Word and Object and Other Poems

 
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R. A. Briggs

Art by Liz Collins

 
 

Word and Object

Asleep beside me, she ran her tongue along my name,
ignoring the salt of me, tasting only my name.

Robot voice for the bank, disconnected signal for an ex-friend:
tones that ring and ring when you dial my deadname.

In his dream, he fondles bear Santa and gropes ponyboy Pegasus,
ghostly bodies firm beneath their taut, empty names.

We could not tell the morning star from the evening star
unless, losing our bearings, we split the one sky into many names.

Rachael downs her last drink, grabs her coat, and kisses the hostess,
but the party’s not over. Not til I say my name.

With what crowbar would you pry the carpenter’s intent from the table?
Who will hone the shears to prune the rose from its name?

August pleasures: Mouth. Peach. Ice cubes. The chill in
our Netflix: Call Me By Your Name.

Her death poked a hole in the world. Now
we feel the draught in the house. A new silence in her name.

When I smell your brand of tobacco, the memories lope toward me
like so many dogs answering to the same name.

Some nights, sickened by the void of his own ignorance,
he studies mathematics by the candle of a name.

Gazing off to infinity in a single direction,
Ray meditates on the descriptive power of names.

 
 

The Logic of Denial

When I was 15, Mom decried the dangers of cybersex.
Throughout COVID-19, I keep myself safe through cybersex.

The house always wins, but I use tricks to cheat: a vaccine
for HPV, PREP, testing, trusting, talking, latex, cybersex.

In dreams, I reach through the video chat screen
with bionic hands, lab-grown tongue, and robocock for cybersex.

For the tenth time, I wash my hands and wipe my phone clean.
I call my lover and piss loudly. Open your mouth for cybersex.

The same carpet underfoot. My bare skin craves a new scene.
As in movie. As in dungeon. As in music. As in cybersex.

If cryptography is king of mathematics, network theory is queen.
Half-dressed in harem pants, I service her with cybersex.

Deny me, Daddy Death, Daddy Disease. I mean
indulge me, please. ray dares not beg for touch, but begs for cybersex.

 
 

Where do you keep an absence?

There was nothing erotic about those binder lumps, “my” “chest.”
There’s nothing as erotic as these pink scars across my chest.

Picture this: at the queer orgy, you vibrate with pleasure.
A parti boi licks a popsicle, grins, then tongues your chest.

Her neck tastes of salt and hunger. I sail down her body,
hoping to drown in the billows of her chest.

As you count backward from ten, your thoughts unpaint themselves.
You resurrect as a Magritte, empty sky in place of chest.

The surgeon was a poet, merciless in her revisions.
Through lidocaine, the scalpel etched red lines in my chest.

To raid nature’s blueprints for treasure is piracy.
The body’s captain perches smug atop his chest.

My tattoo is code for “God can go fuck himself.”
I breathe slowly as the needle penetrates my chest.

When his lover runs a finger along his fresh scars,
the ghost of his pain crackles in their chest.

Some days, I can’t decide whether to damn men, weep for their bodies,
or fix everything by hollering orders and pounding my chest.

Did it hurt, Ray, to cut off part of yourself? Yes, like the aftermath of a beating
when the top rubs your cane marks, and peels the duct tape off your chest.

 

Spring / Summer 2024



R.A. Briggs

R.A. Briggs is a professor of philosophy at Stanford University, cohost of the syndicated radio show Philosophy Talk, and the author of two poetry collections, Free Logic and Common Sexual Fantasies, Ruined. They’re also a queer enby who loves math, poetry, and dogs.



Liz Collins

Liz Collins received her MFA from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and has had solo exhibitions at CANDICE MADEY gallery, the Tang Teaching Museum, and Knoxville Museum of Art, among others. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New Museum, Leslie Lohman Museum, and the Drawing Center (all in NY), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, ICA Boston, the Addison Gallery of American Art, National Gallery of Art (DC), and the 2024 Venice Biennale. Her honors include a USA Fellowship, Anonymous Was A Woman Fellowship and residencies at Civitella Ranieri Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo, Haystack, and STONELEAF. A mid-career retrospective is scheduled in 2025 at the RISD Museum.



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