Here's another poem from the book. I wrote it a year or two after meeting up with a childhood friend again, in Singapore. The encounter never quite left me, but I found the words for it only during my MFA, when the thought of his job sent me reading up on oil-rigs. The poem gave me the title for the book.
Are you a survivor who, on touching land, shine
your torch into the sea or are you a rock warning?
Like a light seen across wide waters, your cig glows
in the dark before your face appears out of the fog:
the boy, now a man, who described to me a blowjob,
what I already knew but let you go on and on
for I saw you enjoyed drawing from me the filament
of illicit thrill (your wiry dark limbs were my thrill).
The wink of your dare beckoned me whenever I heard
of you knocking about from job to job—a surf
instructor on Thai beaches, short order cook
in Hanoi, coowner of a canoe shop, part time guide,
and now a roustabout, a proper job this time,
you explain, despite its name. You raise offshore oilrigs
against seaquakes, steel the derrick and crown from which
roughnecks slam the toothed bit into the ocean bed,
pump mud into the pipe to grease the bit and prevent
cave ins and blowouts by equalizing bore pressure
with the earth’s. You master the force compressing bones
to crude trapped in the domes of the earth’s scrotum.
Months you slave at sea, then retire to your rented space:
a chair, video machine, opened tins on kitchen shelves.
The bedroom is the most done up, with kingsized bed,
vanity table, woman. Your girlfriend of three years.
Oil rigging is hard work, you flex your arms, but it pays
for this and trips to Bali, six months combing the beach.
You show me, from your window, the oil refinery glows
in the dark, with glimmering towers, balconies and spheres—
your Atlantis. I think of my sterile office with its unforgiving
light; each night I leave it and swim out into the sea
where you already have someone to traverse the girders
of your thighs, her mouth a valve to regulate your gusher.
You are not a lighthouse for passing ships. You loom,
a derrick, stapled to the ground, drilling and drawing oil
till it dries. Seen under stars, you are exerting a force equal
to the earth’s and burning its fuel for a little heat and light.
published in Mimesis, and Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia.