Richard Siken’s Poems of Obsession and Love

Selected by Nobel Prize laureate and competition judge Louise Glück as the 2004 winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize, Richard Siken’s Crush is a powerful collection of poems driven by obsession and love.

His poetry is confessional, gay, savage, and charged with violent eroticism. In the world of American poetry, Siken’s voice is striking.

We celebrate Pride Month 2024 with a selection of excerpts by LGBTQ+ authors in the Yale Series of Younger Poets—the longest-running poetry prize in the United States.

—Richard Siken

Little Beast


An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.

         The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night

is thinking. It’s thinking of love.

                                                        It’s thinking of stabbing us to death

and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.

         That’s a nice touch, stains in the night, whiskey and kisses for everyone.

Tonight, by the freeway, a man eating fruit pie with a buckknife

         carves the likeness of his lover’s face into the motel wall. I like him

and I want to be like him, my hands no longer an afterthought.


Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.

         I’m sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.


History repeats itself. Somebody says this.

                   History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,

over the sock drawer with its socks, its hidden letters.

                                                         History is a little man in a brown suit

         trying to define a room he is outside of.

I know history. There are many names in history

                                                                           but none of them are ours.


He had green eyes,

                                     so I wanted to sleep with him—

         green eyes flecked with yellow, dried leaves on the surface of a pool—

You could drown in those eyes, I said.

                                                                                       The fact of his pulse,

the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire

         not to disturb the air around him.

Everyone could see the way his muscles worked,

                                    the way we look like animals,

                                                                 his skin barely keeping him inside.

                   I wanted to take him home

and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his

         like a crash test car.

                                               I wanted to be wanted and he was

very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving.

         You could drown in those eyes, I said,

                                                                           so it’s summer, so it’s suicide,

so we’re helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.


It wasn’t until we were well past the middle of it

         that we realized

the old dull pain, whose stitched wrists and clammy fingers,

                                                                      far from being subverted,

had only slipped underneath us, freshly scrubbed.

                            Mirrors and shop windows returned our faces to us,

              replete with the tight lips and the eyes that remained eyes

                                                        and not the doorways we had hoped for.

His wounds healed, the skin a bit thicker than before,

         scars like train tracks on his arms and on his body underneath his shirt.


We still groped for each other on the backstairs or in parked cars

                                                                                    as the roads around us

grew glossy with ice and our breath softened the view through a glass

             already laced with frost,

but more frequently I was finding myself sleepless, and he was running out of


But damn if there isn’t anything sexier

                                   than a slender boy with a handgun,

                                                                             a fast car, a bottle of pills.


What would you like? I’d like my money’s worth.

                                    Try explaining a life bundled with episodes of this—

         swallowing mud, swallowing glass, the smell of blood

on the first four knuckles.

                                                     We pull our boots on with both hands

but we can’t punch ourselves awake and all I can do

              is stand on the curb and say Sorry

                                                  about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.

I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.

From Crush by Richard Siken. Published by Yale University Press in 2005. Reproduced with permission.

Richard Siken is cofounder and editor of the literary magazine spork. He received two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, two Lannan Residency Fellowships, and a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recent Posts

All Blogs