Back to Issue Sixteen.




It was the age of paper. You slipped
me in your wallet, a crease of attention,
a string of numbers.  Sex is mathematics,

or so said your favorite slasher novel,
but you weren’t either one,
you were product placement,

a business-class-lounge
lizard, little hors d’ouevre, ambition
a red ribbon curled on your chest.

You drunkenly rated your hotel rooms
by the strength of the jets in the hot tub.
Or the absence of said tub.

(One felt for the concierge.)
I need to hit the 9/11 for snacks, you joshed
on the phone, meaning 7-Eleven, meaning

an escort must have been on his way.
We laughed together but I knew
at that point you were too soon.

Between benders, you were Captain Rehab,
riding a wave of white chips. You held
your fancy water against the entire party.

Don’t get it twisted, you told me, with a snap,
leaving it undefined. Your grand carelessness
seducing one or two of the uninitiated.

Back in the cul-de-sac,
you swung me in the crook
of your arm like a Birkin bag—

and you insisted on the Birkin.
You were the overheard whimper (you loved it),
the reluctant capitulation (loved it),

your industry a form of resentment (loved).
You were fashion—not fashionable, fashion.
Your jeans double-cuffed: you practiced.

You should have kept your flowered ties
and ACT UP tees from the nineties,
you lamented, they’re so fashion.

You never followed through on Silence=Death:
The Musical, which is almost too bad,
really. Your inflection, another story.

You had exquisite taste, for a time,
but one differentiates the real from paste.
Your idea of slumming it was eating pho

in the inner Richmond, every noodle.
You were a circular
of circular facts

you were gobsmacked
(your word) I didn’t know.
You squeezed the life out of everything

you had been given, or not given,
like a cock ring.






I hear it, the neighbor’s kid discovering
notes on her recorder—repetitive, tortured,
like the onset of disappointment.

Or Art. Hear the 24, its groan up the hill.
This is Castro & Hill. The governor
five governors ago is governor again;

our shiny former mayor, his lieutenant.
Now comes the old man in a Segway,
his bag of groceries, sensible white helmet:

He’s the closest thing I have to an angel.
He doesn’t break a sweat, though it’s hot—
September, Indian Summer, if it’s all right

to call it that. It’s not. The day
laborers have taken a break;
one eats a sack-lunch packed

nightly by his wife
in her outer-Mission life. Poetry
has the luxury of mythology.

This fiscal downturn is like Orpheus.
The twisted little boy-fucker. Like Orpheus,
I hear it, a voice receding, calling out,

the sound weak, infected—you choose,
doomed to the shades
of the preempted world. Turn around.

There is a sickness that is us.


Randall Mann is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Straight Razor (Persea Books, 2013). A new collection, Proprietary, is forthcoming from Persea in 2017. He lives in San Francisco.

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