Into Human Bondage
When the walls of your bedroom split apart
and that dark figure beckoned from the cleft
to you who knelt there¾shivering, naked¾
aware as never before of the abyss
that underlies the world of consciousness¾
how could I not wonder when you told me:
what was more broken: your mind or my heart?
Everything seemed so real, of course, and was,
I suppose, at least in a certain sense,
made clearer by the crystal you were on…
Either that, or the head cleaning solvent
that you found had such a frightening effect¾
visions of evil compressed in a can¾
and was so aptly named: Maximum Impact.
I look at that sinister canister
now, having taken it away from you,
and have to wonder why our fierce pleasure
and its memory¾pent up in the body,
released with force¾shouldn't also be
labelled Caution: Contents Under Pressure.
It was only later that I realized¾
much later, in fact, after we'd split up¾
how much of what we were together was,
or had become, my own bad habit that I needed
to break. It hit me in that club we'd gone
to months before: the one where you danced alone
and then inexplicably disappeared
¾so totally fucked up and so blind drunk
in the end that you stumbled into a cab
and headed home because you thought I’d left.
(Which wouldn't have happened, of course, as you
later complained, if I'd been watching out
for you the way I should have been.) I heard
my fault in all of this obsessively
described one night in the words of the latest
hit impelling me onto the dance floor¾
I'm addicted to you. I'm addicted
to you. I'm addicted to you…¾and lost
myself in the lyrics as the crowd swelled.
That's what it was like: being in a trance
and all carried away by the impulse
of movement, and not wanting it to stop,
even though, if I turned up the drama,
I knew you were the worst thing for me
when all was said and done. Because, over
and over, in brutally honest ways,
you kept making me confront the utter
impossibility of our being
together, and what my constant desire
for this said about the complicated
nature of my heart: that obstinate thing
within me that thrived as it was beaten.
As I look at it now in retrospect—
my eyes all over your thrilling body
as the dilated pupils of yours consume
some fucking video in your spare room—
the end was there, implicit from the start,
just as it was in those late-night classic
affairs that we'd watch drowsily sometimes:
the ill-starred lovers rehashing their fates,
the pain in their sad lives leaping off the screen.
That's just the way it was—as if destined
to be—the night you lay there beside me
unresponsively asleep and I watched
the story unfold, in plain old black and white,
that weirdly seemed to mirror my own life.
Poor Philip Carey and his love-hobbled heart’s
descent into human bondage! “You keep
looking for him,” he says in a moment
of sudden insight, “the way that I keep
looking for you.” How could I not be struck
by all the stark parallels in our scripts?
Lines like: “If you want a man to be nice
to you you've got to be rotten to him.”
and—with its haunting contrast of voices—
“There's usually one who loves and one who
What more is there to say, really?
You’ve taken another apartment now
and, in our different ways, we've both moved on.
Still, so much of what happened between us
lingers somewhere in me, and various
scenes and images keep coming oddly
back. Like that one afternoon when you left—
you were headed off to work—and I watched
as you walked through the yard, your devoted
dog following joyfully on your heels.
That's all. Only, after you disappeared
he wouldn't come, but just sat there instead,
impatiently waiting at the garage.
I called and called and called, then called again,
but it was no use. And then I recalled
how excited he always became
when he saw he was going out. And so,
sad beast, when I showed him his leash he came,
and we both went in.
A native of Chicago, Richard Johns now lives, with his boyfriend of many years, in a small town on the far western fringe of that lovely city’s metropolitan sprawl. Three widely unavailable chapbooks bear his name: 2000 Poems, Hollywood Beach, and Explicit Lyrics: Poems. He sometimes checks his inbox at: firstname.lastname@example.org.