This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Aaron Smith.
“The Smell of the Sea” and that ending
where the murderers shove the pencil
into the store owner’s ear,
how Levis keeps us in the moment right before.
There is no breathlessness
like being breathless and tired as a kid.
I used to hide in the field across the street,
dread mom yelling: time to come inside.
A woman in Sudan was raped
by her husband while his brothers held her down.
She stabbed him to death and was sentenced to death,
and I’m mad that my building might ban smoking,
or that some poet said something stupid
in an anthology about “overly-revised poems.”
Stern says: I am finally ready for the happiness
I spent my youth arguing and fighting against.
I know it doesn’t change a thing to say it.
In New York City for a weekend
I wondered: why was I so angry when I lived here?
Part of it was chemical, part of it was because
I’d rather go to the shame parade
than Pride. How many times can I say that
and make it interesting? “Angry Anymore”—
I kept that Ani DiFranco song on repeat this afternoon
when it was sunny and the neighbor kids shot basketball
beneath my window.
I told my therapist that gayness
has always been more aesthetic for me
than sexual. I’d rather have the magazine
than the man in the magazine.
My last boyfriend told me I was the kind of guy
who’d drive him crazy,
but by then it was already entering the mind,—
How did Larry Levis stand it,
the unbelieving pencil?
I don’t care if it’s true, I just love it, the comedian said
before she cut off the president’s head.
I just want to walk through my life unarmed.
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