You research the stage, the venue before the drive
as much to decide what to wear as what to read.
You learn to do this, which part of your body to cover,
what skin to show for the red carpet or the dirt road,
the slow and easy drawl in the baseball cap
or the literati with the queer scruff and bag.
You do this naked or in drag and sometimes
these terms reverse their definitions
depending on your mood or the weather,
depending on the city. Still the pretty girls will always
smile when you say husband
and this is how the world has changed,
though how many times you say it and in what accent
is measured for presentation. Or protection.
In California you’re entertainment.
In Mississippi you’re education.
There are still freshmen who’ve never met
a person who is openly gay and writing about it.
This is mostly in the south, in rural schools
with dry counties and curiosities wet with prohibition.
Then there are classrooms full of students who
don’t believe in labels at all, or coming out,
each row of desks a different color
on a spectrum they dreamed after you woke.
There are no lines. They all hold hands.
Across the country you change
the game plan on the fly, the set lists,
asking the audiences if they want it
dirty or if they want it sweet.
No smiles means you’re a missionary poet tonight.
Laughter means you might go home with someone,
end up in their bed, one way or another.
Your books on their floor.
Your words in their head.
Isn’t there something about the ocean
the first moment it comes into view
it’s like waking up next to someone you love
or next to someone you have wanted so badly to love
or next to someone you love
but maybe have forgotten you love
or at least forgotten
you love like this.
It takes a moment to return to you:
the fake air, the time zones, the noise
of everything else. It takes a moment to
remove all the clothes I over pack,
all the falsities I wear
when you aren’t there. It takes a sea
change to let that stranger die,
to pry his hand open and let go, let him
evaporate into our living
room, where, in just a day or two,
I’ll stand in the open doorway, forgetting
I’m naked, and you’ll have to push me
out of view of the neighbors.