Homo Will Not Inherit

Downtown anywhere and between the roil
of bathhouse steam — up there the linens of joy
and shame must be laundered again and again,

all night — downtown anywhere
and between the column of feathering steam
unknotting itself thirty feet above the avenue’ s

shimmered azaleas of gasoline,
between the steam and the ruin
of the Cinema Paree (marquee advertising

its own milky vacancy, broken showcases sealed,
ticketbooth a hostage wrapped in tape
and black plastic, captive in this zone

of blackfronted bars and bookstores
where there’ s nothing to read
but longing’ s repetitive texts,

where desire’ s unpoliced, or nearly so)
someone’ s posted a xeroxed headshot
of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the edges

as though photographed through a greasy lens,
and inked beside him, in marker strokes:
HOMO WILL NOT INHERIT. Repent & be saved.

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit: the margins
which have always been mine, downtown after hours
when there’ s nothing left to buy,

the dreaming shops turned in on themselves,
seamless, intent on the perfection of display,
the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:

edges no one wants, no one’ s watching. Though
the borders of this shadow-zone (mirror and dream
of the shattered streets around it) are chartered

by the police, and they are required,
some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,
permission’ s descending hour, early winter darkness

pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city’ s
ledgered and locked, but the secret city’ s boundless;
from which do these tumbling towers arise?

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit: steam,
and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,
fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.

I’ ve seen flame flicker around the edges of the body,
pentecostal, evidence of inhabitation.
And I have been possessed of the god myself,

I have been the temporary apparition
salving another, I have been his visitation, I say it
without arrogance, I have been an angel

for minutes at a time, and I have for hours
believed — without judgement, without condemnation —
that in each body, however obscured or recast,

is the divine body — common, habitable —
the way in a field of sunflowers
you can see every bloom’ s

the multiple expression
of a single shining idea,
which is the face hammered into joy.

I’ ll tell you what I’ ll inherit:
stupidity, erasure, exile
inside the chalked lines of the police,

who must resemble what they punish,
the exile you require of me,
you who’ s posted this invitation

to a heaven nobody wants.
You who must be patrolled,
who adore constraint, I’ ll tell you

what I’ ll inherit, not your pallid temple
but a real palace, the anticipated
and actual memory, the moment flooded

by skin and the knowledge of it,
the gesture and its description
— do I need to say it? —

the flesh and the word. And I’ ll tell you,
you who can’ t wait to abandon your body,
what you want me to, maybe something

like you’ ve imagined, a dirty story:
Years ago, in the baths,
a man walked into the steam,

the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,
solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen —
and after he invited me to his room,

nudging his key toward me,
as if perhaps I spoke another tongue
and required the plainest of gestures,

after we’ d been, you understand,
worshipping a while in his church,
he said to me, I’ m going to punish your mouth.

I can’ t tell you what that did to me.
My shame was redeemed then;
I won’ t need to burn in the afterlife.

It wasn’ t that he hurt me,
more than that: the spirit’ s transactions
are enacted now, here — no one needs

your eternity. This failing city’ s
radiant as any we’ ll ever know,
paved with oily rainbow, charred gates

jeweled with tags, swoops of letters
over letters, indecipherable as anything
written by desire. I’ m not ashamed

to love Babylon’ s scrawl. How could I be?
It’ s written on my face as much as on
these walls. This city’ s inescapable,

gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.