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.
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 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,
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
underwear and socks,
and am, for once,
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.
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
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.