Sex, Love, and Architecture
I should’ve been born French
but instead I was born poor, weaned early
from my mother by the six breasts
of God, baptized in a river my brothers were taught
to swim in. I dreamed at night of burying my poverty
the way they bury afterbirth to train body sniffing dogs.
I wanted someone hot on the trail of my uselessness,
confusing my body for something as vital as death.
And didn’t this draw him out of me
the way my structures are drawn up from their landscapes
as naturally as if they’re a condensation waiting for the clouds
to pull them up and my hand to pin them down
as liquid onto paper? The way rain is translated for the starving masses
to understand grace, didn’t he think I could help time
translate his body, make it universally understood?
His tight baseball pants made him look
like a lazy ballerino, only performing when the eye
of the ball glanced his way. After his season closed
we drove his new stingray out to one of those half-framed houses
I loved because they gave the night sky
a concrete plinth to stand on,
and I wanted to, if not be enskied, at least
be connected to the sky’s pedestal. Inside the idea
of a bedroom for the longest time
he was rubbing under my skirt saying,
“How’s that feel?” Like my pubic hair
was a patch of velcro troubled
by a hook that wouldn’t latch. The night was close
and every part of me was sweat, no way to discern
wet from wet. The entire time we were fucking
I kept wondering if I should say, “I love you,” after.
“I love the feel of you,” he said after,
hedging my bets, dividing “you” from “love”,
and how clever! “Feel” was the softest cleaver
he could think of to separate us.
Then a car’s lights drove by that spooked
him out of me and when I stood up
to run off I felt him still
ringing against me like a swallowed, limp bell
and I its swallowed tongue breaking. I could hear
my mother’s voice, making a crack,
saying how I’d been deflowered and pollinated
at once. “I don’t even know you,” he said after
though we’d gone to school together since 2nd grade
and then he started crying
in little clouds that brought him to the ground.
His black hair was beautiful in the black grass,
black tears, black dew, a black so clear
you could see yourself at the end of the hallway of it.
Looking down, I wanted to kick each of his ribs in,
even his stolen rib. I wanted
to force my way into the absence
he was finally feeling, the pressure point
women know about because they’re built
and build from it.
I only dreamed of architecture, so I needed him to invent love for me. That summer I worked for an Amish man who needed an intermediary with the outside world to buy supplies and had excuse to frequent the feed store where he worked part of the year. I would walk in there with my hands holding up my stomach as though there were something to hold up after a week — a gesture that made his manager ask me multiple times, “You got some kinda stomach bug?” — because I was hoping he could round me out with his eyes, to stare with such intensity that the breeze from his heart would billow out my bandana, transforming me into a homespun velificans, but he only glanced back to his manager, saying wordlessly, “It’s not safe here,” then returned to his work. It was strange seeing a boy with skin that uncalloused dig his hands into different types of manure — “phosphate this, nitrogen that” — talking about each variety as though it were as distinct as a peony is from a lily, dressing up the cause until it wore the same floral gown as the effect, speaking in the high, confident tone of the rich, who can turn shit into an intellectual pursuit. He had the hands of someone who only worked during the summer; an inner glow to his flesh gave it away, like light passing through amber if the light hadn’t dirtied itself by touching anything before him.
Nothing ended up coming of it, but it was a nothing
with a face growing towards mine.
I realized for the first time that if my despair could change sources
so easily, from poverty to love,
then it no longer rested outside of me.
It had been planted inside long ago
and didn’t need tending. I pretended
the feeling was a shard of that first void,
that ex-nihilo nothing, but that was me
trying to connect myself to the sublime,
the purely potential. I told myself
I was the space God receded from
to make room for the world, and that even in my emptiness
I was standing in his black spotlight. And now, standing
over a bid for some museum I know will never get built,
that some idiot will deem too sculptural and unfeasible
while Frank Gehry goes on constructing buildings
that look like a tangle of Chinese dragons all in metallic rigor mortis,
the sinking feeling starts again. It’s a pulling inward,
an aquatic internal pressure on the sternum,
as if your own chest were a pool you could drown in.
I’m not afraid then because the pool, like me, is raging,
mad with whitecaps, uninviting. It’s the nights
where everything seems content with itself — some poppies shiver perhaps
in their vase, shaking off O’Keeffe’s consciousness —
I’m afraid. Those nights when nothing is wrong
and the nothing feeling surfaces,
when my pool is calm and tepid, then I’m scared of my hands,
which dangle down to the shoulder
to test the temperature of the water — water as fearfully still
as ghosts who, knowing too well the world
is made of finely-woven ash, refuse to run —
when so much less, a fingertip, a breath, would ripple
this glass into a living mirror.
About the Author
Corey Miller grew up in Southern Illinois. He has an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers and was the 2014 Philip Roth Resident at the Stadler Center. His poetry has appeared in the Best New Poets series, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, Narrative, The Southern Review and elsewhere.
“Genevieve” is published here by permission of the author, Corey Miller. Copyright © Corey Miller 2018. All rights reserved.