Bulletproof

(Inspired by reading Cordelia Feldman’s novel In Bloom, reviewed after this poem).

When the rush comes

questions like: Why are you doing drugs? Are you an

unhappy child?

Do you realize how inappropriate it is?

Bad choices lead to worse choices. Slippery slopes. Killed brain cells.

Those questions seem irrelevant

for, that which you have searched

seemingly before awareness, birth, first flickering

is surrounding you and the fucking magic of it

is holding sorrow so far away

you can’t recall the last time you felt its fingers

closing around your throat in possession.

Yes sorrow

misery, self-hatred, dysfunctional thinking, dysthymia

depression, malaise, disorder, horror, they

have long sat at your scarred table

munching on your best intentions

not to throw yourself from a bridge

just because every day is so painful.

Parents show the whites of their eyes

like distrusting horses being inspected

for cavities and you are the hole

they observe without looking

wondering how they birthed

someone so strange, unexpectedly unwell

did we not take enough pregnancy vitamins?

Was it more like my ‘funny’ uncle and how he never

seemed quite right?

Blessed, tainted blood

that’s not it

anymore than sexual abuse or

quiet pinch of undiagnosed learning disorder

when there are cheery-faced celebrities proclaiming

their cured malaise, even as they grew up

in fire

therefore, it is not

the firing, how deeply you set, how many cracks

it is more the knife of life

cutting you open

silence surrounding before

you knew you were alone

a haunting long before words like

‘intrenched’ and ‘affliction’ were commonly nailed

like scarlet blooms on thirsty cacti.

Sorrow, you were flowing in my blood stream

like an unbidden life, wishing to suck mine out

marrow and all.

There’s only apologies

for not being able to be what you want me to be

grieving for the perfect mess made when I was doing my very best

not to cut myself to ribbons

and as self-hate dances with a wish to

pull hard on the string attached to light bulb

and just blink out ….

music and its phantasmagoric wonder

infiltrates darkness with a tender mercy

potent keys of a piano played on an empty stage

seem to possess a furtherment.

You, who sup at the high seat for well-adjusted

cannot really fathom, aside in dusty theory

the every day battle with spirits resembling

skewed reflection and how when joy arrives

soft and cloudy, she is split savagely

by the very strength of your inner tenency

to plunge headlong, when you want to do

the opposite.

Fate lifted me out of the car gently

like I meant more to him than a one-night-fuck

and maybe thinking back, I was

precious

in that turkish delight moment

softened at the edges by

little blue pills.

If I die in ten years from some malady

will you point your frozen heart at me

and say; “Her bloody drug use killed her”

without recalling

without it

I’d already be nourishing trees

with my life blood.

Will you state: “She was weak because she

couldn’t cope without them”

forgetting, we do what it takes

to stand upright, pulled from the inside

skins flayed on electric lines of penance.

For our generation, for some of us

those who didn’t yet know how to

put words to how we felt

the holes in our fabric

those diminishments

only worsening with perpetual self-reproach

(after all, didn’t we have a roof over our heads?

How the hell could we be so ungrateful?

Do they say that to people with cancer?

Only the smokers I think, we are banished

to the smokers ward if we suffer from

depression, they put us down as incurable

and slightly pathetic and faces turn away

like cliffs beckon our swift feet forward).

I danced beneath strobe lights, proud of reaching

19 and not having taken anything stronger

than weed, my iron will a contrast to

my crumbling will to live, sometimes

it fascinates me. He whispered in my studded

ear; “I know you disapprove of hard drugs but …

and like a violin played accutely until

you find yourself crying on the other side

of intensity, I saw the futility of holding back

how ‘good behavior’ didn’t work with the model

of suffering experienced daily, another way of

saying it was

fuck it

the pill was bitter like

poison

and returned me someone

I had not met in many years

happiness flooded my bloodstream

I didn’t care it was artificially induced

all moods are, all behavior dictated by

the flow and ebb of chemicals surging

in our amygdala.

Why do some of us fall so far?

When others seem oblivious of

sorrow like it’s a thing to bring out

at funerals and nothing more? Can we really

reduce it to ‘failure‘ and ‘success‘ and affix the

ugly admonishment forever, like kicking

someone all the harder once they are down?

The self-loathing and condemnation

invariably accompanying perpetual sadness

lifted like a shroud and music entered

my blood stream with an invoking joy.

Many years later I read about ‘self medication

and thought as a professional

trying to help people who felt

like I did / alone / worthless

how trite labels and ‘understanding‘ in general

was.

I’d write you a book of my foray with drugs

if it didn’t cause you to condemn me

then again

you already have

so why not?

Don’t throw stones

at glass

houses

unless

you’re bulletproof.

Cordelia Feldman writes on WP and has published her first book of fiction In Bloom. She’s a magnificent person and a genuinely beautiful human being. I urge you to purchase a copy.

In Bloom

I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased In Bloom. That can be exciting. I purchased it because I have followed the author Cordelia Feldman on her blog for many years. As a publisher/editor I tend to get high burn out for acquaintance reads but this was not at her behest, I wanted to read In Bloom, because the quality of Cordelia’s writing and humor over the years has often left me astounded.

In Bloom is semi-biographical set-in mid teen hood. Which might seem odd at a time when the adult author is struggling with metastasized cancer since her mid thirties and this has taken such a chunk out of her valuable life. One might not be blamed for thinking she’d write about a later time in her life. However, if the reader has ever had a prolonged battle with their health, they will intimately appreciate the difficulty of ‘going there’ and the positive impact of focusing on other things. In addition, the challenges a writer has to accurately reflect her past self, something few do realistically and Feldman excels at.

Cordelia has in her blog, done a monumental job of focusing elsewhere, she’s ‘bloomed’ in the years since her cancer diagnosis despite all obstacles. Her infectious optimism, her attitude of caring for others even as she suffers, the way she brings humor out of the darkness, and her undefeatable intelligence hook you from the start. With each blog post she refers sardonically to a book title, often obscure, and that quick mind of hers is as agile now as those who have never experienced a days sickness.

Likewise, with In Bloom, a little gem, a veritable Pandoras’s box replete with humor, nitty-gritty mindful observations, completely lacking in self-pity and with so much to evoke and fascinate. Why fascinate you may ask? Many of us can directly relate to being a teen and going through much of what Feldman has gone through, but many cannot. This is both a warning and a true invoking of a time in history and a type of lifestyle for the young that Gen X’ers and perhaps many others, can appreciate.

Just as we can put an album on and suddenly go back in time, In Bloom takes us to the tawdry experiment called youth and provokes some intense feelings about why we do what we do when we do it. For some, drugs are a clear cut no, no path to hell. For others, they’re a rite of passage. My personal take on it is; drugs are a gateway, to growing up and moving on, but for some, a gateway we don’t regret, nor judge.

The club scene of the 90s in the UK was spectacular and for many young things, going out and dancing all night on Ecstasy was the most fun they’ve ever had. If that makes them sound sad twenty years later, well you weren’t there. The clubs had such atmosphere and comradery that it was impossible not to see them as Magic Faraway Trees of their time. It might be like trying to explain to a non-drinker why a drink can feel so good at the end of the day. Or try telling your parents the Sixties weren’t a revolution.

All the proselytizing in the world and nary a judgment cannot convict those hearts who bloomed in that era and recall it with fondness and a little embarrassment. If you imagine ecstasy earned its name through hard graft, and lived up to it, there’s nothing shabby about those Turkish delight infused experiences anymore than throwing rocks at the Beats Poets for their dabbling with the illicit.

Feldman writes hypnotically and with great alacrity, understanding the mind set of the teen to an uncanny degree. Her intelligence as a writer is evident, but so is her sage wit. Feldman conjures a time that has passed but we can all to some extent, look back on. However, this is not all she does. In Bloom isn’t merely a celebration of taking drugs at raves, that really wouldn’t begin to give it its dues. In Bloom is an evocation of a young woman’s experience with mental illness.

Do drugs cause mental illness? We know they can but more often they exacerbate or draw out, what is already there, for chemical and hereditary reasons. We don’t truly know the myriad ways mental illness occurs, just that it does, and for so long, it was judged and condemned without trying to be understood. Feldman attempts understanding through description and succeeds admirably, in her gentle nudging toward insight through the stumbling’s of the newly initiated.

The main character of In Bloom is clearly a composite of the younger Feldman, but she’s also a character in her own right. Her experiences are not mere autobiography, she and her cast of bandits are all fully fleshed out people existing within In Bloom and they make you care about them, despise them, cheer for them. Do not forget 17 is the age mental illness will begin to rear its head irrespective of whether you are downing E or lemonade, although of course, the reaction with the former will be more dramatic and so it is.

I rarely want to stay up reading all night as I used to because I read for a living. But In Bloom was that notable exception, as I feel it will be for many of us. Before being tempted to cast stones and accuse Feldman of glamorizing drug-taking or blaming her cancer on her previous actions, consider the truth. We don’t get sick because we dabble with drugs as kids. We don’t start doing drugs because we read about them in a book. Pain has its outlets and kids know that well. There are deeper issues here, ones that In Bloom cannot speak to, but we all know they exist and we all know life is far, far more complicated than what we see on the surface.

The ultimate value of In Bloom lies in my knowledge that I would have enjoyed this book immensely whether I knew Cordelia as a writer beforehand, or not. Her skill as a writer has never been under question, she has proven her worth time and again with her tapping into the amygdala of her readership. Her intelligence as a thinker on this planet, is beyond refute. I only wish deeply that she were given time to write more, as I suspect, in Cordelia Feldman we have a voice of our generation.

Perhaps you dreamed of me

kissingA few people said / write something succinct / shorter than your usual / elaborated rhetoric / don’t you know how to / edit and be precise in your / measurement of words / good writers don’t need / verbal diarrhea / they can mold meaning / certain as bending copper / to light.

She thought it over

Knowing it was possible

After all she’d written some very

Shaved and glutted poems

Once.

 

(It wasn’t her way and if you are not true to your way

then you may as well be another lemming / willing to leap / from cliffs edge

of course this precludes learning which is / a value immeasurable

sometimes you can learn everything and still / go back to drawing unrealistically).

 

Finding something – – – perhaps it’s not a poem or a form but a short story

In the elongation and manipulation of reality and precision. Imprecise then. Deliberately.

 

Long ago she had no words because she couldn’t spell well enough to write. So she drew. For hours. Reels of paper. Stories by picture. Things she needed to say. To no one listening.

When she saw Woman In A Red Armchair hanging in a burgundy room / the silence palpable aside / rain hammering outside / mercilessly / like a hundred mouths clamoring

she tried not to stare at the line that made the woman / female

but was drawn to it as she might have been / a real breathing woman

something exquisite and desirable / she longed to see a live flesh and blood girl

to touch her with her empty hands and run them over her / quivering flesh

until those colors swelled up / and she cried out / for the sheer torment and beauty

but

no girls existed / save those who / liked boys / there were plenty of them

why were they all heterosexual?

why wasn’t she?

In America she heard / there are entire schools / devoted or a byproduct perhaps / lesbians / and only-girls-schools / well don’t start on them …

living in the city / you’d think but you’d be wrong / a few pinches / mostly shorn / forlorn

empty eyed / emulating men / less female than / those who wanted to lie beneath them.

Where existed that / judge not / beauty / with /dark eyes

the missing / beat / savor / prosper / sail

to her / soul.

If she could have / found her all along / not searching years but moments / glimpsed

sight and immediately / both knew / this bond before / words spoken

even at 13

even before she were born

perhaps you dreamed of me

created in the stillness of your loneliness / that which you did not have / filling emptiness with yearning / I am born to be / the wet ink on your skin / a permanence / no longer waiting / arms outstretched / for dreams unnecessary / now we / are.

Never quite together / torn asunder / this year the blackcurrents come later / as if they knew / what wonders and nightmares / store / waiting behind the pitch / to come rushing / we tried / we failed / the frailty of emotion / it bleeds easily / like thin skin / gone a-blackberrying / on a listless day / no clouds nor movement / sky dim / with unspent rain / the longing stored up / causing pain.

Perhaps you dreamed of me.

I stood — uncertain — proud backed —

against the light

where shape can be outlined

most acutely

if then you’d looked — ephemeral — something unstated

in muted expression

what we do not say — what we hold inside — contains the greatest

message.

Return to me. Though you are gone. Through the shroud. Time be gentle. Time be cruel.

Different and the same. Recollecting nothing. There is the proof. Stained on our table. Where you cut yourself. On a sharp knife of desire. And I opened to you. Ballet within music. Rapture closed us together. Forgotten. How do you not remember.

That long night we ran barefoot?

Flowers close their drowsy heads. Against night. Sleep. An eternity. Wakening. We are

strangers. Again.

Loss. A pressed red petal against Italian paper. Seeking its watering. I am so thirsty for your return. My love.

The outsider

38638686_1843766582406138_8072796370370560000_nshe wasn’t like them, so they didn’t like her

to her face they smiled and said ‘nice things’

which she knew were lies

behind her back they laughed

and made dirty-lezzie jokes

because it made them uncomfortable

to think about what they thought she did

it made them feel a bit disgusted

like when you stand too close

she looked like them in superficial ways

wore at times, nicer dresses and had longer hair

the fact that she liked girls wasn’t in their

comfort zone

when it was summer time they had

BBQ’s and invited all the neighborhood kids

wondering if she would be safe around minors or

would do something inappropriate

when they started a mommy running club

she wasn’t invited because she was neither

a mommy or someone they wanted to

bare their secrets with

what would she understand of husbands?

maybe their husbands liked her

because she was unavailable

when it was Halloween they made candy and

knocked on all the doors but hers

because the other mothers said best to avoid

what they did not care to know

that’s why she lived a harder life than she had to

for there is almost nothing worse than pretend friendliness

leaving you more alone than if they said what they thought

and spat in your face

if you think that’s an exaggeration or she feels

sorry for herself

think on the tiny percent of the world

where being gay is safe or legal

and the huge part of the world where it is forbidden or punished

think on how many lament at

the shift in culture toward acceptance

calling it a ruination of our society with all

those damn fags

compare it to those who truly feel inclusive

how every day isn’t the same

when you have to contend with not fitting in

making everyone else feel uncomfortable

just by existing

nor can you talk about what matters to you

just in-case visual images abound and people

begin to change the subject

if it were a choice … a lifestyle … few would make it

yet she exists

wishing sometimes the phone would ring

another girl like her would say

I know how you feel

would you like to go for a walk?

she is a gay princess in a tower

and her princess

is somewhere in the world perhaps

thinking the same thoughts

two outsiders

unable to find each other

Undefeated

I knew my limits were met when my father tutted and said

You’re an ordinary girl

I wish you looked like your mother

When heron jawed teacher said

You’re an average student

Students with learning disorders should drop out early

When razor hipped boyfriend said

You’re the last choice

I settled for you because everyone else said no

When porn-on-his-desktop boss said

You’re not qualified enough

I keep you down because you won’t ask for a raise, you don’t have the guts

When mint-chewing doctor said

You’re too old to have a baby anyway

What’s one more womb between friends? Unmarried girls are dispensable

I did not crack under the weight

For what doesn’t smother best intentions may

Lend you a fist of iron

Sometimes our weaknesses serve us better than our strengths

My families indifference taught the rule of self sufficiency

I didn’t die of neglect despite best attempts

You shouldn’t have had children but I’m here and I’ll endure without your permission

My limit knew no limit

When I graduated top of my year and slammed the medal on teachers desk

You ruin kids right to have dreams with your judgement

My limit knew no limit

When I told him his actions would come full circle

He’s divorced and not allowed to see his kids, his pattern ran him ragged

My limit knew no limit

When my boss grabbed my butt and I blew the whistle to his superior

I stayed and he resigned, don’t think he’ll be pinching anymore asses

My limit knew no limit

When the grief of being childless led me to embrace others

Try, try, try, turn the negative into a way of transformation

What does kill you can save you

My limit knew no limit

Had no end

Because I am a woman who has survived many scars and

I still stand

I knew my limits were

Undefeated

Papier-mache

e23b1d77a3144773d37a060c30b340b9--the-velveteen-rabbit-being-ugly

They said, keep the blinds drawn, what we have to say, isn’t good

they lay her down on a white sheet and beneath, the hammered metal hummed

the bulb in the middle of the room, behind linoleum, sung a hissing song

their white-coated pluck and scratch, indifferent and sterile, she was just, flesh and blood

another in a long line of patients who, largely were forgotten, consumed by a machine, uncaring of individual

she could feel the dried corners of her eyes crack, as she looked left and right

someone once told her, adult survivors of abuse, find it hard to relax

they are always looking for what is crawling out of cupboards

she didn’t want her past to run her future, but now it seemed, her future was in doubt

never before had she felt so alone

the petty bravery of moving countries, seemed a facile thing, for children who didn’t yet know, true terror

surely it is easy to be brave when you have no war, and are just posting letters

she lived like that for so long, running from childhood’s sadness, enjoying the wide open space of adulthood

thinking she had all the time in the world, surely growing older was for another life

it wasn’t entirely selfish, she did her part, but there was always the tendency to want to make up for the past, by living without a care

and then it was no longer that way

impossible to ignore, unable to let go of, she was swiftly consumed and irrevocably changed

even if tomorrow the cloud lifted, she would never walk as lightly as she used to

the power of naivety, ignorance is surely, our dearest friend

now her heart beat fast all the time, unable to still, the surge of emotions inside

she was a rabbit in her burrow, smelling fox

she was no longer the quick silver of a girl, without terrible knowledge

days were unbearably long, and serious, like the frown on an old man’s face

they spoke of compromise, a series of steps, faltering and bursting apart and trying over

it was as if all of her was removed and pummelled into earth and made to rise again

never was it more silent, never did she wish for the phone to ring and something to let her out of the nasty trap with jagged mouth

words are just words, she could have said; I am strong, I am going to fight, but in the next breath she may

simply not be able

and that lack of, that inability, like a prison, or a sudden dismemberment, was, a kind of horror she’d never been creative enough to imagine

like being stolen from yourself, and hearing in the distance, the sound of children dancing

to your favorite song

if life is indeed a battle, she thought, this is where I need to buckle down

put aside my tendency to want to climb out of the window and skip the lesson

stifle the longing to run fast, in the opposite direction

everything so far, had brought her to this point, it wasn’t what she’d imagined

instead, she’d hoped by now, she’d have found her groove, begun as humans tend, to build her fortress

it wasn’t time yet, it wasn’t nearly time yet

and all the days she’d squandered, thinking there would be more

all the long drawn out machinations, to position herself and be ‘responsible’

denying the lustre of living

she’d put off joy so many times, in favor of ‘sensible choices’

where were those now? She berated herself for not having taken

more vacation, more experiences, that glass of wine, danced on that table top

she worked for a future, she may never get to experience, sure she felt bitter, angry at her lack of insight

though most believe, we’re never ready for bad news or, the fall of favor

we think we predict worst case scenario but that’s only an anxious mind

seeking to control the uncontrollable and unknown

nothing prepares you for a premature curtain fall

nothing shores you up to deal with catastrophe

we muddle through or we give up

those are the only two ways we journey

when the wet-ass hour comes tolling

she felt a grief for her bad choices and wished, like others she could have no regrets

it is hard not to regret when you’re cut off from everything

difficult to look forward when the present is biting at your ankles

she wasn’t one to pray for herself

but she did now

she prayed for the strength she felt she didn’t have

she prayed not to feel so isolated

cried thinking of how many before her, went through this darkness alone, their hearts aching to be cared for

she was a little girl again, looking for her mother beneath furniture

seeing her in album covers and from the top of buses

that woman had her mother’s eyes, large and dark

that lady’s figure is slim and reedy like her mother’s was

at night she wanted to feel the way she imagined a child does

put to bed and told, everything is well, you are safe

if she’d had children, she’d be saying it to them now

but life threw her a curve-ball and she ended up reproducing only

empty rooms collecting dust

perhaps it was for the best, now that she’d sunk so low

for how could she care for anyone, when she could not for herself?

if everything has a reason, she wasn’t sure of this

to teach her gratitude? To punish her for lassitude?

if there was a God she hoped, somehow to end her suffering, even by means of eternal sleep

but she felt bad for praying when so many, suffered far worse than her, and how they coped, she did not know

only that she had to try each day to keep going, in what direction was unclear

she wasn’t sure of the sign-posts or meaning, it was too easy to let fear, guide her way

so many things needed to change and yet, she was tired, so tired of fighting and being scared

they say those brought up unkindly, learn to be strong

she didn’t feel strong at all, she felt like only a thin wind, kept her from collapsing

and all her plans were thrown in water, watching the ink bleed out, with nothing left to find, but papier-mache

her grandmother once told her, out of nothing you can build, entire universes

she tried now to imagine a place, where she would be restored

where all the things she still had to do, remained possible

surely you can tell when, the end of the record is over and, it’s about to go quiet

she hadn’t been able to, she’d one day been carrying her dancing shoes, across the newly waxed floor, her eyes feverish with anticipation

and the next, swallowed by sickness, left without curative

only the static of a cold room and a script for patience

she’d been spat out of the system, left to flounder by road-side

how different, she thought, from childhood where, we do everything to protect them from fear

sewing toys that will keep them company at night

mobiles to send them to sleep, songs to ward away nightmares

and at some eventual point, we decide they’re ready for the real world

full of savagery and disregard and people who are supposed to help

but are only doing the bare minimum

is it any wonder we flounder, and miss a step?

looking around in wide-eyed fear

mouthing the unasked question

is this what it feels like, to be real?

Shade

There are

played

unwashed moments of

circumference

like silk wars

beneath unspoken seige

words hard to cleave

shape the ancestor

filling hallway with

limit and possibility

as day turns golden outside

we remain in shade

The growing chronicles #4 Undone


Ageing backward

once a child

stuffed with potential

you could be burned and

engage future with the severed fearlessness of the young

who do not believe the bell will toll for them

and come a day

marked by tree rings of frigid growth

looking up at sky emptied of cloud

how cruel the season burns

secrets from the branches

 

that day

an altered girl sinks beneath bath water

marred by her loathing self

what emerges trembled in fear

keep the lights on mama

she is returning to unknowing

It is the dementia of the soul

clamoring for relief

 

her bones are no longer soft and green

they grow lean and she curls

away from herself

those days of succor and wiggle

when was the last time you touched her like a flower?

and opening she cried into you

tumbling into a shared well of blossom

 

we both wear silver in our hair now

released from knowledge, return to unknown

lying like a split pomegranate

seeds spilling out

mouths stained radiant

how did you live so long to trap yourself?

back in the box of musk and gunpowder

the lock sounds like a scythe

it is cold and unworn

opposing sides climb to the rumor

you are undone

The growing chronicles #3 Hypochondria


It’s still a man’s world

a world where most of the earth

would stone two women in love

and those women who break the glass ceiling are often

unrecognizable as women

for they eat

with their bean soup

the dry wafer of other females
If I tell you

I am not prideful

it is the quiet and the book

an occasion of solitude

interspersed with longing

I’ll never be a loud mouthed girl to hang your spurs upon

but still I know how to talk to the moon

and I believe in you
At night

poorly lit by lamps

like yellow faces downcast

we walk vigorously

hand folded in hand

and that simple act

I cherish

above any gift or benediction
When we are apart

monsters live under my bed

shadows rinse in continuing pass

the joy of breaking bread

shatters

as bloodied

the unseen art of war

within gentle hearts

causes my pulse to spike

and in time succumb

to hypochondria

 

For it is you

who taught me first

this is how you wade in shallow water

not listening to the buzz of insects

searching for a way in

and this is how you swim in deep water

not minding the curdled heat reflecting in

masks off the surface of thought

you can if you really want

stand solid against the onslaught of fear

crawling beneath your skin as the sun

grinds us down into withered and parched semblance

you can if you really want

defy time and tendency and take a deep breath

learning to stretch far in the distance

without air

 

When I wake

and the thunder of your absence

breaks my resolve

when the smell of you is fading

in the comb of your absence

I hear your voice skimming water

like touchstones seeking entry

one by one you build your fortress

installing me against the ravage

that pit I carried every year

before you walked into my life and said

fear cannot win as long as you believe in love

The growing chronicles #1 Bitters


I’m too tired

dear one

to refute your love of harm

or as you put it

hard but necessary truth

just as Swedish bitters are

good for you

spare the rod, spoil the child

so you ensured I learned the hard way

 

why then

do criticisms often taste

like gunpowder?

that overwhelming urge to correct at every turn

just like you were created to hurt?

what line, invisible or seen, exists?

to guide the critic in their pursuit

of picking apart the flaw

remaking anew and improved

 

you can do better

was my Christian name

you need to apply yourself more

the nightly prayer

and being absent

my response

 

you see

tear someone down consistently and enough?

you light them on fire

they become not as you hoped

your obedient (but inferior) acolyte

but something fragmented

a faulty firework longing to explode

earthbound and simmering beneath

your superior

assault

Inherit their voice

2012610_1809dSat facing away from the sun

an old man wipes years from his eyes

drawn over with cataract like milky bath water

he strains to see the outline of motion

 

where are all the old men? He thinks

once so barrel chested and neatly trimmed

with mustaches and shiny hair like Cover Girl teens

where are all the eighties queers who painted beaches

with tight abs and tiny shorts in tropical shades?

 

now half empty, the beach longs for color

only rotund women with bristly chins

unkempt hair chopped without thought

some with children or children’s children

placing sensible shades and thick UV factor 50

on slow-moving parts of themselves

 

in previous years you could

reach out and paint a rainbow

in their courage of being twenty

though lesbians and gay men do not

always a palate make

such contrasts in their expression

these women without restraint

mopping the brows of dying beautiful boys

unwilling nurses drawn to duty

by suffering ignored

 

some judged, as is human’s wont

even those judged themselves

learning in pious pews the curses afflicted upon

the sinner

their ingrained prejudices wondered;

Why so many striken did not stop frequenting steam rooms

smelling of bleach and pleasure and illness

looking for strangers with no way to tell

if death stood beside them?

 

perhaps; time old division of the sexes

rather than, one bad, one good

men will find a hole, stick it in without regard

this is not a homosexual thing but

the nature of a penis

gay men acted upon that unrestrained impulse

all men share, save those who learn greater depth

than the hand, the orifice, the gag reflex

then disease clasped them in a death grip

chewing away at fragile worn tendencies

soon no beautiful boys remained

hot in steam rooms to blink their doe eyes

fringed with fear

 

some divisions are economic

lesbians with babies, lesbians without brawn

unable to act upon their natural instinct

remained married, starched at home, dying in place

whilst young men, fed on corn and barley, took good

California jobs and soon the boom grew teats

 

educated baby dykes today do not know loss of freedom

or the true price of salt

they can rack up bed notches in reckless abandon

imitation not always the greatest flattery

but back then …

all so new and unsanctioned

people didn’t have road maps or internet

to gauge behavior by

and in the dirty rim of a third glass of whiskey

courage and terror would sometimes blind

best intention

 

girls today repeat the worst inventions

of boys without purpose

those early days of the movement

can a life be a movement?

they died weekly and by the hour

in shabby rooms without succor or sense

strangled by disease, shamed by the ‘told you so’s’

just coming out

only to climb into a coffin and be carried

jeers and spit and hate to their graves

where few wept, for they too shared death

mottled with kaposi’s sarcoma

some haters slinging mud shouted;

you depraved souls! You reap what you sow!

is this the word of Mohamed & Jesus?

or cruelty with nothing more than hate to grow?

 

now gays think they are safe

over the hump, socially acceptable

on TV, in your face, sitting next to you, earning more

painting their rooms mauve, their wallets thick

HIV can be lived past, no more automatic death sentence

adoption is legal, and marriage, a thriving business

do they even remember how many fell?

before they could inherit this tenuous hour?

 

the old man was one of fifty

the last survivor of his generation

depleted by silent war

struck down by AIDS and her harpies

over time even medication failing hope

or bodies, tired from their walk

collapsing on scalding streets without

the kindness of stranger

 

the old man, he cannot say to today’s youth

this is how it was, learn from the past

because they do not care, it is their time now

and if they knew it would not matter

only the hour of their immediacy

compelling them forward to their own history

one day past them and in reverse

they may share his loneliness then

too late

 

the old man

who used to be a beautiful boy

with golden skin and hazel eyes

a thick swath of black hair hanging like a wave

he looks at his gnarled hands and sagging arms

with their scars and their ragged hurt

and he wants to be as loud as the young

and shout out;

 

where have they gone?

the beautiful boys of my time?

why must I outlive them all and see in my decline

the loss of their right, to be recalled!

for whom among us, shall pick up the mantle

and say their names, once we are all

beneath earth?

an entire generation cut down

and smoothed over like asphalt

 

do we ever think of that?

in our perpetual urge to be present, in the moment?

those who have gone before

stand now like ghosts around him

an entire era

strangled before they ever could

inherit their voice

 

(This is my contribution to Pride Month. I want to remember those who are not here with us, because they died when they could have lived, if they had not been forgotten and repulsed. During and afterward, Africa was equally rejected, neglected, ignored, and millions died. Worldwide HIV/AIDS is still a death-sentence, make no mistake. Those with power decide who lives and dies, whose life has worth, whose does not, decisions are not made out of mercy they are made coldly with calculation and lack of compassion. All the rest is froth on a daydream. Our memories are sometimes the only thing keeping us from repeating history). #neverforget