Barbaric Bard

Male poets: wan as delicate orchids and tortured as preteen girls. I myself wrote poetry, but I preferred slacker rockers or just plain slackers to slackers who penned villanelles.

Were the poets all gay? Did they finally succumb to the dying of the light (or the invention of Zoloft)? I shipped off to an M.F.A. program and was shocked to find that these waxen-lipped Keatsians were dudes: Dockers, Pabst by the pitcher, braying about T.S. Eliot like they were talking football, a bizarre penchant for Bill Cosby sweaters. It was as if their manly cred was getting pansified by poesy so they added extra chips to the logs on their shoulders.

Although I pledged celibacy on arrival, my immunity to the species soon eroded and I sampled a few, from a poet who wielded his newly found Marxism like a third leg (or bemoaned the plight of the emasculated Asian male and then sidled over to you for a little tête-à-tête) to a Catholic Minnesotan who spun many a yarn about his boyhood hockey days.

But the one with the most cock to his strut was my first fling—born and raised in Iowa, looked like Skeet Ulrich with sun-kissed gold locks and a tightly coiled carpenter's body. He was also a manic-depressive who thought shrinks were for sissies: "Who needs meds when I've got this?" he'd grouse and swill his Coors. When not using his bruisey fists to dent a stained punching bag or the occasional fiction writer, he’d scrawl poems that referenced everything from Lycidas to his last lay.

Although I soon realized he was crazy as a coot, I'm nostalgic for making out in the hissing summer rain while Wu-Tang blasted from his beat-up truck, not stopping for breath even when frat boys hooted and whistled, and for when he showed me how to shoot a gun. It was a warm February morning. He lit a cigarette and watched as my reckless, city-slicker salvo pierced branches, leaves, snowy clumps, everything but the wooden plank and the dopey face we scrawled on it as a target. I remember how beautiful he looked in his plaid jacket, his tinted glasses, and his lopsided grin as he warned me where to aim the rifle (as in, not at him). After more stray shots, I finally pinged a bull’s-eye. As reward, he leaned toward me and kissed me with his warm, dry lips, while uncurling my fingers and handing me a few tiny bullets as tokens.

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