sznyter
in Atlas and Alice
I love the rhythm and pacing of this poem, how the tension builds with a driving energy created by the twisting variations in its repeated phrases, the shifting anaphora. I also admire the myriad metaphors for the heart. How the heart can change from a car to a bomb, to an old cotton shirt, to a starving child, and how sometimes all of these things can be true at once —the fickle, restless heart with its complex fears and desires.
if i love you hard enough, will it drive me alive? do you promise? [ the heat touches her mouth
to the inside of my sun-dark knees | i am only one step after another, and there are languages mingled
like ache between my teeth, and i dream of apple-stained tile | i watch you through the webbing of my
star. ] tell me there is a kind ending.
from “Litany of Open Throats” by Kavi Kshiraj
in The Hellebore Press
Kshiraj’s poem is full of intense longing and sensuality. The narrator pleads with the beloved to make them a promise because they “want to want to live again.” Everything is stitched together with evocative phrases and wonderfully inventive, sonically pleasing compound words like “blackcap-taken,” “wing-stolen,” “fey fingers,” “flute-throat,” “fruit red-skinned and bruised,” “sun-dark knees,” “sun-built,” “open-wounded.” The poem is grounded in body imagery (mouth, teeth, fingers, hands, lungs, limbs). Again and again, we circle back to “the heat | the heat” of erotic life-giving desire, of this strong palpable need that leaves the reader breathless.
& I could go on about the way
you hold me with your whole body when the news is bad
& the news is mostly bad these days & I could go on
about the way you say my name slowly
when the weather is hot & people die of this heat too
& I could go on about the smell of your skin
how it lingers on my hands
& I refuse to touch anything for hours
from “I Haven’t Masturbated in Five Days for Fear of Crying” by Eloisa Amezcua
in BOAAT Press
I’m in love with the shape of this poem, how it glides down the page and loops like a silk rope. I love the serendipity of its flow and spacing and ampersands. I love the authentic, intimate tone and the interrogation of language, distance, and space. I love the way the words hang there mid-thought at the end and the way we experience the silence that follows almost physically. I love what the poem says and what it doesn’t say, how it exists in a particular time and encompasses the heavy news of the day. And how even in the midst of that communal grief, the speaker wants to sing the praises of her lover, to linger in the smell of their skin. She finds comfort and excitement in the way the beloved says her name, the way she feels held and known.
Unreal as it is, I still know what it’s like to press my hands to your chest.
Volcanic as it is, I still dream you
willing and me, unhinged. Every
xeroxed frame is a little different.
Yoked into this story is the
zipper and how you never got around to unzipping it.
from “Jacked” by Sage Curtis
This poem is a hot tease of an Abecedarian, perhaps one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of this playful form. And it’s also a delightful exploration of erotic fantasy and how powerful that force can be, how it starts to take on a life of its own so that at some points we’re unsure what’s actual memory and what’s only imagined. Perhaps what I admire most about this poem is the way it flirts with the tug of war between indulgence and restraint, which is happening both within the narrative of the poem and in its crafting.
Or even further back, how I knew by
electric touch of our fingers in that dark theater, like a secret
I know you, I need you, like an exchange of life force between two
aliens from planets never before joined across the cold, airless
of space, that it was on, that it was on and on and on, forever.
from “When We’re in Bed and You Take Out Your Mouth Guard I Know It’s On” by Melissa Crowe
Can you even imagine a better title than this? I fell in love with the poem from the title alone, but oh how it delivers. Each time I read the full piece, I fall a little deeper. Kind of like the long-term relationship the poem depicts. The narrative so masterfully travels back and “even further back” in time to the first touch and how that exchange of erotic energy and life force evolves over the course of the relationship, revealing how we carry our memories and personal histories in our bodies. I know I will keep going back to this brilliant poem again and again.