Above One’s Bend

To be butchered between the banks 
of North & South Bend & Black Lives 
Matter asked her to suspend 
her campaign. What would she say, 
Genghis from the Land of 1,000 Lakes? 
 
Perish the wilderness—Laura Ingalls 
Wilder’s wildness. After we burn 
down the homestead we can pitch 
a fire inside the house. He’s like a stevedore—
a man who can really handle his cargo, 
 
or a pink-fringed pony setting 
all of the Middle West to wonder: 
“Is that fruit a fucking queer?” 
Liberace, ace-in-the-hole.
The ballgag shows he means business—
 
& with sailors for sale or rent, what exactly 
is the wellspring of your hesitation?
Don’t be a stranger around the bend, 
Lone Ranger. Your belt buckle as far 
as the eye can breathe, the penumbral curve 
 
of the rain shadow—a geometry 
more abstemious than the tongue 
can inaugurate if trained only on Guthrie 
& Cash. What can you do, though, 
when the plastics bloom from your body 
 
like a cactus tree? A drop of hogwash, 
a dash of hornswoggle never hurt nobody. 
Call me Lord Lushington—I gotta paint 
my nose—before I acknowledge the corn,
before eating any peck of trouble pie.
 
Jarred full on corn-fed Indian mysticism—
as when the pale-faces conjured fish 
from the ground & planted their crucifixes 
in sleepy Comanche chests. Bottle’s empty 
save for the worm. Swallow it!


Image: Untitled (cowboy), Richard Prince / The Met.

Author’s Note

Mining a deep cultural archive of homoerotic imagery in the American frontier, our collaborative project responds to iconography of the Gay Cowboy, pulling from and critiquing material spanning multiple decades and forms—from Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys to folk ballads and Orville Peck’s Pony, from whitewashed fantasias of prairie life to the contemporary political landscape of the Rust Belt. On this latter point, we wrote “Above One’s Bend” while both living in South Bend, Indiana—which is located on the traditional homelands of the Myaamiaki and Pokégnek Bodéwadmik peoples. Putting our heads together, we tried to make sense of the depiction of the Midwest peddled by presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar and our former mayor Pete Buttigieg. We were struck, for instance, by the disparity between the reality of our “bent” lives and the corporatist neoliberalism Mayor Pete embodies, the violent enforcement of which has been borne overwhelmingly by Black and Brown people; our poem hopes to contribute to the chorus of productive critique aimed at such policies that has been sustained by the South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter, our dear friend poet-scholar Chamara Moore, and The Root‘s Michael Harriot, among others.

Taking on a seemingly inexhaustible physical and historical landscape, from the era of Manifest Destiny to the present, as our backdrop and compositional field, our collection includes experiments with various established collaborative forms and newly invented ones. In so doing, we map the lyrical terrain of a mythically limitless frontier. All of which is handled with our “dairy queen” brand of camp humor.

About the author

Brandon Menke is a poet and Ph.D. candidate in English at Yale, where he writes about lyric form, regionalist aesthetics, and networks of queer intimacy in American literature and visual art in the twentieth century. Jahan Khajavi writes “wildly amusing & explicit queer poetry” (Vogue) & holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. Brandon received his MFA from NYU, and he has served as an editor for Palimpsest and Washington Square Review. Recent poems by Jahan can be found or are forthcoming in 14poems, Split Lip, Baest, & the Foglifter anthology Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart. Brandon is currently a Graduate Fellow at The Yale Review, and Jahan is currently assisting friend & designer F Taylor Colantonio in his fabulous Roman studio. Other collaborative gay cowboy poems appear in Denver Quarterly.

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