Some days, pedicures are more important than poems. Ask the speaker of Dean Atta’s “There’s Something Wrong with the Conditions”, who wants to make his feet supple and worthy of a good ravage: there’s a man, you see, who wants to kiss him, crown to toetip, a man smitten with him, and in the face of that, can’t a poem be written the day after?
Here’s what I like best about this piece: it’s no varnished version of reality. In it, we open strikingly, moribundly, with worms trying to escape the compost. Is it really Death, though, cradling the skull of this poem? The maggots, vehicles of decay, are fleeing the compost, not luxuriating in it. It isn’t always the grand, crashing waves of poesie that makes us want to commit to the act of living. Sometimes, honey, it’s a gorgeous man.
It’s the deep end of the pool, this human longing: nothing’s shallow about it. Atta makes the longing and elation plain, in short and bold declarations: “Did I miss a cruder implication / or should I take it literally? / I am besotted. He is smitten. / This is floaty and fantastic.” Oh, how we live with our hearts in our mouths for moments like this, no matter how much high art we’ve made and consumed.
Oh, the last lines of this poem: the frantic, panicked repetition of “something wrong”, percussing the soft brain tissue. See the way the poem ends unpunctuated, trailing into a void of unknowing. Darling, that’s where the maggots live. Darling, that’s the brink you pull yourself away from, day after heartbreaking day. It’s only fair that it’s not always the poem that saves you. Don’t be afraid to reach for the nail varnish, the Tinder app, the whatever it is that keeps you here, incandescent, breathing.
Read “There’s Something Wrong with the Conditions” here.
Dean Atta’s first book of poems, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize.
This is the twenty-forth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.