The Real Boy


He calls me my mother’s father’s name and I give him figs​​ 

Filled with tiny, dazzling wasps. He swallows them whole,​​ 

His mouth a cathedral I enter nightly in the middle of nowhere

On East 14th, removing the July zinc from his jawline with the tips​​ 

Of doe-eyed fingers. I pray for pause, for the heat of summer

To burn time to a crisp, for this cavern of city swine to be permed

Into my skull like memory, for the scent of his beard to linger into​​ 

Morning, where I am unreal again with nothing to do but develop​​ 

Feelings for lesser men, whose gazes land in the most devastating​​ 

Places, who call me girl with no sense of irony or tenderness. In the dark,

Somewhere in Manhattan we wear condoms, teach each other​​ 

Our own eulogies with full lips. He calls me my mother’s father’s​​ 

Name and I call us both real, here in this dreamworld where

The fruit is the only thing haunted.






Nightbirds at the Met, 1974

​​   for LaBelle



They say the opera house was

invaded by aliens that night,

  by you and all your darlings –


Bloomingdale Blacks, club gays and

drag queens, hippie freaks, Puerto-Ricans,

  and all your Black mamas,


sisters, aunties, and silent

lovers, space children waiting for your

supersonics to take them to some new


world. And you knew all about flight,​​ 

didn’t you? Could have told Toni all

about surrender, about riding


that funky wind, about travelling

 ​​ light, the weight of suffering. You

  told the children, “Wear Something


Silver,” and they​​ were​​ wonders.​​ 

Titanium and sterling steel and​​ 

faces dusted in starlight. They say


​​ the only luggage was bangles, baubles,

sequins and studs, a symphony of

tambourines, maracas, and $1 whistles


transforming a drowsy hippodrome​​ 

into the world’s most opulent, extravagant

spacecraft, turned all the way on, wanting for​​ 


takeoff, willing to be transported by you

and you alone, an all-girl band of intergalactic​​ 

voyagers, afro-futuristic life forms drenched


in feathers, bodies gasping and sweating

 out the violence of an era.​​ Nona, Sarah, Patti,

  Sarah, Patti, Nona, Patti, Nona, Sarah,


they forget you were in love. You

must have been, to fly so high

  and never quite come down, to


hold each other so tenderly with​​ 

your voices, your whole chests. Somebody

somewhere remembers the night LaBelle


took the Metropolitan

Opera House and flew off with it, freed

  it from blood-soaked soil, tore apart its


most violent dimensions and went

far away, to an erotic Black beyond,

psychedelic queer paradise. But that somebody is


nowhere to be found, lightyears

away from our dying sun, humming

songs tasting of marmalade, cloaked



in silver.




End note:​​ Some references in this poem are taken from the article “Rock ‘n’ Soulers Labelle Play the Met, Yet” by Curt Davis, found in​​ People Magazine​​ from October 21, 1974.​​ 





Cai Rodrigues-Sherley (he/they) is a Black queer poet, teaching artist, and lover of 1970s youth poetry. He cares about trans childhoods, queer bodies, mortality, heritage, and love. He is a Sagittarius Sun, Gemini Rising, and Cancer Moon, which means nothing and absolutely everything. He is the 2019 recipient of the Smith College Emily Babcock Poetry Prize, a 2020 Pushcart Prize Nominee, and a 2020 The Watering Hole Winter Fellow. Their work can be found in Cosmonauts Avenue, Brooklyn Poets, and Volume Poetry. They currently live in Queens with their partner and are an MFA candidate at New York University in their Creative Writing Program.

You can find him on Twitter @caifieri and on Instagram as @crsed_poet