a note on the phone app that tells me how far i am from other men’s mouths

Danez Smith, ‘a note on the phone app that tells me how far i am from other men’s mouths’
in Don’t Call Us Dead
(New York: Macmillan USA, 2017)

the three men who say they weigh more than 250 pounds

                                    fill their landscapes with pictures of landscapes, sunsets

                                                write lovely sonnets about their lonely & good tongues

men with abs between their abs write ask or probably not interested in you

Danez Smith’s incendiary 2017 collection Don’t Call us Dead takes up, among other things, the entwined conditions of racial prejudice and desire. Nowhere are these more pronounced than on hook-up apps like Grindr, where the articulation of sexual preference is a nakedly political act. Lyric poetry, a device often used to compress intimate longing into song, is employed here by Smith to ironise the qualities of these apps, qualities that dating apps and poems might actually have in common. Indeed, men on the app ‘write lovely sonnets about their lonely and good tongues’. Users’ identities on the app are reduced to the bare essentials: ‘No Fats, No Fems, No Blacks, Sorry, It’s Just a Preference :)’. As the title of the accompanying poem suggests, this manner of thinking is swiftly internalised, ‘& even the black guy’s profile reads sorry, no black guys’. Both dating app and poem embody a paradox of intimacy and remove. The speaker of Smith’s poem wants but doesn’t feel able to approach strangers on a train, but the app enables instant gratification, no less alienating for being physically intimate, and no less poetic either:

i sit on the face of a man I just met

he whispers his name into my lower mouth

i sing a song about being alone

by Sam Buchan-Watts