It isn't Just Me

If We Were Honest
by Albert Goldbarth, from Third Coast (Spring 2005)
[listen]

When I tell you that cultural ritual is an artifice
composed of simultaneous social-dynamic complexity vectors acting in …anthropometric units,
I’m thinking of sex. I mean it.
We all are. It isn’t just me. Or when I say
the war, or the god, or the list with the juice and the cereal…
sex. What is it the psycho-experts are claiming?—every ten seconds?
When I tell you that I’m thinking of sex,

I’m thinking of death. Its worm is always
in my eye, its sour and dirt-blown web is always
a catch in my throat. It was always a wen
releasing a small electrical jolt to the brain
of Napoleon, Alexander, Attila. It was funereally
in the black, black ink of the Brontes;
why should I be any different? Why can’t we

be honest?—every poem is “Sex.” (Or “Death.”)
If we were honest, half of our poems would be about
the making of poems, the conference on the making of poems,
the resume of poems successfully made…you know, the way
that half of the time is actually spent. And did
ten seconds pass just now? If so, then
sex. (If so, then death.) Not too long after

the Dolphin first made port in Tahiti, it was discovered
the crew were trading its nails
for dalliances with the pliant and welcoming
women of that island—“to such a great extent, the ship
was in danger of being pulled apart.”
Inside the cradling waves of moonlight
on those waters…smiling…consummating…human

nails into smooth, bamboo-brown human grain…
how did they know, how could they foresee, that
my mother would die from her own lungs
shaping hundreds of obstinate fists in her chest,
my father would die with his own blood turning
into a useless negative of itself?
And yet they must have known, they must have seen the lesson,

they were trying to deny it with the drive of such
combustive, zealous engines! This is my topic
tonight, and how the craft of poetry and the role
of the postmodern in a society of gender-defined relationship roles is yes a bare
…knee like a beacon,
like a skull beneath the face-skin, and a question
from the audience on a quasi-political sense is yes in my mind, yes in yours, yes
sex and death—the one thing.