Love’s the Burning Boy


Daniel Swain’s poetry suite ‘Love’s the Burning Boy’ makes mention of homophobic slurs.

You Know All My Weaknesses, But That Isn’t One of Them

Remember when I said I liked your performance even though I hadn’t attended, and then you wrote down my ‘notes’ in your little notebook, even though the show had closed because nobody had attended or even planned to attend. The theatre of the shame of your misrecognition is the backdrop against which this all plays out. This poem is an invasive species; the introduced predator to an extant foreign pest. For the removal of any doubt: I am the ecologist nobody thought to ask, and sometimes the native species are too numerous, and too extinct, to nominate. Their fossils are the fuel that powers what’s left of your imagination.

I didn’t ask for your respect, only for you to be operative in the general way. I take my share of the blame, and that’s part of the problem, too. Everything we worked toward was delegated to lesser committees of your comprehension. A referral system was introduced, so that by the time the paper cycles back to you it is already archival. What I am saying to you is printed on scraps recovered from the office fire you started. I gave you several plausible accounts of psychology, and all you had to do was find the median. Not specifically ‘you’, but everyone who has taken part in a community where values are made and distributed. So, in a sense ‘you’ but also we’d have to exhume a lot of bodies to see the totality to which only I can refer, and can you imagine the smell?

It was my lie to you that elected him. And we’ll go on electing every position that you refuse to take. No one can be impartial but I want you to give it a shot, for both our sakes. We’re just going to have to make, do, and then reverse the order. I was going to address this to the reader I would have preferred, but nothing has demonstrated to me that you could handle a move like that. What can be done now isn’t worth doing. It’s over—like a divorce, surely, but more like that night in Madrid when we argued about Goya in a seafood restaurant neither of us enjoyed. But then again: every memory of Madrid, every opinion on Goya: it’s all at issue. I append Madrid itself as evidence to my brief, in the manner of a Catalan nationalist. You’re starting to get a sense that I am interested in the notion of ‘performance’, which is a remedial understanding of my intention, but at least a starting point, a diving platform—suspended above the tiles of your consciousness, smeared with dried blood. But let’s look at what has remained unexamined: the recent use of the art historical framework of ‘performance’ to refer to all production of meaning. I suppose what I’ve been trying to say is: can’t I just take the stage?

Une femme est a woman

The argument of thesis
is that if he watches
enough Godard films
he will know
the structure of the human mind.
(‘Methodologically’ I’m bored)
His fork cubes a kumara
as he describes his younger sister—
sent to the City by his parents
to live, elegantly, on their behalf.
Words issue against my evening
but, oh, to be a little knot
in his cable knit and sedulously unwork
myself into stray fibres
that link or loop hairs on his rose-red neck,
to move with the vibrations of
willed laughter—dance down
through winter air—as he says,
something like, ‘That’s wild,’
before suggesting we discuss
my work further over
Koyaanisqatsi & a glass of merlot,
to land, finally, on the lipid layer of
wine warmed by his hand,
to pass back over the remembered
territory of his thin chest, to be sent past lips
(he would say ‘imbibed’) to join the flow
of everything that supports him, to
invent new submissions, to conspire
in my own humiliation, to convince him
to move to Red Hook and ‘write about dance’,
to throw him parties we cannot afford,
to wrap invitations in pearl tissue,
and learn to sign his signature, to
become increasingly reliable in unreliable ways,
to renew our subscriptions to various
bourgeois pornographies, to become
just one of his assumptions,
to take the grammatical form
of his tense shoulders, to depopulate the
future of alternative theories,
to let him pick just one Auden poem,
to instruct florists against gerberas.
To mine our little ‘moments’ across
weekend afternoons of breathless contempt.

Job Guarantees

As a young child my homosexuality was structured by the relationship between the words ‘sisal’ and ‘berber’, as overheard in a carpet commercial. A child star for various regional brands, I had my lawyers remove my most profitable advertisement from circulation. Evidence of me eating white bread could harm my personal brand now that I’ve joined a class of people for whom sexuality matters so little they’ve organised their entire lives around it. ‘Cut’—I spat out the bready cud, fingered my cheque and asked to be taken to the nearest Grace Bros bargain bin. A corduroy vest in forest green. Now this, I said, is texture. A straight man shouts at me from a private window, but I have already been trained by certain theories and algorithms to not think too deeply about it. Proposal: a queer film festival of queer film festival films in which late teenage boys give each other nose bleeds. Trickle flics. At the opening night gala, a senior scholar explains the job market. Now that homosexuals have careers you can’t make a career out of being a homosexual. Graduate school is a holding pen for the pathologically obedient. Staff the sexual capitalism that delivered you from shame, like another bunch of faggots. We need not worry: at a conference in Geneva (New York) a new community of academics is inventing ‘the job guarantee’. As a poet, I am always working. Rakes graze glinting salinities; we clean crud canals along a bruised grid. Wonder white, sun blest: sea lice in sunstroke allotments, feeling the sexy rub of pay stub against pocket. Wash that dune, dude. Lunch is frying—we work for the sole. Boys down tools (union rules) get sunstruck, too. Spit moistens, we dehydrate; muscle cut, adequately provisioned with nostalgia’s frottage (factory pickets, smoke stacks, surfing pool noodles—bone dry too soon). At this rate, our good time gang will have this beach sisaled and berbered by next week. Afterwards, we’ll frack the silt that lines our throats / taste the feeling of satisfied ambition disconnected from achievement. Reserve a bisque of our most dramatic salts. Stir a cocaine spoon across the surface as it heats up once more. To be clear, this is not just about sex, but a vaporous surplus exceeding excess. Wake to this; distillate. Sort the silt into silly putty (the rehydration of our shared ethical codes). Watch theories of the present degrade into principles of instancy. For the time being, let yourself lean against your last sense of recollected safety. Tug gently on the pierced nipples of a previous order. This is a cry against help, and an observation: that’s what they meant about a ‘sensibility’, right? First texture, then blow jobs.