Poetry at Sangam



from HOLY SONNETS TO ORPHEUS by David Hadbawnik


That thing I meant to write down but forgot,
you, angel I’m capable of being,
just want to make sure if you pick me up
you put me down somewhere, an island, say,
or a church. Funny thing is knowing when
you’re going to die doesn’t change
all that much, you go on accumulating
wisdom of a sort, the seed splits open
(but what do I know of seeds?) the wound heals
in the shape of a girl or a girl’s smile
that opens and closes and does not fade
—there is still that, at least, inside me, as
everything else dries up, all the jokes stop
being funny—but a smile, at least that.



I’m purest when I whore myself the most
to you or whoever rubs against me
on the dance floor, grinding in glittery sweat,
thirsty for something, unable to shake
the music that moves over and through me
making me say yes to every tongue
yes and yes again, pure because I have
no center and so the center is pure.
A nothing the beat comes out of, a hand
feeling inside every hole until,
emptied and spent, I’m a single note held
to the end of a breath and then a tone
and then no-tone, the not quite silence of
blood rushing quietly between skin and bone.



I’m clever and soulless, ironic as
all fuck, able to hear a great river
I’ll never reach, because—but I don’t know
the cause, only the wound I must suffer
that keeps me awake yet dreaming, alone
but surrounded, anonymous but known
to thousands of other lost souls, my friends
and followers who also follow me
in an endless loop, while the river flows
by without us. Somehow I’m opting in
with each word and gesture, my only sin
is that I can’t stop, though I imagine
myself stopping, going down to the dark
where there’s nothing but water, leaves, and stars.



All I’ll ever know I know already
and I struggle to get it down, losing
a sigh here, a glance there, to the air or
the ocean, letting the curve of a smile
trail off into nothing, burning gestures,
forgetting words, mumbling along to
the body’s slow dance, wondering what I’ve
left out. It won’t do to fill myself with
borrowed music, bits of this or that tune
I learned in passing as I hurry through
scroll down swipe left, switch on and off, this song
hovers beyond my hearing, humming me.
Sometimes in sleep I shift and see myself.
Sometimes I see myself, shifting in sleep.



All you saints and angels who stand around
and watch me die, reading salvation
on my face and waving goodbye to
my soul, rising up, you say, to heaven,
pause and mark how cowardly this thing is,
which lived for nothing and died for less—
a fever dream—a toothless gap—
a half-heard song that drops away in sleep.
Words have to come from somewhere, but who spoke
this one first? When was it coined, how was it
first translated, what feeling moved someone
to say I and then I want, I love, I
hurt, I am? And what am I? An ordinary
nothing? But even that would be—something.



You hate the word “try,” hate the way I say it
as I writhe on my knees before you, “I’ll
try, master,” I say between strokes, try to
move how you want me to, try to do some
of the work, and the look on your face lets
me know how pathetic I am—because
for me you endured punishment I can’t
imagine, singing alone with your pain,
while at any moment you could have cried
the safe word that would bring you down from
that pain, easy as ending a song. But
you didn’t. And as I kneel here with you
leaning over me, making stars explode
in my head, I can’t help whispering “I’ll try.”