The Friday Poem: ‘Release’ by Chris Tse

New verse by Wellington writer Chris Tse.

Release

Not before I stir you
from your sleep, and ask whether
this is the last time I’ll see you
before you hop that plane
for Sydney. We’ll hold
each other, cheek to cheek,
when we both hear
the answer.

Not before you slip
on your trousers, hunt for your wallet
and down a glass of water.
The city slept in your eyes
last night, traces of its troubles
linger in your morning sigh.
You’ll be groggy but gorgeous,
your unkempt beard diligently framing
the gentle smile of a boy borrowed
from the stars. You make it so hard,
you know—this letting go.

But not before we embrace, kiss
deeply in my bedroom, the kitchen,
and twice on the street outside
my apartment building.
(Before you, I had neither
the chance nor the courage to kiss a guy
in public. In the Botanic Gardens
just weeks earlier, metres
from an audience,
you asked, Can I steal a kiss
or are you being spied on?
I told you I didn’t care
who might be watching.)
On this particular morning
the construction site across the road
will be all steel and no music.
The sky will mock us with its clarity.

And not before a day
of blank expressions, stumbling
through the mediocrity
of PowerPoint and strategic objectives,
returning home to
duvet, sheets and pillows
hastily abandoned
and finally finding the time
to cry.

Not before I gather up
and wash the bedding.
But not the pillow cases—
they’ll still hold your scent
for a few hours more. Later that night
I will pull the pillows close
and cry again, embarrassed
at my reaction to the expanse
of bed left to me.
The heart is heaviest
when it is empty
when a lover has removed himself
from every fold and corner.

And not before I lose half a day
rewriting an email
a dozen times over before trashing it,
then waiting for a text or a call
from you to say you’ve changed
your mind—you’ll stay
in this faraway city of mine
with your unnecessary hiking boots.
I’ll put aside my aversion to camping
and together we could find
a time and place for them.

But my city isn’t chaotic enough for you
and I will always hate dirt and camping.
There are adventures for you to collect
on other full-moon nights and you have
your life to write
elsewhere.

The books by my bed
will still tell me beautiful lies and
every passing song will fill my head
with the empty spaces of you—
even the dance songs (especially
the dance songs).

And then
there is the song you have taken
from me, replaced with poems
that mean nothing to anyone else.
I try to sing every syllable
of your name, to fill the room once again
with what was always temporary.
But yours is a name
I cannot release. To do so would
fool me into thinking
you’re still within reach.


From HE’S SO MASC by Chris Tse (Auckland University Press, $29.99), available from Unity Books

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