Greg Wrenn is a young man with an old soul; he has surely passed this way a number of times before. And he has stored the memory of each life within his cells: these poems are formed from an intelligence that emanates as much from the body as it does from the mind. How sharp the pains and joys remain in the tranquillity of the lyric utterance is a testament to the care and precision that Wrenn takes in forming each line, in striking the balance between the shock of the word and its transformation into flesh. He makes a true faith of the ecstatic, building his cathedral of eros and death, stings and caresses. In haunting dramatic monologues of doubt (St. Thomas), grief (Mary in the frieze of the Pietá) and the complex admixture of desire and cruelty (the biblical Reuben on his younger brother Joseph), Wrenn guides us through the darkest circles, a Virgil, a Beatrice, and a bit of a Jerry Springer all rolled into one vatic voice. I feel that I am learning poetry anew at the dark end of this cul de sac, where terror and pleasure preside equally over one American family.

D. A. Powell


To the Virus 

You slept for seven years 
underneath cotton sheets. 

You slept for seven 
years, wake to far-off thunder, 
a kettle’s faint cry. 

Your mouth is parched, ringed 
with teeth like a lamprey. 

You were afloat with reverie 
now the hard floor is yours. 

Why did you choose 
these rooms 
at the end of a cul-de-sac? 


Sweetly he appeared 
        to me with a gash under 
his nipple. Suddenly the slit 
        I had desired to thrust into. 

Only he saw me entering 
        him, eagerly, with my finger. 
—How could I stop myself? Ecstasy, 
how I’ve made a faith of you. 

Reuben on Joseph 

I should have snuffed him out 
in his crib. Instead, through the bars, 
I often pinched him. 
He was to be my baby, no one else’s, 
and know that 
he couldn’t pinch back. 

In the backyard, underneath the birdbath, 
there’s a pit that’s my cistern. 
Don’t ask me how. 
I want a deeper one, hidden 
by the camellias, the begonias, 
not for rain 
but to put him in. 
They’ll think he’s dead and mourn. 

Late afternoons, pretending I’m fetching 
water for my tub, I’ll go feed him. 
Brush his hair. Stick his chained paw 
with a scissor, which I’ll have used 
for laryngeal surgery: 
he won’t be able to cry out. 
And I’ll read him 
erotic stories, Bobbsey Twins, 
Hardy Boys. I’ll trace my 
cursive L’s, uppercase, 
on his flat stomach to impress him, 
keeping him awake 
so he can’t play possum, leaving me. 

I’ll show him what I learned 
in the Okefenokee—I went there with a boy 
collecting plants that catch flies 
in their sticky little mouths. 
When we were slogging alone, the kid breathed 
warmly into the crotch of my pants. 
I stopped beside a cypress. Then 
bit back. Later, on my stomach, 
the stirring, it felt familiar. 

Before the first lesson, if he resists, 
I’ll dig my nails into his throat 
but not deeply: 
the tissue will be tender 
from the stitches. I’ll put spit 
on my ears and his 
to cool them, we’ll be angry and hot. 
(I’ve found it stops the ticks 
from burrowing there and talking 
in feminine voices, calling me gay— 
I hear things.) 
Then we’ll be ready. I wonder 
what I’ll think about, my mouth 
on his nape. 

        I’m not ashamed 
I dislike him. I have every right. 
Once he followed me silently 
down the driveway to the leaf-choked gutter. 
Water was rushing against the curb 
of the cul-de-sac, spilling into the street. 
Facing me, at the edge of the stream, 
he took my left hand into his and kissed it, 
as if I were a princess about to board 
a swan boat. I felt close to him, loved; 
we kicked the wet debris 
and laughed until our sitter called us inside. 
He hasn’t kissed me since. 
He’ll never stand above me at night 
to stare at my sleeping 
body and record what I say in my sleep. 


I believe in your stubble 
against my cheek. 

And the margarine swaths 
of light around your eyes. 

You’re a raccoon 
staring into flashlights. 

They stroke their beams 
over your stiff fur 

and linger where your oils 
have slicked it flat. 

—My bouncing baby boy, 
we’re alone in muggy air. 

Why wear a rag at your hips? 
Why cry crocodile tears? 

It’s to no avail. 
John holds your other side 

but looks away, exhaling grief, 
inhaling, the sound of 

a rabbit biding its time 
in a snowy field. Your father 

can’t see us 
beyond those firs, 

where the canal slows 
to a standstill into a pool 

of grace: that would be 
the end of illusion, of pretense, 

the fire-retardant curtains opening 
to reveal the patio and its ficus. 

At last the romper 
drawn up off the mother. 

Pleasure divested 
of its humiliating story. 

I’ll lower us into the shallows, 
shooing away any manatees 

any dancing larvae. 
I’ll watch you wrinkle. 

The Ray 

In the center of his still-life, 
the gutted ray hung on a hook. 
The underside was a bloodstained 

door, the mouth almost 
pleased. He wanted to forget 
everything he had seen. All he had done.