Monday Apr 22

HallJamesAllen James Allen Hall is the author of Now You're the Enemy, which won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Recent poems have appeared in New England Review, American Poetry Review, Poem-A-Day, Bloom, and The Best American Poetry 2012. He received 2011 Fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He teaches creative writing and literature at Washington College in Maryland, and he blogs here.


Swimming Lesson

He yells down into the pool, Keep your thighs together,
my coaching lover, dry on deck in his maroon Speedo,

safe for now. Your body is a knife. It's been two months,
he hasn't hurt me yet. I can't love an incapable man.

I cut into the waterwall, towards the black tiles
forming a cross on the other end, where a body

flips on its back, propelling blind into the past.
The chlorine burns my nostrils and I am remembering

the man's hand on my throat, his breath labored
too. I swim to him now, the way the woman

in the next lane yells out her lap-count. My body
is a knife. And when he does hurt me, we are close

to a year. We are clothed, he's holding my hand,
we are watching the snow break December's

chokehold on the sky. My body sometimes
turns him off, he tried. He's looking a sorry smile

through the water, I kiss his cheek to fight
the drowning feeling. I rise and set the table,

loving him because I am mourning him, the way
no one had to teach me, straightening the knives

on their blue paper napkins. Harm given purposefully,
tenderly—I have learned to thirst for it.

The Piano

He bent back the top of it, removed
the polished case, the piano gapejawed,
so he could lie above the instrument's
tensed intestines, in the medieval cold
cathedral, just his friend and him
and a century-old horizontal piano.
They made the piano moan. One
at the bench, feet stamping the pedals,
hammering keys he'd been taught to play
expertly, another laying across the top,
callused hands dampening the catgut strings
until the church hollowed. Where
is this going, I thought, when he played me
the recording in his Spartan apartment
that summer, our shirts off, and later,
in his bed when he lay on me, his fingers
in my mouth curling around the uneven
row of keys, making me into something
he'd played once in an emptied church,
thinking he alone was god. No,
not emptied, since it was filled with music,
echoing down the taut wire of years.


Take an actress in a cowgirl costume, give her a six-shooter
and a number to belt—Anything you can do, I can do

and my grandmother, dinner theater denizen, would tap
her sandaled feet along to the music. But she would not sing.

She loved Music Man, Pete’s Dragon—the peppy anthems
of thwarted school marms, always ending in parade.

My grandmother’s singing voice might have been opulent,
smoky. Now the machines sing for her, sharp notes

all we can hear as the ICU nurses close the curtains
around her body. Now a doctor dances in to show

the x-ray: one cranial hemisphere, the musical one,
shoving against the other, it is a matter now of ¼ time.

She loved snare drum marches, hurrying banjos,
trumpeters swelling at the end. Exit music

amplifying elegy into ecstasy. The death she chose
was four shades of quiet. It is silent is not It is peaceful.

The stage is dark. The audience shifts in their seats,
the orchestra lifts their instruments.
Her jugular beat regular against her skin
until it stopped. She always thought her voice

would betray her feeling. I will sing for you now
I have watched, I am no longer afraid to die.