Rickey Laurentiis



Vulnerability, or Riding with Death

                         (20th century, acrylic, crayon, canvas)


       Then I could make each wound itself
An eye, a womb, a way of
        Seeing out upon
A world that did act
        Against me, yes, left some injury—

Him my harshener, my ride or

       Who I truly fuck with
I ride him from the zero’s place, all bottom,
       that I know, could
Know, this way to pretender’s seeing—
       A freedom? I mean,

I fuck with his sin, first word

       For blood, like through that canon law
Would find and did right friendship,
       Rest, pleasing repetition.
Did I know him as a music then?
       No. Call it the Law of Caught Mirrors,

Moment when, no awkwardness,

       One face faces the other and together
Seem to say I’ll make
       Some infinite, repeating more of you—that’s
True, right, that’s half a reason why
       I even care look at him, my eyes, these wounds

Of power. Attraction is

What sex claims to be. Is that it?
       But I wonder why my eyes do work
Like this, fit, attracted,
       To the shapes of things first—shape of his body,
Or how he’s some black Atlas

Shouldering that shape and me

       Calling the burden Beauty. He fine
As hell, one tongue calls another,
       Speech or intimacy,
No matter. But, trust, I’m fine myself,
       Again I am this breed

Of grammar to lie and let

       His nerve, his honesty, slip slick, servile
And hard into what mirror
       My interior holds. What we have is
The body. Is that it?
       Like my body were some ancient well

—inverted tower—Orvieto—

       No more for water than to loiter
This prayer of refuge in. Never
       Mind. I think you know the drill: Come
In. You only need take each stair, stone by stone, to travel
       Half the double helix, toward that bottom’s

Friendship, damp, maddening and deep

       As dark does go to make all shapes irrelevant.
Is it the dark, finally, the one shape
       We can know? Is it blackness? Should I
Turn up? Dare I—Why not disturb
       The lit universe? Who I fuck with isn’t so much or only

A matter that we fuck, or could—

       But that he leads me
To the root of the word
       Vulnerable, which is myself, and bid me
Kiss it. It’s possible the dark
       Does hold at once, and easily,

All simultaneity: to live; to almost die;

       Shadow and be
Dead; faith; apology; time. Let him press himself further
       On my vision. Let him
Deeper scar me though with my consent.
       Then I will know

Freedom in the shape of his body.

       How his arm swung so casually at his slick,
Most naked side becomes
       My eyes’ theatre. Him that eases me,
I truly fuck with. Is that it? I see now
       How the veins of his forearms come up

To the very surface of my seeing

       Requires kind desire ode from me.
Death is revision. That I would bray like a bucked consciousness
       And animal gold. I know
This time, afterward, he lets go his thirsty hold of me,
       Moment when

He turns away his face,

       His front entire, stretches, rises, so that his back,
The very crown of shoulders, stands
       Up, apparent, extant,
Basquiats above me, it is strength,
       Finally, not failure, not abandon, I’ll see.

How the deep melanin of his skin

        Repeats me. We are not endangered.
It is not all times true nobody knows
        My name. Once, I saw it as the cruelest joke
That I be called to him, or any man,
        When it’s been

Black men’s masks so long

       Hurt me. But look
How well the hair clevers down his jaw, above
       His lip, speech or intimacy, cuts
Against my cooing touch I say is infinite. Such I see
       It’s some hurts could be welcomed, yes,

The idea one needs,

       Or is it a question—
What would it beg you do, really, the word Freedom?



Rickey Laurentiis was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Boy with Thorn, his debut book, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His other honors include fellowships from the Lannan Literary Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Poetry Foundation and, most recently, he was named one of ten recipients of a Whiting Award. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he is the inaugural Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, University of Pittsburgh.

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