Poem 56 ± July 30, 2015

Timothy Liu

in the building where you take
the anonymous test, everything is
neutral, the lights overhead
repeating rows of honeycombed
fluorescence intermittently
abuzz, one tube flickering on
and off, unable to decide if
the men here are all here
for the same test. It took you
more than fifteen years to mark
the box same-day result, the box
you first misread as re-slut,
and though you are partnered,
you went to your appointment
alone. Perhaps it is melodramatic
to dwell on a test thousands
take everyday, but then you think
of the thousands who don’t,
preferring not to know
the consequences of the choices
they have made even if
the ones they’ve lusted after
hardly seemed a choice. And whose
was the voice who answered
your call and scheduled you in
the way any receptionist
or out-call body worker would?
Think of the high your neighbors
got each night while playing
Take Five or the Mega Millions
jackpot, how sometimes you too
gave in to impossible odds,
but who hasn’t had such fantasies
over a single life-changing
moment everyone can make
themselves party to, you wonder
on your way to the clinic
while passing the bodega’s
magic-markered sign now up
to 145 million as you reach
into your pocket for any change,
asking yourself if today might
be the day you’ll finally get
what you deserve, the chairs
in the waiting room now mostly
empty, you with the last
appointment, the other men
having walked out of the room
with band-aids at the crooks
of their elbows, already having
spelled their answers out
in blood, adrenaline pumping
at the starting block as you wait
for the gun to go off, not yet
knowing what will rule the day
this time around, only the steps
you took which led you here—

Timothy LiuTimothy Liu (Liu Ti Mo) is the author of Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Other collections include Polytheogamy (Saturnalia, 2009); Bending the Mind Around the Dream’s Blown Fuse (Talisman House, 2009); For Dust Thou Art (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005); Of Thee I Sing (University of Georgia, 2004), selected by Publishers Weekly as a 2004 Book-of-the-Year; Hard Evidence (Talisman House, 2001), Say Goodnight (Copper Canyon, 1998), a 1998 PEN Open Book Margins Award; Burnt Offerings (Copper Canyon, 1995), and Vox Angelica (Alice James, 1992), winner of the 1992 Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. He edited Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry (Talisman House, 2000). Tim’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Bomb, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, The Nation, New American Writing, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, The Pushcart Prize, Virginia Quarterly Review and The Yale Review, among others. His journals and papers are archived in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. Tim is Professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey and lives in New York City with his husband.

This poem appeared in Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books, 2014). It first appeared in The Progressive, May 2009.