He uses your full first name
right from the start, and you let him
because neither of you intends to stay:
he’ll go home and so will you,
and July persists, and you let him
because you secretly enjoy it,
the dactylic song he sings
when asking you a question, your name
in his mouth for an extra two beats. You ask
one day what it is that draws him
to you. You are—he quiets, commits himself
to this: he tells you you are nice and easy
and good. Good.
It itches. It smells
like Lysol. It lands on you
and lands on you not like a feather
leaving a wing and reaching the pavement
but like the prow of a ship pushing
into the sand, like the face
of a hammer coming down
to the nail. You let him call you
what he liked because everything
was green and thriving in the heat,
because you had assumed you wanted
only to be worth repeating.
Image: By B1ackmice, licensed under CC 2.0.
I once had a friendly argument with a friend about the necessity of telling the truth in poems. My friend—a fine writer in her own right and one whose ethical integrity I would avow with a bible in hand—asserted it was a poet’s duty to tell the truth, that poets do not “make things up.” I respect my friend, I do, but this is rubbish. Or more pointedly, the two suppositions are not mutually inclusive. I demand my work be truthful, but I reject—fiercely—the notion that deviations from source material (read: my life) inhibit, impede, or otherwise occlude revelation. The actual facts of an experience, at least, as rendered by me, are dull or chatty and any sense of veracity is often punished by the enterprise of paying strict allegiance to chronology or character. Having gotten this far you might assume me a liar of the most pretentious sort—you would not be entirely wrong but here’s the thing: it’s a clumsy expression, cliché at best and insufficient at worst, but time in the poetry trenches has continually affirmed that the poem will tell you what it wants to say and you had best listen.
“In Summer” is a narrative composite of multiple encounters in which I was offered similar summations about who I was. One’s public performance of self is often at odds with the person one believes oneself to be and why, exactly, do we repeat that play of being over and over again? What purpose does it serve? In editing, I’m always trying to assess how craft choices are engaging with content, and in the case of “In Summer,” there was a desire to shape the sentences moving throughout the poem (longer at the beginning and end, shorter at that narrative pivot in the middle) so that each line maintains an integrity in and of itself even as the sentences snake through them, to give regard to the parts that are making up the whole.