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The Names of Famous Beaches by Kay Gabriel

Dear Jo—

What do I have to say that Liz Phair didn’t, or my anxiolytics? I started writing you this letter in a California suburb, except for the vegetation and the high winds it could’ve been anywhere, like the non-place of an airport mall. Actually I think we were next to LAX. Anywhere was a delivery coming in overhead, and the office buildings: Siemens, for instance, World Courier Inc., and Air One Logistics, Air Sea Forwarders, Plexis Freight, Las Lilas Coffee, and a 24-hour Ralph’s, where I walked through the aisles and read the back of the cereal boxes at night, hoping to catch my own appetite. Who says you can’t be a flâneur in LA—the cocoa puffs agree, I’m the center of this stoplight town, I’ve arrived but nobody knows it! I must remember to fire my publicist. Stephen speaks convincingly about Los Angeles, he says Santa Monica and it means something, to me it’s just the names of famous beaches.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this whole past summer I wrote Dear Jo, I wrote it into other poems, I wrote it even when I wasn’t writing you a letter and what I meant was get me out. Then Danny loaded me up in his car to watch the sunset plug the divots in Silver Lake. I’m a little snack in shorts, daddy’ taking me to get a new leather something, this old choker

I got from a boy in Chicago who I know won’t stop bragging about it but I wouldn’t kiss him anyways, you’re the Chicagoan I would. Danny drove into the city and I slept in his car until the playlist flipped over to “Summertime Sadness.” I think you like Lana more than I do—while I write this sentence, the morning before I’ll see you, blond Bechdel, an Acker brat finally at home on the Lower East Side, she wafts onto the radio: will you still love me, etc. I’ll credit the song everything it wants. You look like what the song wants to look like, Danny said, noticing a photo of me in the same shorts and choker leaning on a corrugated metal barn. I imagine having long hair to pile on top of a delicate mannequin face. Am I plastic enough for this plastic spot? We like Joni about the same, another Californian by design, and I like Spicer, for whom California isn’t a choice but a long, inevitable grave. I like his letters especially, obsessive, reaching through a post office to brush Jim Alexander on his birthday. Dear Jo. I’m impressed with your precocious youth. Are you impressed with mine? Last night I dreamt about entering my credit score—I fudged the numbers high enough to fake it, adolescent no more. Will you love me when I’m as mature as my pleasant lies?

This week everybody’s got something to say about pleasure and permissiveness, and the city, and who it’s for. Yesterday I thought about the Club Kids appearing on Geraldo but today I’m thinking about the Sex Series that David Wojnarowicz made in 1989. I think David wasn’t an especially technical photographer but Sex Series involved a series of darkroom tricks to produce prints that look like photographic negatives: a water tower, the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, a train speeding around a curve shot from above, like if Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon huddled on a cliff in the southwest with a Kodak, logistics, movement and storage in space. Each print’s got a stamp of a contact image, a circular inset burnt onto the photo paper, mostly men undressed and fucking, lifted from the collection of a dead friend. David wrote about making the series to keep him company: putting fuck poems on the wall. 

Could I disagree, washing in the varnish of what I do best? I want to kiss before hyperbole—that’s more than a feeling. In June I backed my boyfriend into a rail yard, piled his cock out of his jeans and jerked him off between the freight cars, on a bed of shale. I guess I don’t really know from rocks, or decency, but you and Liz know what I mean. We tightened in on each other, flush in case a window we couldn’t see cut through the canopy behind us. Did I mention the L train going by, or the cemetery behind it? We stopped close enough to see the graveside decorations, pink and plastic, and then his cock stood over the hem of his clothes plump and upright like a water tower. If I’d drained it then and there I’d have kept a desert town in beverages for weeks. I put my free hand on the small of his back, pressing with a couple fingers into the top of the muscles on his ass. Will he arch his back for me? I couldn’t tell, then he started to buck and whimper. Through an eyes-closed kiss I felt his blood pulse through the head of his cock, as if, had he climaxed right then, that’s the fluid that would’ve slathered us both.

You know? I feel as gratified as if I’d finished too. A week later Canada took him back, and I started writing you letters I never sent, not even sleeping in the next room in Logan Square. Dear Jo. I think what I’m trying to say is I’d glam up with you before a hyperbolic event. I’m trying to throw my body at you, on a gurney of verbs, on a train in 1973. That’s more than a feeling too, and I’m getting cuter all the time. Maybe one day I’ll be a water tower, or a series of consequences. Write back and let me know all about you.


Kay Gabriel is a poet and essayist. With Andrea Abi-Karam, she co-edited We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2020). She’s the author of Kissing Other People or the House of Fame (Rosa Press, 2021; Nightboat Books, 2023) and A Queen in Bucks County (Nightboat Books, 2022).

"The Names of Famous Beaches" by Kay Gabriel, from A Queen in Bucks County (Nightboat Books, 2022). Copyright (c) 2022 by Kay Gabriel. Reprinted with permission of Nightboat Books.