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Today we’re featuring work by this year’s Lammy winner for Gay Poetry, Benjamin S. Grossberg. Both poems are a part of his longer “Space Traveler” series.
WHY THE SPACE TRAVELER DECLINES
Because the body is both a ship
and the universe that ship explores.
Because all ports of destination
are ports within the body. Because
whatever wisp the self is can move
in the grand expanse from hand
to elbow, can tingle up to shoulder
and into viscera. The planets
of lung and liver, the gas giant
of stomach, the iron-cored heart:
because the self on each of these worlds
is a space-suited astronaut kicking up
gray gravel, planting a flag of discovery.
Offers come—casual and engraved—
as if the self alone can’t navigate
whatever pathways exist in the body,
can’t trip wormholes of imagination
to locate any exact flavor. Exact
savor. It isn’t that interior is a perfect
microcosm of exterior, but that
when all’s concluded the mesh
of memory just isn’t fine enough
to sift the difference. So why, when
somewhere in the broad chamber
of the self, the invitation’s answered—
a zone of desire, a series of sensations
between the coordinates of mouth,
groin and stomach: and in the tiny
ship, a tinier ship (closing the eyes
can aid in navigation), I touch
down there, marvel at colors in the
methane clouds. It isn’t, the space
traveler politely explains, that I don’t
want you; just that I don’t need you.
THE SPACE TRAVELER’S HUSBAND
In terms of location, all I can say is
“back there,” and point
to a patch of sky: a place no thicker
or thinner in stars. In terms
of the quality of life, the color
and heat of its sun, atmospheric
feel on the skin, I can say
nothing. And yet: nights—my ship
in the yard—I lay, a guest,
in one of their frame structures.
He was not the most acute
of their species; he failed to notice
that I needed a helmet to breathe or
that my limbs did not unfold (enfold)
like his own. Maybe he noticed
and didn’t care. He brought bowls
of a limp green vegetable and we
ate beside each other in silence.
This was always in winter, always
with blankets he drew around us.
There was a moment before I left,
standing on the ship’s retractable stairs,
my back to the arched door: I saw him
watch me through the kitchen window.
It was night and the darkness of space
pressed right down against his lawn.
Well, it’s years since that moment.
I have grown old in this ship, balled
like a worm in its silver pods.
And because I have been traveling
at the speed of light, nearly twenty
generations have slid between us.
(I am in fact the only living thing
that knows he existed.) But
it’s also possible that I am caught
in that moment right now: still
seeing careworn eyes through a pane
of glass. A yellow incandescence
burns behind him, and both of us
wonder if I’m really going to leave.
BENJAMIN S. GROSSBERG is an assistant professor of English at The University of Hartford, where he teaches creative writing. His books are Sweet Core Orchard (University of Tampa, 2009), winner of the 2008 Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award, and Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath (Ashland Poetry Press, 2007).
“Why the Space Traveler Declines” first appeared in New England Review (Volume 31, Number 1 / 2010). “The Space Traveler’s Husband” first appeared in The Missouri Review (Volume 33.2 Summer 2010). Both appear here with permission.