Saeed Jones explores the idea that sexual intimacy is used to validate sexual orientation in the poem “Thralldom” from his collection Prelude to Bruise. The first line, “I survived on mouthfuls of hyacinth” sets a tone of sexual rashness. A hyacinth flower somewhat resembles a penis, hence the sexual connotation, and it signifies rashness, especially if the rashness pertains to a game. In Jones’ case, the game is his sexuality and he is rashly performing sexual acts as the “beauty” of being with another man “is what [he] choked on”. The juxtaposition of something beautiful leading to something painful, like choking, leads me to believe that Jones is recklessly engaging in painful sex in order to feel that his sexuality  can be validated as beauty. By claiming that “The beauty is what [he] choked on”, Jones also alludes to the beauty of sexual intimacy. Many queer people that engage in sex, oral or other, feel that there is something ethereal about physically being with someone of the same sex. For Jones, the “beauty” of oral sex is painful as it is “choking” him, but the situation is ethereal to him because it’s with another man. To further add to this opposition of beauty and pain, Jones claims that the men he’s sleeping within have “cruel tongues” yet he asks for “more / please”. Cruel tongues may be alluding to harsh language rather than an actual physical description as tongues can also be used as a synonym for language.  If he is referring to degrading language, then perhaps he is seeking out more degrading language for comfort. As a gay black man, Jones was probably used to degrading language and slurs being thrown at him, which could, oddly enough, cause a sense of comfort in that type of language. Therefore, asking for “more / please” In the very obviously cruel and painful situation Is a way of Jones acknowledging his sexual orientation during sexually intimate moments.

“Behind a door you can’t open, he drinks to keep loving you.”

The line “being behind a door you can’t open,” is so wild to me. The desire to want something so bad and then have it denied from you by the person you want it from is such a sick feeling. As a newly come out queer person, it’s so sad to see that being part of something like the LGBTQ community can come with such strong feelings of love and hate. Hate for each other, oneself, and others. Homophobia can cause people to turn into monsters. But in this quote, Jones isn’t gay. He isn’t “a boy who likes boys” or a queer. In this quote, Jones is a human being wanting to be loved by someone who can’t love him. This poem stuck out to me because it isn’t about being gay or showing the rainbows in our community. It’s about a broken person begging themselves to get up and leave.

Isaac, After Mount Moriah (page 4)

“What kind of father does he make me, this boy 

I find tangled in the hair of willows, curled fetal 

in the grove? 

Once, I found him in a far field, the mountain’s peak 

like a blade above us both” (4) 

I believe the poem “Isaac, After Mount Moriah” is Jones’ reflection on his relationship with his father, and his attempt to understand his fathers abuse. The title of the poem is a reference to the Biblical tale of Abraham following God’s orders to sacrifice his son Isaac, which was interrupted by God who commended Abraham for his loyalty. I believe this is applicable to Jones’ life because I will assume his father is Christian, just based on his being Southern, and assume that his Christianity motivated homophobic beliefs and disdain for his son. In this way Jones’ father was being more loyal to God than to his own son when he inflicted abuse and violence onto him. The tone of the lines above feel guilty, as if the father is ashamed of himself both for sacrificing his son in the first place and for the behavior his son reflects on his own character. Isaac is depicted as deviant, sleeping in places he shouldn’t, which is a childlike metaphor for deviant desires/sexuality. There is deep vulnerability exposed, when the father is watching his son sleep, and a real intimacy too – even if he judges these places as wrong or dirty. The “curled fetal” description especially reminded me of how children are not far from being babies, or fetuses, and that they deserve protection, or so the Church believes. 

The final line of the poem is ominous, especially when contrasted with the previous descriptions. The scene is alluding to the title, beneath Mount Moriah where Isaac was sacrificed, which where the distrust between father and son originated. The “blade” is not only a threat to the son, but is “above us both” because the pain of that moment effected them both. Additionally, the blade could be a reference to the severing of the relationship or bond between the father and son. 


“If he wraps his arms around me, / it will be the rest of his life. / I don’t even know what I am  /in this dress; I just sway with/ my arms open and wait.” (Jones 29)

There is a sense of helplessness here. The speaker feels empty, he lacks self. He feels uneasy at this selfless-ness and is willing to give himself to a man just for a role, a part in someone’s life. “If he wraps his arms around me” signifies an ownership, a feeling that you have a right to touch someone. But it is not just a touch of the arm, a hand at the waist. The arms are wrapped around, enveloping the speaker. If the speaker is encircled, then he will become this other man’s. “I don’t even know what I am” he says, and he feels an intense discomfort with that, with the dress, with the situation which has, in fact, been in part caused by the power (known to us not only by his financial status, but also the speaker’s belief that he can simple be taken by him) of this other man. So, the speaker sways; he has considered his lack of self, his emptiness, the dress enveloping him. To be stationary is to think, and he will no longer be stationary. He is dressed up as something he does not want to be. But what does not wanting matter when you are no one to begin with? He opens his arms and waits, feeling as though the decision is better left up to fate, to the other man in the room, perhaps to greater powers—whether that be a cosmological will or simply a man with higher status than he. However, the speaker is done thinking about it. Instead, he watches—not willingly nor unwillingly—but without a choice in the matter, his identity hang in the balance.

Last Call

“Last Call” from Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise is an violent exploration of queer yearning and the speakers’ submission to their sexuality. Readers are introduced to violent imagery within the first line; “Night presses the gunmetal O of its mouth / against my own” (Jones 16). Night is personified as a gun, which is an inherently dangerous weapon. What is interesting is how the speaker responds; “I can’t help how I answer” (Jones 16). The speaker understands that this kiss is dangerous, but he is willing to give in. The speaker continues, describing his interaction with this person. Saeed writes, “He is the taste of smoke” (16). The use of a metaphor emphasizes how the speaker envisions this person. If a simile was used instead, describing him as or like “the taste of smoke” the gravity of the situation would be lost. Jones utilizes enjambment to emphasize the sexual nature of the situation; “Need another double-black / kiss” (16). “Kiss” begins a line, despite it being the end of the sentence. Jones wants the reader to understand that this is a romantic and sexual encounter, and that is why it is so dangerous. Furthering this point are the last two stanzas; “…before I let the lake / grab my ankles & take me into its muddy mouth. // They say a city is at the bottom of all that water” (16). I interpret this line as the lake is the speaker’s sexuality, which comes with danger and struggle, but the city is his life when he lives as his true self. 

Boy at Edge of Woods

I notice the mechanical descriptions of sex in this piece, the procedural description of finishing up their business. Jones says, “After his gasp and god damn, after his zipper closes its teeth, his tongue leaves its shadows” (8) — the gasp and dialogue insinuate that the speaker’s partner has reached orgasm, and the rest of the excerpt describes him zipping up his pants and ending their physical contact. As much as these lines illustrate the motions of finishing intercourse, they also allude to the sense of abandonment in the lines that follow. The partner’s “tongue leaves its shadows,” and proceeds to leave the speaker “alone to pick pine needles from my hair, to brush brown leaves off my shirt as blades of light hang from the trees” (8). Again, these lines are somewhat just describing the procedure of cleaning oneself up after sex, but they are also profoundly lonely. It feels as though this speaker being left alone to clean themself up is part of their routine, but the details in the following lines add much more weight to the idea of someone picking the pine needles out of their hair and brushing the leaves off of their shirt after a quickie in the woods. Jones says, “as I relearn my legs, mud-stained knees, and walk back to my burning house” (8). Relearning one’s legs adds significant gravity to this piece in the sense of this phrase being a double entendre — orgasm is a physical release of tension, in which one might be so wrapped up in pleasure that they forget their bodies. At the same time, having to “relearn (their) legs” implies forgetting the semantic processes of standing, walking, moving, something they would otherwise be able to do. This could indicate that this experience was so important to the speaker that it overrode their basic functional mechanisms. This gravity — the loneliness/abandonment, the seemingly procedural nature of the act contrasted with subtle cues to how significant it is — builds up to that last line, in which the speaker must “walk back to (their) burning house.” A house on fire alludes to the consequences of their actions, as houses tend to represent family or stability and fire is pretty synonymous with being an agent of destruction. Because Saeed Jones is a Black, gay author and I have read the other poems in Prelude to Bruise, I can deduce that his family condemned homosexuality. Every queer experience Jones engaged in brought both immense connection to his true self and overwhelming shame in the face of his family. I think “Boy at Edge of Woods” speaks directly to Jones’ plight throughout all of the works in Prelude to Bruise, and that this poem magnifies some of the aspects of wanting that can make human connection feel so lonely.