607: Chelsea Piers

607: Chelsea Piers

607: Chelsea Piers


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I have been thinking, lately, of the phrase Public Love. The way a relationship turns from a private or secret or even unacknowledged thing and then blooms into something everyone might see.

Just recently a friend of mine posted pictures of himself and his new love looking so happy that it actually made my heart bounce a little. Everyone was congratulating him on his new boyfriend and how loved and contented he seemed. It felt like getting good mail after a sea of bills and bad news. Everything is hard, but look, someone is in love!

But I cannot think of the idea of Public Love without thinking of how many lovers throughout history have had to keep their love secret. We think we’ve evolved, but let me tell you, if you come to Pride week in Lexington, Kentucky you’ll see a whole lot of people who have never felt safe being who they truly are, openly, freely. It’s a gorgeous thing to behold, but it also gives you a lot of perspective in terms of public love, and fear of harm.

My friend once described Provincetown, Cape Cod to me like this: Imagine your whole life, there’s been one or two places in town where you can be yourself. One bar, maybe two. And then you come to P’Town and you can be yourself in the whole entire town. I loved that description but it was also a good lesson on how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go as a country.

I’ve watched my friends unlink hands in public. I’ve watched couples sit apart or decide not to kiss, based on who is watching. What is safe and not safe is not for us to decide in a culture that's obsessed with what's considered deviant or wrong. This heteromaniacal culture. There’s a reason why we are more likely to see violence on TV than sex. We can see people literally torn in pieces by a machine gun, but show a nipple and the world flips out. There’s a reason why public love isn’t easy.

In today’s stunning poem, we watch as a romantic evening turns into an evening that is suddenly carrying the weight of history. One of the reasons I love this poem is that it focuses in on a small gesture — a gesture towards Public Love. And when that gesture is rejected, we see everything all at once.

Chelsea Piers
by Joseph O. Legaspi

My lover and I stroll down the piers,

post pescetarian dinner, in midsummer.

He points to the moon, veiled by clouds.

The Hudson River murmurs soft waves.

Across, the buildings glitter like theater.

Our arms damp, lamps lend themselves

to fantasy of the last two men on earth.

But as I reach for his hand, he pulls it

away, looks hurriedly around. Suddenly

I stand awash in brutal history, periphery

of sanctuary and danger. We are those

punished for our affections. The silent

seagulls disguised as larks. His denial

plunges silver-finned into the river. 

"Chelsea Piers" by Joseph O. Legaspi, from THRESHOLD by Joseph O. Legaspi, copyright © 2017. Used by permission of CavanKerry Press