Mixed Feelings

bird poetry

As an emotion, “mixed-feelings” catches a bad rap.  But having mixed-feelings about a poem is actually a valid, and valuable, emotional response. It means something in the poem worked for you, but, at the same time, something else didn’t. There is a grey area, imprecision, ambiguity even. All spaces in which poetry thrives.

The following poem, written by poet Kevin Young, leaves me with such mixed-feelings. I know the poem has merit, but at the same time, it bothers me. There are lines that are trite, others that are cocky, and some that are incongruous. Nevertheless, the poem also displays bravado, skill and originality.  I am not fully behind it, nor in front of it. I am off to one side, spying on it.

Whatever your reaction to the work below may be, it is relevant to note that Kevin Young is a big up-and-comer on the American contemporary poetry scene. I will be sure to share a more immediately affable piece from his collection in the future.


I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
I am hoping
to hang your head


on my wall
in shame—


the slightest taxidermy
thrills me. Fish


forever leaping
on the living-room wall—


paperweights made
from skulls


of small animals.
I want to wear


your smile on my sleeve
& break


your heart like a horse
or its leg. Weeks of being


bucked off, then
all at once, you’re mine—


Put me down.


I want to call you thine


to tattoo mercy
along my knuckles. I assassin
down the avenue
I hope


to have you forgotten
by noon. To know you


by your knees
palsied by prayer.


Loneliness is a science—


consider the taxidermist’s
tender hands


trying to keep from losing
skin, the bobcat grin


of the living.

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