Brian Teare, “Californian”

Today, a poem from Brian Teare’s Pleasure (Ahsahta Press), one of this year’s finalists for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Male Poetry.


It began like this : a radio
midday, heat—remember?—a shriek

on the highway, and in the yard
Steller’s jays chafing over haggle, nag, their claims

a lyric tableau—pretty for the eye—how
sun for months stuck aureoles

of chrome around everything, even
your poems, omens

so no other disaster would happen.
But that there was dust—

it had not been so before in June,
grass dead at edges

where a dirt spread had begun, feral
cats interring piss into nasturtiums.

His death had become
the dropped side of a song, melody

undone by damage
exactly the feel of teeth entering

an apple’s bruise. The trellis kept
the jasmine rapt

as it collapsed in its own odor; so ardor also
trained the spine

of your weeping into a mind,
confluence of fumes and confusion. Over sills,

jambs, silt sent collusion : thistle, burr, mouse
turds, urine’s lingering funk in rooms

where to write was a widow
alone with the last broom she’d bought. Heat,

with its missing finger
and nine filed nails, tuned all afternoon

its blue note : horizon a slack string tautening
against asphalt, whose sound

was drought, marsh departed
before August began, black-outs rolled

house to house, how perfect the fraud and emergencies.
So there were two songs

sung in counterpoint
to jays, argument about belonging to

a place,—remember—
prey and prayer, one struck

the other beneath the lyric image, playing flint
to tinder until on the radio

eastern hills caught fire : extremis,
excelsis, that is

how summer, all veils
and exhalations, courted the hills. How

already the church was burning
when your soul went out to meet him, to marry

his new weather—


The recipient of National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell Colony and American Antiquarian Society fellowships, BRIAN TEARE is the author of The Room Where I Was Born, Sight Map, and Pleasure, as well as the chapbooks Pilgrim, Transcendental Grammar Crown, and the forthcoming ↑, winner of the 2009 Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Prize. Also a bookbinder and letterpress printer, he makes books by hand for his micropress, Albion Books, and maintains a web presence at

“Californian” from PLEASURE by Brian Teare. Copyright © 2010 by Brian Teare. Used by permission of Ahsahta Press. All rights reserved.