Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sweet Machine

Glisten fretting the indigo of a plum,

silvered chalk of moth-wing dust:

the young man on the subway platform

–twenty maybe– seems almost powdered,

he is so dirty, the dust lighter

than his skin, which is still,

by a slight stretch of the imagination,

lovely. Though it’s odd to think

of him that way, this shirtless kid

in hugely oversized jeans that fall,

when he stands, around his thighs,

exposing his skinny ass. He yanks

the waistband up, sits down again,

and begins to writhe, palms roaming,

uncontrollable, over his own face,

his close-cropped hair and ears,

down to his flanks, hands disappearing

inside the big jeans, scratching

and rubbing, until he collapses, exhausted,

head hanging between his knees,

and after a few seconds starts

it all up again. Does he want

to rub his own skin away? Then

I understand: what’s powdering his flesh is

his flesh, the outset layer of himself

rubbed to palest chalk. He repeats

his stream of violent tablequx

these might be positions of transport,

of ecstasy, except he’s miserable, I guess,

and it’s two in the afternoon, 96th and Broadway,

and all of us waiting for the local

watch, how can we help it? Crackhead,

somebody says, but it’s a whisper, a question,

and nothing answers our troubled fascination:

nothing to do but watch the pity and terror

of these poses. The express comes and goes,

and the brutal series grows more synaptic:

these might be flashes of the pornographic,

or classical attitudes, rough trade posing

as a captive slave for Michelangelo. Our context’s

neither intimate nor academic, and nothing’s

supposed to be so real in the common nowhere

of the on-the-way-to, while we wait

for the 1 or the 9, strangers and witnesses

pressed knee to hem, back to shoulder

on the platforms and cars. This month,

on the broad haunches of the buses,

another sleek boy’s posed in multiple shots,

black underwear and lean belly laved by rivulets

from a shower or stream. The photographers

left him headless, his gestures multiplied

on builders’ makeshift walls, page after page

of blank torsos already beginning to be inscribed:

on a yard of silvery muscle six feet from Seventh Avenue

someone’s scrawled, in black marker: I am a sweet

suck and fuck machine. Take me home. Big buses

nose through the streets, one after the other,

bearing the model of what we’re supposed to want,

and do, what we’re meant to see and need

but not, unless we have the money, touch.

He doesn’t have the money, my boy

on the platform, and I wish … What?

I don’t know. Just today, in traffic,

one of those buses eased by my taxi window:

a taut wet waist bound in black elastic,

huge, luminous emulsion inches

from my face. The endlessly reprinted boy

–is he?–could almost be this man,

whitened by his own degrading skin,

dark stone wearing the dust of the quarry.

He’s rubbing himself to flour, he’s giving

his name back to airy nothing, I’m figuring him

on the varnished bench. Moth, plum–hear

how the imagery aestheticizes? He’s nothing

as fixed as marble, and he touches himself

not for pleasure but because he can’t stop.

What unthinkable train is he waiting for?

That boy on the billboard, the headless boy,

could he stop touching himself?

We’re all on display in this town,

sweet machines, powerless, consumed,

just as he consumes himself

with those relentless hands,

scratching his barely hidden center,

hanging his head between his knees,

spent, before he jerks himself up

and starts all over again.

-Mark Doty