Anyone’s first romantic relationship is going to be a rough journey. It asks you to finally put all the ideals you have about love to the test to see if you are truly emotionally ready for such an adventure. It’s only doubly more complicated if this first relationship is one that asks you to completely change everything you know about yourself, to understand that you’re going into new territory and that you are likely not coming back.
In his poetry collection Songs for the Long Night, author Korbin Jones compiles a series of lyrical verses in order to reconcile with his first romantic, same-sex relationship. These poems tell a tale of a man growing up in a rural community, reckoning with his queer identity and a long-distance relationship. These pieces form a series of ups and downs, as difficult to navigate as a river at night, but come together to show where Jones has arrived after this arduous journey.
Throughout the compilation, Jones lets the reader slowly into his world before taking them in various directions. The first poem, “Prelude,” opens with the image of two men drinking Coke alone at night. After that, the reader is taken on a nonsequential journey, moving through various periods of time before, during, and after the relationship. Several poems are told in multiple parts, some in successive order, others not, such as the “Inconsistencies” poems, a six-part series told in order of parts 5, 4, 1, 3, 2, and 6. In these series, Jones plays with different kinds of visuals and themes depending on the situation.
For example, the series of poems titled “Bereavement” mixes scientific impressions and terms with more natural representations. The first poem begins “he has yet to place his heart-- / the whole thing--under a microscope. / each time he tries, the eyepiece punctures / a wall, causes blood to seep and smudge the lens.” This poem also introduces the persona of the moon as a dark-haired woman covering her face, which returns in the second poem. The third poem departs from the previous two and moves to daytime to follow a finch being pursued by men. In all three, Jones blends likenesses of animals and nature and shows how many of these visuals are taken and hurt by men who seek to control them. “beneath the canopy, / at the bases of sequoias and elms, their little / broken bodies were found, beaks splintered / and shattered from the bark they tried to drink from,” reads the third piece.
Jones blends likenesses of animals and nature and shows how many of these visuals are taken and hurt by men who seek to control them.
A few of Jones’ other poems in Songs for the Long Night demonstrate why these images and actions would recur. The piece “Men to My Father” acts as a confession to all the men who shaped the speaker before he found his first relationship. The poem is a bit brutal, with lines like “the first time was at his place. / my first everything with a man— / kiss. touch. delayed rape. / on a sunday. / his bear trap hands / on my surrendered legs.” The poem shows how the speaker was abused and taken advantage of by various men, showing the violence and dominance that comes from imbalanced relationships.
However, it’s the depiction of a river that most recurs in the collection. This is understandable, as rivers are commonly used as symbols of change and life. In Jones’ compilation, the river represents an escape from the trauma and a place to be reborn. Many romantic pieces included involve the speaker and his lover being at the river, usually at night, allowing the speaker to explore their identity and find a way to baptize themselves as a queer individual and as a person.
Songs for the Long Night follows one writer down the river as he passes the various hallmarks of his first same-sex relationship. It blends the lyricism of Southern poetry and natural imagery to create a compendium of affirmation, grievances, and discovery. While this may have been about only one relationship, it’s a great treasury that shows Jones’ range and point of view, suggesting that the next stops along his float down the river may be filled with magic and beauty.
Alex Carrigan (@carriganak) is an editor, writer, and critic. He has edited the anthologies CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, 2018) and Her Plumage: An Anthology of Women’s Writings from Quail Bell Magazine (2019). He has had work published in Quail Bell Magazine, Lambda Literary Review, Empty Mirror, Passionate Chic, Quarterly West, Stories About Penises: An Anthology of Short Stories & Poetry (Guts Publishing, 2019), Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (Et Alia Press, 2020), and Whale Road Review. He lives in Alexandria, VA.