Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Poet Lore 2017 Pushcart Nominee - Steven Sanchez

Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Steven Sanchez about his poem “What I Didn’t Tell You.” Read it here and see what Sanchez has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.


—for my brother

You can ask me anything,
even about my first kiss,
which was at your age
and tasted like stale beer.
I used to feel guilty swallowing
the pulse of another man,
but now I know there are many
ways to pray. There’s a name for
that most intimate prayer:
la petite mort—the little death.
If, when your lover rakes
your back, you recall
the flock of worshippers
surrounding you like raptors
when they learned you’re gay,
clawing at your shoulders,
squawking for your salvation,
remind yourself you have to die
before you can be resurrected.
Never forget what the Bible says:
when two people worship together,
they create a church
no matter where they are—
which must include
the backseat of a car
or the darkest corner
of Woodward Park.
These are some of the things
I wanted to tell you
that night in April
you called me for help
with your history report
about the gay-rights movement.
Neither of us admitted
what he knew about the other.
Instead I started
with the ancient Greeks,
told you it was normal for them,
that for one brief moment
they were allowed to shape
their own history and religion,
organizing the stars, forming
Orion, for example,
flexing in the sky, arms
open in victory, belt
hanging below his waist.
But he was punished
for his confidence,
a scorpion’s hooked tail
piercing his body
like a poison moon.
When I see Orion,
I think of you and remember
what it felt like
for my knuckles to sink
into your stomach,
for my fist to collide
with your face. Your voice,
your walk, your gestures
reminded me of myself,
your figure bright and fluid,
creating a reflection
I wanted to break.
And now I see
your body spill open—
Big Dipper hooked
to your ribs, North Star
nestled in the middle.
I reach for that ladle
and drink.

*     *     *

Poet Lore: Can you comment on the longing in this poem, which seems, to me, to be well satisfied with its deep expression of love?

Steven Sanchez: I like to think that the speaker gains power (and by extension, finds some small bit of happiness) by acknowledging, confronting, and challenging their internalized homophobia. However, I don’t think a person can ever truly finish interrogating the ways we internalize toxic cultural narratives. Poems can absolutely end with a moment of happiness, but I wouldn’t consider happiness an ending—rather, happiness seems like a place to rest before moving forward.

Steven Sanchez, a CantoMundo fellow and a Lambda literary fellow, was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’s 2016 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. His poems have appeared in Nimrod, Crab Creek Review, Assaracus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others.

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