Five Poems by Ashley Tellis


By Ashley Tellis 

Message in a bottle

(for John Gardner)

I wanted to trace the veins on your forearms,
lick your pallid skin, hear your blood gurgling
through the green trees across your chest, barely covered
by that tight shirt, its buttons bursting.

Then, you spoke and I wanted to suck on every
phoneme, every syllable of your Belfast accent.
You looked at me and I wanted to fragment into
A million small flecks in your limpid eyes.

Later, your brow furrowed over my life
And I could not meet your eyes, not used to care.
Though your being a stranger made it possible
For me to hold that moment in my chest

And send you these words in a bottle.



(To Rajan Bhalla)

I offer you my body
because you will not have it.

Take a scalpel, pry it open.

Each gash in the tissue will enfold you
in the care you value me for,
each bone will drum against you
the attention you crave from me,
my blood will soothe you to sleep
as my voice does,
my flesh will knead you
as my massages did, making you murmur.

Bodily love isn’t just fucking.
My lips, which you will not touch with yours now,
are my words,
you can’t have one and not the other.
My anus is my stubborn pain
you can’t have my history and not its sphincter.

My tongue may not be in your mouth,
it is in your head
My anus may not be around your cock,
it is in your chest.

My body is me.

You can’t cut the two apart.

Take my body
because without my body,
I am not me.

Take my body
because you have no other choice.



I want narrative death.
I want the strips of words I’d stuck
to your body to fall away,
to leave you a pink, gross
memoryless baby.

I want to stop the burst
of words each time I see a beautiful face
on the subway.
I want to collect the flowers of words
I place in an armpit, on a bicep, a thigh, a hand
And crush them, squeeze them to death between my fingers.

I want an end to this diarrhoea
an end to histories, real and imagined.
I’m sick of the spilling wound
of my subjectivity,
leaving trails of myself everywhere
like shit stains on white linen.

I want you to forget who I was.
I want to forget who I am.
I want to write poems about not feeling.

I’m sick of me.
I’m ashamed of me.
I’m tired of me.

I want you to look at me
like heterosexual strangers on the subway look at me –
for a second, with disgust, and then they blink.
I want to exist only in blinks
from heterosexual strangers on the subway
homosexuals in bars –
repulsed by me.

I want to be a blink –
not arrested, just a flutter
not dead, just more or less useless.
I want to be airy, light, free-floating.

So you can breathe again,

So I can look at a man on the subway,
in a gay bar,
without word-juices churning
without memory
without futurity

and blink.



(To Herbert)

You read my anger within seconds,
my hurt within minutes.
You reached through to an inside
I barely know,
offered me a hug I desperately needed
and did not believe
would make a difference.

You opened my face to its beauty
with your kisses, your stubble, your tongue.
Your penis pressing against my anus
was the promise of salvation.

After you left,
I collected the moments like a greedy child,
held them to my chest,
unwilling to risk letting them go.

Who knows what you had done,
so casually? Who knows how many doors
are still opening within me
and will keep opening?

No gratitude,
no words of ‘love,’
no frames of ‘relationships’
is adequate to the scope,
the depth
the sheer possibility
of this gift –

the effortless largesse
of the human.


To the Chelsea White Boy

I don’t smile vacuously.
My eyes are not glazed and empty.
I do not spend hours talking inanities
over ever-increasing empty glasses and bottles of inebriating liquid.
I do not fill my body with numbing substances
or train it for hours at machines only
because I have nothing to say and
because I have nothing else to offer.

I am not happy. I see no reason to be happy.
I am not stupid. I see no virtue in stupidity.
I have opinions, I have a mind, I am angry.

It is wonderful that you don’t care about the world.
It is marvellous that the mirror absorbs you more than
anything else. It is great that shopping is your raison d’etre.

You hate me because I remind you of all you are trying to forget.

You have occupied the space of my dream.
Your bloated, ugly, vapid body has killed the space of hope.
Your blank, white mind has wiped all meaning out of ‘gay’.

I hate you because you have robbed the dream clean
And left only the shining plastic of imperialist you.

Ashley Tellis is an academic, journalist, editor and LGBH activist based in Hyderabad. His first book of poems A Turn of Breath will be published on May 31, 2021.


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