Whipped cover


Rickey Laurentiis

Copyright © 2013 Rickey Laurentiis. All rights reserved.


It isn’t enough:
the cemeteries, the stones
in which the beloveds
are scratched into memory; and even where
there is water beneath the earth are
the mausolea,
the pitched-roof tombs, not enough.
Give us more,
we say: the living, who desire.
I remember
when we ate of each other our sticky flesh,
as if we were two
men who could do that, two
little Christs.
Here’s my body,
you said. Do this, in remembrance of me.
Here’s my heart, I said. Just
do it.

Ghazal for the Centaur

Come boy He says To the teacher  The tenor
of his voice half-thunder half-tender
My feet as if haunted  My feet as if chained
My feet made their purpose  These tendrils
To the edge  To the point where end-of-the-field
means start-of-the-woods  To that tension
Where end-of-the-woods meets lip-of-the-river
To the curve of that lip  His lips and the tension
Who saw him first in the shade  By the water
Who saw the flood in that centaur’s attention
A centaur made different  With his two human legs
The beast hid inside him  Half-thunder half-tender
(Like a beast thought in me)  As what my father said:
Rickey, a man with a man is a monster

Black Iris


Dark, imposing flesh. Darker still
its center, like the tongue of
a cow that has for a week now been
dead, spent during calf-birth, and the calf
still clinging to her, and his own tongue
wild for want of milk, and the calf
with flies in his eyes—that color: near-to-
purple, bruised.  I should call it
beautiful, or beauty itself, this dark
room, broom closet, this nigger-dot.
I should want to fit into it, stand up in it,
rest, as would any beast inside a stable.
I should want to own it, force it mine,
to know it is my nature, and of
course don’t I? Why shouldn’t I want?
Black mirror. Space delicate
and cracked. Now anything could
go in there: a fist, veined, fat.
A body. And here runs the blood
through the body, deep, watery.
And here runs the message in the blood:
This is it—fuck her fag like you’re supposed to.
And when the wind shakes
and when the iris shakes in it,
the lips of the flower shaping
to the thing that invades it, that will be
me, there, shaking, my voice shaking,
like the legs of the calf, who—out of
fear? out of duty?—is sitting by his dead mother
because what else will he do, what else
has he? Because a voice outside him makes him.

Carnal Knowledge

I watched him, silent, beside me, take
the rotten earth into his mouth,
and, sober, with little shame, chew . . .
In that altar between the gums of his teeth and his
teeth, he worked the many tired leaves
of it, downed, until it went ghost, not a thing
at all really, or only liquid now: earth
streaming from his lips, redone in bright
terrible braids, pairs of them, and spat
into a jar that could’ve been like prayer itself:
how faith can be that one container, bare-breasted,
which holds. I watched him, growing out
to the heat of it, like a root. And though I know
this has something to do with power, I ignore it,
for once being the thing that only looks at
eyes open, mouth ready, pregnant with the burn.


As when a word lifts unexpectedly
   or implodes—
you had meant to say maelstrom but now
interposed between you and the open world,
male storm (no one would think to give a sex
to it, so were unready)—that was its arrival,
that didn’t act as one sheet but gathered
separately as flames around some common matter:
call it a heart, make this a Catholic scene, only the thorns
are missing unless they lie, like everything else,
beneath this oil-slicked water now risen now ignited, as we are
ignited—like faggots thrown at the sinner’s feet
as he shakes, as he shouts It was only for love, as when all words abandon . . .

King of Shade, King of Scorpions

Then it was cold, like small and selfish
teeth, then it was rude, like a poison, and that
was your voice, wasn’t it, and that
was the thrust of your voice taking up my own,
as any boy takes up his kite, in the village,
in the sheep-ring he manages, as the god that will
swoop down and take him. Weren’t these the days
of abduction, after all, not rape? When to prove
your devotion insisted a theft of some kind: tear way
the boy-flesh, the boy-bone, and there it is:
the solid, red muscle, the thrush, thrumming in its strict
and freakish shade. To know it, you had to
claim it; claim it, break it. The god penetrated,
with his raw antenna. You moved in me, like prayer.

Brought to Water

Of the half-sunken barge where life
has taken root, I know the moral: where waste
something can be profited, that for nature
there is no waste. Only opportunity. That’s the charge
granted us, early in the garden, before
we ducked behind the elephant ear to hide our nakedness.
The first charge, at least. And a second:
that we’d never forget. I know that all I realize is
derivative of a love. That everything I possibly know
won’t eliminate what I don’t: Why parade
this gross beauty in our faces? Why make livable
the bones of the men who must have embraced
the night the barge slipped under? Forgive me, Father.
You made me human. That means I have an ego.
That means I can’t find solace in this tree
that now commands this ship, its branches stretched
and twisted as your love, although they also,
like the bones, make me choke.


First the bees, the flowers go, then the world . . .
This the way it happens,
isn’t it? Not invisibly, per se, but working so
so much with an animal’s
The way it always happens,
    really, when considered:
how even the fiery times, crucifixions, wars
  all start some ages ago, and quietly,
with a ruffle in the crown-state,
a crack in the heart’s fine under-board.
     The invisible, I think,
is not as much beyond our vision,
     as ignored by it.
Though this isn’t exactly the song I’d meant to sing—
had dutifully dutifully rehearsed—
I meant to tell you:
I get it; I hate—but I understand it; and yes
   I’ll miss that sweet thick shining taste.


Split empty, drilled, filled not just with grief
but an urge for it, a calm simple mouth:
Look what a thing I’ve become.
  But when it happened,
when the tearing first landed, it was happiness that seized me,
little conqueror, colonizer . . .
  When it happened,
an arrow bending down, was a knowledge sated me:
I was chosen; I could fit this blood—
 You touched me (pleasure-knowledge).
Said I made you hard (knowledge-pain).
I let. I opened.
My body less a body, more the wounds I found blooming in its flesh,
each its own gentle sainthood, a readiness for death.

Take it Easy

That the light stalks your skin,
no, that your skin makes it: a radiating
hum, jive, a freedom, a beehive
packed just as much with honey as does it
hazard; also, a balm for where the sting sits,
a treaty, country upon which I first laid
my claim, but was usurped; where
carefully do I move to cross it again. Now
here come my lips to it, pink over your body’s
good bark. Now here is my mouth, entire.
I’m scared of you, baby, it says, scared like a god
is of his faithful, and like the faithful. Light
-struck. Delighted. Terrorstruck. Come, lift up
your gates, your countenance spread like a lily upon me:
whip me, I am so whipped. These are my eyes.


My thanks to the editors of the following journals and periodicals where some of these poems have appeared (sometimes in different form): “Black Iris” in Vinyl, “Carnal Knowledge” in Muzzle Magazine, “Faggot” in Knockout Literary Magazine, “Ghazal for the Centaur” in Sarah Lawrence Review, “King of Shade, King of Scorpions” in Maggy, “Stung” in Feminist Studies, and “Take it Easy” in The Feminist Wire.

Rickey Laurentiis
Author photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Rickey Laurentiis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a Chancellor’s Fellowship from Washington University in St Louis, where he is completing his MFA. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, Feminist Studies, Indiana Review, jubilat, Oxford American, and Poetry.