Ready For Their Close-Up: Two Poems

Curated by Suzanne Lummis

In the American Heritage dictionary close-up is defined as:  1.  A photograph or a film or television shot in which the subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2.  An intimate view or description.   


by liz gonzález




Stephen Dobyns



Eros – Claro and oScuro

On the night Stephen Dobyns is set to read way down in Orange County liz gonzález will be featured in Los Angeles.  So their respective appointments suggest both simultaneity and distance. Keeping with that spirit, I've found a poem from each that together seem to chart the distance between sanctioned and transgressive sex.   

liz's poem, playful, affectionate, celebratory, rolls out the metaphors.  The "we" is a cat licking itself clean, now a spout of water, now dripping pigs, now boxers.  This erotic tribute to a steady lover (no one night stand, it's clear) would not disturb most readers of contemporary poetry.  In fact – with the exception of certain emissaries of the Christian Right, or surviving members of the Taliban – few people of our times would be offended by this sexy love poem.  The relationship it describes  has about it a freshness and newness, but also the comfort of routine and familiarity.   

Stephen Dobyns treads on dangerous ground, scary ground.  "White Thighs" contains no graphic descriptions or explicit words, and no untoward event unfolds, yet it touches upon desires that won't rest easily with us. In the mind of this subway rider, who finds himself aroused and confused by the nascent sexuality of underage girls, self-hatred mixes with forbidden desire; he is as given over to thanatos as to eros.   The poem is not sexy – not in a fun way – nor is it one that among Stephen Dobyn's huge oeuvre will often be sited as anyone's favorite. (Usually his darkness is tempered by humor – or tempered by something).  Yet it's worth noticing –  a truly risky venture in a time when few risks remain to be taken in poetry, at least not in the realm of the erotic.   

In the first poem we feel safe in assuming the "I" is the poet; she takes us into her confidence, reveals to us a portion of her life, her affections.   In the second, the unhappy man described in the third person  feels raw and personal, yet we can't assume this  "he" is the author in a thin disguise.  "He" is a character of sorts.  Even so, in order to create a compelling persona a poet must find the commonality, the connection, between his own psyche and the character's.  Much of the poem's disturbing power springs from Dobyns' evocation of the protagonist's  fitful, middle age melancholy. That aspect of the tale seems somehow too genuine, too deeply felt, to have been artfully manufactured just for the occasion. 

- Suzanne Lummis

liz gonzález


Tomorrow, I'll wake up with
tumbleweed-tangle hair
because tonight we are not
the people we take out of the house
but ourselves in a fog of grunts
wriggles, angles and curves
Our bodies clasp together:
one pulsing techno groove
A cat licking itself clean We are
synapses sparking
water spouting
out of a whale's blowhole
My skin is the shore
for your tongue tip and teeth
And you, a modern gaucho
I clench your ass with both hands
as we gallop across the mattress
This is when I get so grateful
promise myself
never to nag at you again
We finish together
two dirty pigs dripping
the mud of our sweat
Sugary-tart jellies
shimmering the sheets
I run to pee while you
go to the kitchen, pour me
a glass of cranberry juice
Even the practical
is part of our sex Now
our chests play a tempo
slow as “Monk’s Mood”
We collapse into each other
like boxers at the end
of a fifteen round match


Stephen Dobyns


White thighs like slices of white cake –

three pre-teenage girls on a subway

talking excitedly about what they will

see and do and buy downtown, while near them

a man stares, then pulls back to look

at the slash and jab of the graffiti.

He sees himself as trying to balance

on the peak of a steep metal roof

but once again he turns to watch

the girls in the grown-up dresses,

their eye shadow and painted mouths. How

white the skin must be on the insides

of their thighs. He can almost taste

their heat and he imagines his teeth

pressed to the humid flesh until once more

he jerks back his head like yanking

a dog on a leash, until he sees his face

in the glass, gray and middle-aged. The night,

he thinks, the night – meaning not simply

night-time but those hours before dawn

when he feels his hunger as if it were

a great hulking creature in the hallway

outside his door, some beast of darkness.

And again he feels his head beginning

to twist on its hateful stalk.  White thighs –

to trip or slip on that steep metal roof:

his final capitulation to the dark. 


liz gonzález’ poetry has appeared in numerous publications, most recently in ARTLIFE and Tebot Bach’s So Luminous the Wildflowers: An Anthology of California Poets. She has writings forthcoming in Comet Magazine and Mirror, Mirror: Women and Their Bodies Poetry Anthology. And she is a featured poet in Tebot Bach’s Poets of Southern California Swimsuit Calendar.  Currently, liz is developing a biography in first person about her grandmother's experiences as a youth in San Bernardino from 1916-1931.

Stephen Dobyns' books include Cemetery Nights, from which the above poem was taken, Body Traffic and Velocities: New and Selected Poems. His collection of essays on poetry, Best Words, Best Order, was published in 1996.  He is also a novelist and the author of  The Church of Dead Girls. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of three NEA grants.

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Speechless Spring 2011
Copyright © 2011 Published by
Tebot Bach