for Michael Hébert
“Aybair, not Heebert—it’s French,” he said.
In Julius’s Bar & one week less than legal, I fed
on men’s attentions. Michael & I clung
to each other, buoyed through smoke that stung
my eyes. “You don’t have to go back to Philly—your choice.
Stay in New York, chez moi,” he said, voicing
my desire. “I live above the Jackson Hole. Be my guest
if you like burgers—they’ve got the biggest
& the best. Then we can go upstairs for dessert,”
he added, smiling. “Sounds great,” I chirped.
We jammed the relished slabs in
our mouths, grease trickling down our chins.
Upstairs, he muttered, as if in response,
“About this bunk bed—had a roommate once . . .”
Sidestepping the past, he set
records on the turntable, hoping I’d forget,
then swooped back, his arms a cape
around me. The music, the books—the very landscape
of his apartment formed details of a world
that belonged to others. Compelled
to be of it, to drink its air,
I made mental sketches: bureau, Levalors, worn leather
chair. “Is that where you do your reading?”
I asked, padding across the room, proceeding
to look through slippery magazines on the table.
“You edit all these? I asked. “Boy, you’re full
of questions,” he said. “No, but they’re all Condé Nast,
our parent company.” I brushed my lips over the contrast
of textures between his cheek & neck—
the smell of soap on skin, of cologne on black
wool. “Listen, my little kouros,
some friends are making dinner for us
tomorrow night. I’m sure they’ll like you.”
I asked, “Are they translators, too?”
“Some, but most have their hands
occupied with the politics of publishing. And
now, I’ve got my hands occupied . . .” He leaned
& kissed my closed eyes. “Closer, Dean.”
Sexual release tendered sleep: I floated
on his bed, a luminous barge, devoted
to him. Suddenly: Goldfinger! Shirley Bassey’s shrill
voice scraped away sleep like a wooden strigil.
“4:30 AM! What the hell?”
I yelped. Startled, I jolted & fell
out of bed. “Oh, it’s that drag queen bartender upstairs,
getting home from work. Just wait, there’s
more—Doris Day: Once I had a secret love
that lived within the heart of
me. All too soon my secret love…
shuddered through the floorboards, loud enough
for each word to arrive intact. “Don’t worry,” Michael
comforted, “he’ll finish his drunken cycle
& the music will eventually end.”
Michael eventually moved to California. I blended
my life with New York. Passing the Jackson Hole on East 64th,
I’ve been tempted to ring his buzzer. In truth,
I know he’s not there, but I imagine the buzzer will activate
a memory-machine bringing back expatriated
selves—promises long erased.
A dusty July. Friends & I subway Manhattan’s maze
to the Great Lawn, to view that multicolored cemetery:
The Quilt. I navigate grave-sized panels—territory
sprawling like patches of farmland seen from sky.
I guess we’re lucky beauty can lie,
I think with a stifled laugh,
then glimpse a blue, appliquéd epitaph:
Translator of French * Ami Très Cher
Dean Kostos is the author of This Is Not a Skyscraper, (Red Hen Press, 2015), selected by Mark Doty as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award. His previous collections are Rivering (Spuyten Duyvil, 2012), Last Supper of the Senses (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005), The Sentence That Ends with a Comma ( Painted Leaf, 1999), and Celestial Rust (Red Dust, 1994). Dean’s work has appeared in over 300 journals, including The Bangalore Review, Barrow Street, Boulevard, Chelsea, Cimarron Review, Mediterranean Poetry, New Madrid, Southwest Review, Stand Magazine, Western Humanities Review, on Oprah Winfrey’s website Oxygen.com, the Harvard University Press website, and elsewhere. Dean is the editor of the anthologies Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry (Somerset Hall, 2008) and, with Eugene Grygo, Mama’s Boy: Gay Men Write About Their Mothers (Painted Leaf Press, 2000). His memoir, In the Toot: A Memoir of Bullying, Suicide, and Survival, will be released in the fall of 2016.
This poem appeared in Assaracus and in This Is Not a Skyscraper.