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“Palermo,” “In Praise of Pottery”



Colder than we expected. More ruined.
Ancient things sprinkled here and there.
The plaster dirty, the statues melting.
We take turns withholding from each other,
Passing the impoverishment back and forth.
We reach the ruins at Sòlanto after closing.
The guard agrees to sneak us in for some
Arbitrary number of euros if we promise
To be careful—There are no lights,
He says. I don’t have enough cash.
We drive back down the hill in sidelight,
Deprived of seeing whatever is up top.
He points out a big, odd cactus. Is it
Two cactuses? Grown amicable, hugging.
We drive to our hotel past ruined splendors.
But I don’t care about architecture.
About columns or domes or materials.
I don’t care about the statues in the fountain,
Slick Orpheus and his unwilded animals.
I’m detaching myself from the things I love.
The color has drained from the cactuses.
Maybe it is a single cactus. Or a family.
Our last night in Rome I had to block
The door to the dark room with my body.
Too many men too aggressively grabbed
At him while he kissed me, throat to throat,
And another man hammered pleasure
Into him. Feeling that violence in my teeth.
Jealousy. No jealousy. Undulating.
Detached from him, what am I?
My hands on his cock, clinging to it.
Not knowing who sucked me who I sucked.
Explosions of joy in my head and around me.
After hours of our pants around our ankles
His wallet was gone. Stolen, or perhaps just lost.
Our second day in Palermo the weather changes,
It’s now too bright to open our eyes,
The sweaters come off, perfumed with sweat.
I buy orange cocktails in plastic cups, we drink
As we walk without destination, looking,
Quiet, not doing justice to the situation.
Soon a landscape free of our interruptions
Will do whatever landscapes undirected do.
No one will be left to interpret the action.
The heat will work on bodies other than ours.
Jealousy. No jealousy. Undulating.
In the chilly taxi that takes us to the airport
All tired innocence now he rests on my shoulder
And somehow finds his wallet in his pocket.




All possible partners and positions
Serve as matter for the infinity,
The pretend infinity, of my craft.
Capable of anything, I do have
A special knack for pairings with boys,
Having studied many of their bodies
With love. Happily my work is limited
To physical beauty; I don’t believe
In the soul, struck by desire, transported
To some vision of beauty outside time—
Unlike my good friend who’s always lost in
Speculation. Know yourself, he tells me.
Nothing sadder than knowing what you are
Or thinking you know. Sitting at my wheel,
Hands coated in clay, I shape the body
Of a pot, its turning flesh cool and supple,
Before I describe on its wet surface
The many commonplace acts of pleasure
People repeat with little variations.
My pots are popular because I show
The truth of sex. If the thing’s off-kilter
I simply smash it down and start over.
I never pay my models very much
But they don’t do very much; they don’t learn
My craft or worry about the business,
And no one’s going to recognize them
From the pots their naked bodies decorate.
I’m conscious of working in a mature
Tradition, but there’s always a young crew
Of kids shocked, shocked by the sight of smut,
As if the practices were something new.
I hate them. One time I stayed inside a boy
Long after the need passed, and when he turned
His sweet confused eyes to me I released
A flood of urine that made his gut ache.
I forced him to hold it in. My good friend
Has lots of young admirers but fucks none,
As if the body were a threat to the soul.
He’s a fool. The body knows what it needs.
One must strong-arm the soul to obey it.
I live under the steady cheerful light
Of my unrelenting sanity, ply
My skill with the wheel, boys, appearances,
Indifferent to whatever’s beyond sense.
There’s a perfect lid fastened on the world.

M. Cottonwood is a queer poet, Utah deserter, & Brooklyn resident. His poems have been published in "FENCE," "The Yale Review," "The Common," and elsewhere.

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