Three Apollo Poems by tree turtle

Just bust, twisting, one arm
off, half a face & thick curls,
all white white───no: gray
white gray like kindergarten
newsprint, rough, so many times
used & if he had both arms he
would lean, one hip out, cool
like every other child but me
& we are told before we reboard
the school bus that what is left
of him is as perfect as if snow

were to fall inside of the museum:
he might as well be white white
white───or beautiful: first time
saying the word───strange word…
does loveliness hide ruin…what
will never settle & do his stone
curls compare to the unruly locks
of girls & does a fraction of a god
match the worrying of boys?

To arrive is to face extinction
for the very first time───even
Apollo came from Leto, his mother
in a fever of light & if we must be
perfect we must pass through terror,
delirious, blind, all but strangled,
nearly crushed in a filigree so tight
it must be lanced apart…if we are
to escape, if there is to be light &
the red is streaked in white───
a cloak, a wickiup, a swaddling of
salt: the womb is the harm before

all others: feeding, bleeding, sick
of our mothers who do not want us
to die, our very breath foretelling
accidents───even Apollo was like
just-broken calm, no thunder, hardly
majestic, Leto’s dark shape hovering
over him, wishing him into light until
he became her longed-for perfection…
but what do we become, what do I
become, where is our hope, what do
we long for, how can we be born?

Winter, New York City, 1989, sleeping
in hallways or acquaintances’ floors,
sewing alterations after sundown at Sally’s
then rushing to the ghost shift, 2-7 AM,
to wash the wall-to-wall plexiglas mirrors
at the Show Palace burlesque theatre,
then meeting Jimmy, a red brown wasp
of a dancer who calls himself Apollo
because, as he laughs, folks tell him his
body’s perfect for a Puerto Rican puto
& we are off to a loft two flights above
a bodega where he stays as the mantenido
chico of an out of town man who gave
him keys to every door, then Jimmy tells
me I can crash on the platform bed beside
the onyx lion statue, but I am so tired
that I curl asleep by the door & when I

awake the apartment is awash in shadows,
nag champa, candlelight & Apollo is
lighting kush sitting nude in a lotus, rifling
through my notebook from my knapsack:
‘So you write?’ he asks nonchalantly,
‘Write me a poem, write me one for each
day that we hang out together’ & I tell him
I will but he must never steal from me,
never forsake the grace that brought us
together because, I whisper, I don’t trust
anyone & I have never believed in gods
or magic & I know what it’s like to be left
always wondering why someone would
hurt me: then after a while he replies, ‘I
promise’ & hands me my notebook, asking:
‘Can you write me one now,’ then he rises
to stand tall, an estatua, an obelisco, a blade.

Profile: tree turtle

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