‘Radiant Losses’ by Tony Leuzzi

More than anything lost, there’s a great and somewhat sad generosity in Tony Leuzzi’s second book of poems, Radiant Losses. I felt while reading these poems that no subject was off limits even when the domain was local: the stiff signature of suburban lawns or the lonely woman at the donut shop or the troubadour on Orchard Street or the sex with a man or the occasional woman or the poet himself dressed up like a peach tree for Halloween.

When Leuzzi leaves the neighborhood and the subjects in front of him, he tends to sing to culture: “Two Toms” (Cruise and Hanks), “To American Poets” (there is more than just garden beds or nature to sing about), the film Brokeback Mountain and Joe Brainard’s now famous memoir, I Remember where the sentences all start with the words I remember. It makes perfect sense, as Leuzzi confesses here, that he should wish it was his idea for a book of “I remembers,” for remembering is the music playing underneath almost all the poems in Radiant Losses – particularly in the middle section, Gestures and Prefaces, a Fibonacci-based sequence.  I saw this section, more interestingly, in the shape of a kind of time: those towers made of sand made inside an hourglass. Here’s the beginning of “Infiltration” and evidence of Leuzzi’s ability to find tenderness in the misunderstood or unbelievable:

is most
likely true–
aliens reside
among us masked in everyday
disguises meant to satisfy our expectations

range of men… (29)

Leuzzi is also refreshingly open in terms of sexuality: aroused and slightly confused or reluctant but not – as one assumes of the poet gay – rhapsodic. One of the most beautifully simple poems, “Once,” may or not be homoerotic and that ambiguity actually gives the poem its authenticity:


when the brown
grass was hard beneath
our boots and every breath brought forth
a stream of brief but rolling cloud, we walked the train tracks

edge of
town. Brian
handed out the beer
and Jorge allotted each three smokes.
Tommy brought his lighter and a guy we didn’t know

Pete. (46)

While the homoerotic force lights some of these poems much more directly, there is also a sweet, less obvious sensibility when it comes the blurred edges of domestic life. “Emmanuel,” a poem about the speaker’s brother, is a gorgeous meditation on the shift in desire not only from girls to men but from something vague to something crystal clear. Here, the weight of emotional awareness has an almost supernatural ability to transform what he almost thought was true:

There were mornings when, on waking, I would
find him nested: bird beneath my arm.
Of course I pushed away. I’d learned and loved
the taste of girls, wore aftershave to cover
sweat, swigged beer from paper bags, a hint
of hair on chin, all sinew, swagger, brag.

But one day he became a road, the sprawl
of moonlight, glowing sheet. Creepers
inked their leaves upon his back, swayed
in gentle wind across his cheek. The motion
teased a dark dance on his marble curves.
Crossing over, I never thought to swerve. (17)

Tendrils appear again on the back of a man in the poem just proceeding, “Today”:

As I walked by a row of bright Colonials
a man emerged to fetch his mail:
tall, young, muscled, blonde, and naked
to the waist. While he rooted

in his box I slowed my pace to dream my hands
were tendrils clinging to his back. (16)

In fact, Leuzzi has a thing about vines, which, in these poems could really be read as tattoos–diagrams about desire or the manifestation of the erotic and the starting place or mark of identity:

We are as are you
now know how you know

the untangled vine becomes (82)


I saw a dark-haired girl with almond eyes
and ivy twisting up her arms
bend low with ease to words, then rise (13)

But it’s when the view is clear and the language plain that Radiant Losses really shines – when life is scaled down to human size and one body tells another body: “Your skin/against mine, my flesh, your flesh, the immediate this.” (53)

By Tony Leuzzi
New Sins Press
Paperback, $13.00, 85p