Michael Lally

The DC Sonnets 2

“look behind the eyes
                                    i said and i say
worry about the plumbing later”
–dick higgins


I’m nervous at first cause it’s so
strange to feel a flat chest against
my own, to touch him down there
and think for a long second that
I’m touching MYSELF! He’s a
year older than me but gentle and
calm and pretty seductive as he
excites my body with his soft
touch. His big puppy eyes and
long blonde hair and small slim
stature don’t threaten me as we
tenderly kiss and I enter him, and
later, to my surprise, let him enter
me, resulting in a kind of ecstasy


This brand-new feeling of holding
on to something within me that is
another, to be that close, the new-
found pleasure of being the one
opening up to someone else for a
change. I’m thinking This must be
what women feel like making love.
And the newness of using a part of
my body that has always been taboo,
to move my ass the way I never have
before as though dancing in ways
I’m too self-conscious to, maybe
afraid if I really loosen up, I’ll look
more like a woman than a man.


Despite the boys in children’s games
of doctor, or tickle-me-where-you’re-
not-supposed-to, since childhood my
sexual interest and arousal has always
seemed connected to the mystique of
women’s physicality and sensuality.
So it’s a life-shattering transformation
on this March night in 1972 (two
months before I turn thirty when—
as Ted Berrigan wrote—The fucking
enemy shows up) to unexpectedly be
having sex with another man, legally
a criminal act and proof of a mental
illness we could be incarcerated for.


From my earliest memories of
lying in a baby carriage looking
up at my aunts and other women
in our clan and neighborhood
smiling down at me, and feeling
that somehow behind their spark-
ling eyes was the secret to life, my
life in particular, I have always
looked for my salvation in the eyes
and the yes of women. What I look
for in the eyes of men—I’ve looked
everyone in the eye since birth and
still do—is any sign of aggression,
or interest or, more rare, acceptance.


Even as a boy, let alone adolescent
and man, when I look into the eyes
of anyone, I get a reaction. If they’re
female, sometimes they blush, often
they raise a hand and touch their hair,
self-consciously, as if seeing them-
selves in my eyes like a mirror, and
sometimes, more rarely, their gaze
seems to penetrate to my soul with
the force of their focus, connecting us
in ways we both secretly acknowledge,
whether I’m seven and they’re fifteen,
or I’m nineteen and they’re fifty, or
I’m twenty-nine and they’re thirty.


There’s always the fear of confrontation,
even violence, when I look into the eyes
of almost any male, and the nervous ten-
sion and anticipation that creates. I got
beat up and bullied from my 1940s
childhood on cause, as I’m only just
beginning to see, I was too sweet and
sensitive and sensuous, and smart
about things most boys and men I’ve
encountered aren’t, but despite all that,
I still look other males straight in the
eyes. My boyhood nicknames reveal
the confusion I confronted and caused:
They called me either Rocky, or Faggy.

Poet, playwright and actor, Michael Lally is the author of more than 30 books.  In 1972, The South Orange Sonnets received the Discovery Award. His autobiographical book-length poem, My Life (Wyrd Press, 1975) was attacked as pornography in an attempt to defund the NEA. It’s Not Nostalgia: Poetry & Prose (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) was honored with the American Book Award. Lally’s latest publications include Swing Theory (Hanging Loose Press, 2015) and  Another Way to Play: Poems 1960–2017 (seven stories press, 2018). He’s also the recipient of the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He lives in upstate New York and writes the blog, Lally’s Alley.

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