Pushcart 2014: Saeed Jones, “Last Call” (Poetry) from Muzzle Magazine, Spring 2012

Night presses the gunmetal O of its open mouth
against my own & I can’t help how I answer.

I’m slightly familiar with Jones’ essays (he writes about LGBT issues for Buzzfeed, everything from gossip to insightful commentary), but I’ve never read his poetry. This is very sexual stuff (and it’s pure coincidence it’s posted on Valentine’s day; it was the next poem in order, and I’ve been posting one every Friday so far). It sounds sexual when Jones reads it; his reading, as well as the text of the poem, is available online at Muzzle Magazine. In particular, “… all that water. / Oh, marauder” stands out in the audio; it pays to hear poems read out loud, as they were written to be.

I thought of what I learned last week about couplets, and wondered if the couplets here are similarly used, this time to indicate a sexual pairing.

With the first line I thought, oh, no, more suicide! But the imagery is also highly erotic; so often do sex and death meet. Just yesterday a Tweet from Jesse Sheidlower pointed to yet another etymological linking early use of the “f-word” to “to strike”. And he should know reliable sources, since he literally wrote the book on that particular word. Yes, sex does involve contact, even strong contact, and the line between pain and pleasure, fear and excitement, is blurry at best. But… well, maybe I’m just too old to get it.

I also wondered if it could be about falling asleep; I then was immediately embarrassed at having had such a thought, since it seemed hopelessly prudish. I was relieved when Dennis not only didn’t outright laugh at that idea, but developed it further, into a dance of aggression and submission:

I see how you mean about it being about sleep. I’d read it as about that (and as about death) if “Night” and “He” were taken as one and the same. But if “Night” were merely a prelude to “He,” a charged atmosphere of anticipation, or externalized desire, then a sexual reading takes the upper hand (without, I think, dispelling sleep, death, or other forms of defeat or surrender as possible “co-readings”).

I’ve been following the shifts from dominant to subordinate (or, aggressor/victim, seducer/target?).

In the first stanzas, the persona is pressed upon by the night, but this shifts in the third stanza, where the “I” pulls back the “He” that pulls away. In the fourth stanza, the “I” is again overwhelmed, this time by “hunger” and “want” and shifts entirely to the passive “I am the man who waits.” (This line recalls Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: “The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”)

It’s passive from this point on: “I let the lake/ grab my ankles” until “Make me drink.” Unless we choose to stress the imperative tone in “Make me drink.” Formulations such as “Enslave me” are really curious, because if the aggressor responds positively, then he/she is acqiescing, thus being dominated. If the aggressor responds negatively, then he/she is rejecting the functions of the dominant position.

“I’m on my way.” Well, that could translate to “I’m coming,” but I wonder if there’s more to it than that.

One of the themes that kept cropping up in ModPo was the tendency of modern poetry to be open: that is, to have multiple interpretations, by design. Many 17th century English madrigals (and poets) used “to die” as a synonym for detumescence. Eros and thanatos, sex and violence: together in poetry.

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