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Destruction of the Lover by Luis Panini & Lawrence Schimel; Pleiades Press, $17.95
Novelist, architect and poet Luis Panini grabs love and lust by the collar and insists we pay careful attention to his unflinching assessment of how they intertwine, overwhelm, and ultimately burn each other out. It's precious territory in "Destruction of the Lover," where carnal pleasures somehow bleed deeper into the realms of the emotional landscape of the heart. This is evidenced in poems that follow an adolescent gay man who finds himself more than enamored by the attentions of an older lover. It's a secret affair that spans the length of Panini's slim but potent volume of 41 poems.
In the opening section spotlighting the construction of love, the lover is created. Twenty-five poems intimately, intricately, and incrementally assemble the body where the heart strums, the fluids flow, and the passion simmers.
Within the confines of this illicit beachfront hotel room tryst, the boy in all of his dewy, unfettered queerness welcomes the pleasures of "one body atop another body." The lovers' intercourse is raw and naturally flavored, a playhouse where "shoulder blades can become handles" and one welcomes "this erosion of my body by your tongue."
The best part about reading this lush, associative poetry is the language in which it's delivered. The lover's body in its muscular "vascularity" becomes a sacred temple of desire for the naïve young man. Eager to engage this rite of passage, he traces the lines and grooves of the man's glossy foreskin folds and bites his clavicle. His lover, in turn, brandishes a mouth that "draws a straight line with saliva down my vertebrae." Spit and whispers are shared with the kind of urgency and thirst that are both undeniable and insuppressible in Panini's poetic world of passion.
The boy is parched for carnal experience and the lover is more than accommodating, but there are loss, disenchantment and feared abandonment crouching in their afterglow. They're the kind of emotions that squeeze in on the hopeful heart like an overzealous handshake, the kind of premature nonchalance every reader has felt at one point or another from a partner.
Infatuation cracks and falters in the final section as the base elements of attraction and carnal consummation crumble beneath the weight of unrequited expectations. "Stay with me inside this cocoon," the boy pleads as the lover, marinating in his own salty secrets, readies to leave. "Because on the other side of that door, one needs wings, stingers, and calloused extremities to defend oneself." Also on the other side of the door are the lover's other life and its devastating consequences for the boy's innocence.
Seamlessly translated Spanish into English by bilingual poet Lawrence Schimel, this homoerotic story told through prose poetry is beautifully realized and packed with emotion, longing, and the kind of truth that hurts and burns from within once the love has gone and "only the ruins remain."