“Seventh Circle of Earth”

On April 27, 2011, a gay couple, Michael Humphrey and Clayton Capshaw, was murdered by immolation in their home in Dallas, Texas.
Dallas Voice

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  1. As if my finger, / tracing your collarbone / behind closed doors, / was enough / to erase myself. To forget / we built this house knowing / it won’t last. How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands? / Another torch
  2. streams through / the kitchen window, / another errant dove. / It’s funny. I always knew / I’d be warmest beside / my man. / But don’t laugh. Understand me / when I say I burn best / when crowned / with your scent: that earth-sweat / & Old Spice I seek out each night / the days
  3. refuse me. / Our faces blackening / in the photographs along the wall. / Don’t laugh. Just tell me the story / again, / of the sparrows who flew from falling Rome, / their blazed wings. / How ruin nested inside each thimbled throat / & made it sing
  4. until the notes threaded to this / smoke rising / from your nostrils. Speak— / until your voice is nothing / but the crackle / of charred
  5. bones. But don’t laugh / when these walls collapse / & only sparks / not sparrows / fly out. / When they come / to sift through these cinders—& pluck my tongue, / this fisted rose, / charcoaled & choked / from your gone
  6. mouth. / Each black petal / blasted / with what’s left / of our laughter. / Laughter ashed / to air / to honey to baby / darling, / look. Look how happy we are / to be no one / & still
  7. American.

“Seventh Circle of Earth” comes from Ocean Vuong’s book Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Thank you to Copper Canyon Press, who published the book, and to Ocean for letting us use his poem.

This poem was originally read in the Poetry Unbound episode “A Poem for Tenderness in the Face of Violence.”

Reflections