Self-Portrait as a Series of Bluffs
Boys I loved to follow in the dark climb upfind me on that bluff above the rivermuddy swirl sparked with stars I feltsomething break apart my head sayinghang back they won't love you like you love themyou'll have to pedal home bewildered againrecall your icy chest how a startled doveexploded out of the sleeve wind made of a shaken treewhen one of them leapt from so high upyou thought he'd die before he swam back to youthe bluff was that it happened that way the bluffis that anytime I spat the word pussyon the basketball court with those boys I wanted thatplosive sound on my tongue and nothing else*Born in a valley of bluffs,I return to a bluffcracked open by Union cannonballs,called Red Paint Hill instead of Look at All This Blood;bluff that accepted the wheels of a truck going over,consumed by fire;bluff overlooking a baptism,the river that swallows a brief Hallelujah.*So I kept alive easy enough there in the smallness of wounds I carried like everyone else and waited for nothing to change.So I met a girl, got married and had kids and went with it until something else broke or I did or it didn’t feel like love at all,and by then it was too late. Stroll the baby, feed the horses, lie down next to a woman estranged from all she wantedbecause of me. Imagine it. Such a small house and no wish fulfilled within it. I have regrets. To bluff: to say: to not.*Bluff meaning husband and forever;bluff that hides a cave with a mattress insidecovered in lovesick graffiti,where I reached for a boy’s hand then pulled back;to bluff around the bush; to bluff up the wrong tree.*Eros an empty locker room.Eros a jockstrap.Earthy smellI lingered undressingto be nearer to.And afterward, the slick,steam-whittled showersmystical with heatheld me there. Hang back.Some beginningwith an end inside—small-town fear. A boydragged behind a truckwas in the news.I didn’t want to be the news.*Bluff no helicopter can reach when the suicidal leap,posted with a sign: NO TRESPASSING;bluff haunted even in daylight;King's Bluff, where I got laid, or said I got laid;bluff of the tourism slogan "Gateway to the New South";bluff of the backward glance,of our youth pastor saying I'll jump (not a bluff).*This other misdirection—I've slept my way into so many rooms.Marriage den, motel of my affair.And it was never about the greasy,incessant need of two peoplefucking only for lust.When I felt alone, there was alwaysa man or woman readyto deadbolt the door behind usfor an hour, to give or receive,then leave with nothing.Cherry pits, an empty bottle of wine.*Bluff where I lost my keys, my nerve;bluff I carry like a nail in the roof of my mouth;bluff that says This is all I want.*I walk in late wintersome unscripted ledgeleading down to the river.Landscape as wish.Look at the way the bluffbreaks and holds, like desire.Look: no doves or boys,only a hunk of rocksomebody gave a namebecause they wanted a way back to it.
Copyright © 2019 by Chris Hayes
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Chris Hayes has published poems in Bennington Review, Hobart, Gettysburg Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and several other literary magazines. He has been the recipient of the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace and the Oboh Poetry Prize from Boxcar Review. His first collection of poetry, Hey Y’all Watch This, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press. He lives and works in Tallahassee, Florida.
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