“sometimes your hand is all you have”


Ode to Masturbation
-Ocean Vuong
because you
were never holy
only beautiful
to be found
with a hook

in your mouth
water shook
like sparks
as they pulled
you up
& sometimes

your hand
is all you have
to hold
to this world
because it’s

the sound
not the prayer
that enters
the thunder not
the lightning
that wakes you

in lonely midnight
sheets holy
water smeared
between your thighs
where no man
ever drowned

from too much
thirst & when
is the cumshot not
an articulation
of chewed stars
go ahead—lift

the sugar-
crusted thumb
& teach
the tongue
of unbridled

to be lost in
an image
is to find within it
a door. so close
your eyes
& open reach

down with every rib
the desperation
of unstruck
piano keys
some call this being

human some call this
walking but
you already know
it’s the briefest form
of flight yes even
the saints

remember this
the if under every
the breath brimmed
like cherry blossoms

foaming into no one’s
how often these lines
resemble claw marks
of your brothers
being dragged

away from you
you whose name
not heard
by the ear
but the smallest bones
in the graves you

who ignite the april air
with all your petals’
here here here who
twist through
barbedwired light
despite knowing

how color beckons
i reach down
looking for you
in american dirt
in towns with names

like hope
success & sweet
lips like money
laramie jasper
& sanford towns

whose trees know
the weight of history
can bend their branches
to breaking
lines whose roots burrow
through stones

& hard facts
the memory of rust
& iron
& amethyst yes

touch yourself
like this part
the softest wound’s
after all

the lord cut you
to remind us
where he came from
pin this antlered
body back

to earth
cry out
until the dark fluents
each faceless
beast banished
from the ark

as you scrape the salt
off the cunt-cock
& call it
be afraid

to be this
to be so bright
& empty
the bullets pass
right through

they have reached
the sky
as you press
your hand

to a blood-warm
like a word
being nailed
to its meaning
& lives

the real deal


If she were a less intoxicating person, it would be easy to envy her. To envy the effortless and easy flirtation that she uses to bend virtually everyone to her will. She is open, gregarious, social, saying everything and anything that comes to her mind, still coming across as hilarious, charming, self-deprecating and beautiful, and she gets her way. But no one ever feels manipulated or put upon, as she flashes a giant smile and peals of her infectious laughter float behind her as she walks away from her every encounter.

It’s in this way that she gets the inside track and makes connections that pay off in one way or another.

I have realized, though I have always suspected, that this “charm offensive” brand can also be a handicap. She can never truly read another person; she can never really get to know them. Me: No one is trying to snow me, get me into bed, impress me or flirt with me. It’s all very business-like and serious. It might not be fun, but I quickly get the real read on the people I meet, talk to and work with. When she comes to me and rhapsodizes about how helpful, nice, smart, funny, “moral” or great someone is, I take it with a grain of salt and have often already got the goods on how they really are. As a team, she and I are unstoppable because I can suss out exactly who we are dealing with and their strengths, weaknesses and what they have to offer, and she can go in for the kill – either with sweetness and light or with her brilliant “I don’t realize I am being bulldozed by this smiling woman, but I am and can’t help it” tactics.

In just minutes, I have seen how weak in the knees some go, melting around her, softening like butter, becoming overly tactile octopi when they had been distant, prim characters only moments earlier. She has that effect on them. But as honest a reaction as they display to her, they certainly do not show her their true colors, real selves or what their intellect offers (or doesn’t). They are always putting on a show for her and rolling out their best. And I get the unvarnished truth.