Mr. Africa Poetry Lounge!

The Tattooed Man

I gaze at you,
longing longing,
as from a gilt
and scarlet cage;
silent, speak
your name, cry-
Love me.
To touch you, once
to hold you close-
My jungle arms,
their prized chimeras,
appall. You fear
the birds-of-paradise
perched on my thighs.

Oh to break through,
to free myself-
lifer in The Hole-
from servitude
I willed. Or was
it evil circumstance
that drove me to seek
in strangeness strange
Born alien,
homeless everywhere,
did I, then, choose
having no other choice?

Hundreds have paid to gawk at me-
grotesque outsider whose
unnaturalness assures them they
are natural, they indeed
But you but you,
for whom I would
endure caustic acids,
keenest knives-
you look at me with pain,
avert your face,
love's own,
ineffable and pure
and not for gargoyle
kisses such as mine.

Da Vinci's Last Supper-
a masterpiece
in jewel colors
on my breast
(I clenched my teeth in pain;
all art is pain
suffered and outlived);
gryphons, naked Adam
embracing naked Eve,
a gaiety of imps
in cinnabar;
the Black Widow
peering from the web
she spun, belly to groin-
These that were my pride
repel the union of
your flesh with mine.

I yearn I yearn.
And if I dared
the agonies
of metamorphosis,
would I not find
you altered then?
I do not want
you other than you are.
And I-I cannot
(will not?) change.
It is too late
for any change
but death.
I am I.

Written by Robert Hayden (1913-1980)


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