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The Poems Of Benjamin S. Grossberg: Untangling Sex, Love And Death

Benjamin S. Grossberg, director of creative writing at the University of Hartford, came of age during the toughest years of the AIDS crisis, so for him sex, love, and death became tangled, and his early poems were attempts to separate these threads.

“Nowadays,” he says, “I still write about sex, love, and death, but set in the context of middle age and my own stories: the aging body with its deepening sense of time.”

Grossberg, who lives in West Hartford, also is interested in the idea of home — how one finds it, why one sometimes feels to compelled to leave it.

Grossberg is the author of “Sweet Core Orchard,” a winner of the Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award, and of “Space Traveler.”

“The Space Traveler” poems are from the point of view of a being from outer space, as he travels from star to star. On this interstellar journey, the traveler observes phenomena that spur him to think about issues we humans can relate to, like love, aging and the experience of loss.

His chapbook “An Elegy” was published in 2016, and a new full-length poetry collection, “My Husband Would,” is coming out next year.

Poets Corner: More Of Connecticut Poets »

He sings the praises of the rich poetry culture found in Connecticut.

“We have our town poets laureate and our state laureate; dozens of poetry reading series at bookstores and cafes; and a vibrant state poetry society that puts out its own magazine. All this in addition to the poetry culture centered at our many institutions of higher learning, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, and the small groups of working poets who meet to share work all over the state.”

Grossberg encourages people to enjoy opportunities to listen to or share one’s poems. And he thanks people who are taking the time to read his own poems.

Ginny Lowe Connors, former poet laureate of West Hartford

THE NEXT WORLD

Three years gone, the dog will greet me there.

She’ll waggle up to my arms at the pearly gate.

A Spitz with wet glass eyes and fine white hair,

she was nearly an angel in her earthly state—

with just as much free will as angels have,

her nature to please mine, to show how grace

can elevate obedience into love

and turn a wolf’s into an angel’s face.

But if things go south, at least there’ll be my cat—

soot fur with eyes that flash like yellow tin.

She’ll help the devils rend my flesh, a blur

of arch and hiss, of claw, ears back and flat.

She shows the gross indifference of sin

then implicates me with a little purr.

THE SPACE TRAVELER TALKS FRANKLY ABOUT DESIRE

Out here, the pull of bodies keeps

everything moving. Mass desires

mass, in even the tiniest quantities.

But what differentiates us, this

sentience, is that it isn’t simply mass

that compels, but the idea of it:

the weighted notion, the notion

of waiting. A physics of our condition—

you might call it a strange force—

gives the dream of bodies more pull

than those orbiting close. It’s as if,

human, your Earth suddenly tore

itself from the Sun, flung itself

chest first into the void, for the idea

of another: a sun whose conversions

were more compelling. You know

all gold’s forged in a star’s heart?

Well, it’s as if your Earth lusted

for a sun that could generate better

luster. No matter the likelihood

of the planet spinning endlessly

forward—bowling ball (blue, marbled)

gliding on a never-ending lane toward

no pins. No matter that the star—

if it existed—might crisp it to coal.

The idea must be satisfied. But

I was going to talk frankly about

desire, wasn’t I? Well, I desire

frankly: this dark is cold, and I

distinctly remember back there, still

pulsing, the place where I left my sun.

I MARRY

I marry a column of air.

I marry my own

freedom, and at the altar

it and I merely brush

knuckles. I marry time

and march to the dais,

one forward step

as each second

ticks. I marry sex

and refuse to care who

steps into its body

as man after man

does. I marry a cat

or an impulse

like one, reclining

alone in darkness,

waking to its warm

breathing. I marry hot

liquid in winter,

curving around

the mug of it, and

in summer, the cold

grip of a plastic bottle

tipped over my lips.

I marry the silk

pucker of a coffin

lining, then file

for divorce and give

myself wholly to

well-fitting cotton

underwear and socks,

and am, for once,

convincingly held.

This man gets down

on one knee and raises

a small velvet box

into a wind that lifts it

from his fingers,

funneling it up

to the leaden sky.

AN APOLOGY

(for Joe)

I know you’ve heard this before.

In the waiting room, I’d imagine

large red exes over some of us,

a slash across our torsos

visible only to a large, ripe

eye peering through the roof.

First there was waiting, then

there was more waiting, and that was

before we had to wait two weeks.

It wasn’t the thought of getting it—

not just that. But how the self

would become a plate

held at a careless angle,

its contents slowly sliding off.

With a dog circling, circling.

And then once, I drove home

from a man’s house in tears. But

nothing bad had happened to me.

He’d told me on his couch,

our feet entangled. A gentleman,

he’d said it before the first

article of clothing hit the floor.

Amazing that it went further,

me more wick than fuse

even then, that the salt

crusted from a day walking

the Galveston sea wall—

how his skin held onto it—

is something I can still

taste. I’d pulled sharply back—

what is that?—before

coming close. And last week,

you told me over the phone.

In response, I teased out your story,

avoiding the implicit question

about us. Yes, I knew how

you took it, my demeanor, such

news-anchorly interest.

It turns out something bad

did happen to me, didn’t it?

And it was only later that I realized

your words, even your tone,

sounded practiced. No, not

practiced. Like something you’d

actually said many times before.

THE SPACE TRAVELER AND STARLIGHT

When I see starlight I marvel

the thousands of years it traveled

to meet me, before I was even

conceived, and think myself

a sort of time vector—a very

short one—in the midst of lines

that stretch along farther than I

can imagine. Behind me are things

evolving which that star’s light

is on its way toward, and each will

know itself the final destination—

though the light threads itself

through them like a needlepoint:

stitches them and me together

in contemplation of an image

of the past. Tell me, human,

what does that make you think

of time? That light from a star

no longer existent on its way

to a creature not yet evolved

can thread you up; that you, pearl,

string along with creatures altogether

like and unlike you? If you were

a space traveler, it would sing

to you of comfort. If you were

a space traveler, you’d call it love.

THE SPACE TRAVELER AND HOME

In my mind’s the planet: spinning,

iridescent as mother of pearl,

worn vitreous and smooth by waves

of space. Because of what I know

about the layout of the universe, I know

I am always moving toward it—

whatever direction I might travel;

it is parallel to every vector, a sharp

left at every star. And because of that,

although I can’t find the planet

on any chart, have no coordinates

to plot (no X, Y, or Z axes),

I am confident I am getting closer.

It’s like staring at a mirror as hard

as possible, in an attempt to see

yourself (beyond the deadened look

of a space traveler staring in a mirror),

as if you could see into the dilation

of your own pupils. In the blackness

of mine, I would see my planet:

iridescent ball floating in starless

darkness, and I’d touch down there,

kneel on an iridescent beach.

But then I remember I’m in a bathroom,

that there’s nothing in the mirror

but the deadened face: moving

toward home (that must be so) so fast

it’s strange to think I’m standing still.

THE SPACE TRAVELER’S WANDERING

I didn’t always wander. Once,

I had a small home with a garden.

A planet dweller lived there,

and we had the local equivalent

of a dog. It’s hard to say

what happened, but at some point

I found myself converting parts

of our bungalow into a ship.

First appliances: fridge, stove,

electric tooth brush and water pick.

Then larger pieces. Siding

for the rocket body; chimney

for part of the nose cone.

Right now, I’m entering coordinates

into a combination of water heater

and wet bar. Both of us knew

things were finished when I

savaged the bed for springs.

(Landing apparatus.) Eventually

it was just the two of us

in a denuded frame, sitting

on the floor, not talking about

leaks, drafts. In the garden,

my ship flattened the winter squash.

It towered above what was left

of the roof. There wasn’t much

of a goodbye. He shrugged and I

scanned the room for wire nuts.

(I forget now why I needed wire nuts.)

When my afterburn ignited

what was left of the place, I

allowed myself a small smile. Then

I set the toaster for deep

space. It didn’t ding for years.

Poems copyright Benjamin S. Grossberg. Work for CT Poets Corner — a monthly feature highlighting the poetry of Connecticut authors — is selected by invitation.

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