by: Patrick Gill
When I was a growing up poetry was gay, but I never heard of any gay poets. I had women, Plath, Sexton, Rossetti, Dickinson, they understood. I never knew that Whitman would have wanted to lick me from stubble to toe, linger high on my lips, then let his beard brush every inch I forgot to mention and then. And then. It was also possible to have an entire lesson on Ginsberg without knowing either, oh what an editor can do.
I wouldn’t have written something like that until after I was nineteen, when more than a handful of women and one boy knew. When I called my parents from Trebes Park, in the snow, when I called my sister, my brother, right before my phone died; and the next night I went on my first date with Ben. I don’t think I wrote anything like that until Ben, no actually until after a woman now-called-Raven and I sprawled our thick piles of poems across her dorm-room floor. Ben was around the same time, if memory serves.
I was Boy Plath, she was Lady Bukowski, and I opened my box of poems, my heart. I tried to read my scratched letters and lines to her. Laughing at our severity and trying to explain; we didn’t need to explain. We loved others in ways we didn’t need to explain, ways she knew, I was learning. Her, first. Then I told Ben. He blushed, he kissed, kissed me, me on the lips. I whimpered. After Ben, I bought my copy of In The Hub of the Firey Force, burnt and blunt homosexuality, it had never occurred to me before. I didn’t hide it, but I doubted anyone who was in my room knew it though.
The residual dread, to write what I now knew, was not easy to dampen. I have a habit of keeping paper in plain sight, and a mother who I swore went through my room. Chalk it up to adolescent fear, but nothing I could write could be about men, loving men. Even after nearly everyone knew, nothing for a while; only about a desire deeper than needing, about an understanding I lacked, and a drama I had yet to live out. Even in the city it took time, far from any other identity I might have had. Even in the city it took time for me to lean into my heart, till the words came.
Leaning is what I do now; it takes a hard blink and rolling of my mind to remember when I wrote something that didn’t have to do with the way I love. I’m not a one trick pony, I think, I just let the lens of my sexual identity cast a hue over my work. I just believe it is still brave to tell you I am gay, I believe it is brave to stand with my lesbian, bisexual, queer—both sexually and gendered, trans*, genderless, and asexual siblings; this isn’t so easy, no matter what people are starting to say.
Yes, this is what I do now, and when I lick my teeth like I am sharpening them, to sing my work out— even if it is on a page it’s sung— I think about what it was like before, what it will be like after you hear it. I always hope you hear it, I work for that.
At least a week before it happened, I heard about a man like me who would make more people hear him. I knew it wouldn’t be about a man, about loving men. He’s not a one trick pony, more than certainly. Still, like me though.
Richard Blanco, a poet, an engineer—like the way I picture Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, poets with day jobs who could sling lines like it had their full time— an immigrant, a Cuban, a gay man—there it was, a gay man. Richard Blanco read at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. When I had time enough to sit, to watch, and really listen, a watery sheen took my eyes and I whimpered. For some reason I didn’t really cry, chalk it up to the dryness of my apartment in December, the furnaces are spitting fire and dust.
I want to live in that poem he read, I think, until I realize I do. For the rest of the day I remember this. My hands pass over my keyboard, I know tomorrow at work they will pass over the knife and board, over the mixing spoon. I made today, I cleaned and shopped for food, my fingers traveled the glass’ side for a treat. I wrote down a few things in the hopes other writers will write with me. I made tea for myself in the late night, to try to sleep better, to calm my nerves. I turned off the TV, it’s usually on for the company, but not now. This need to be just right, and maybe my mind will be clearer as I go to bed.
I live in the poem; I know this as I am eating, watch, cleaning, writing. I will see little of the sun tomorrow; in my bedroom with its window facing next door’s siding, in the kitchen where I work, in the general cast of Chicago winter, with a wind and temperature that make outdoor traveling something to dread. Though this feeling might last only a day or two, I do not need too much direct sunlight, doctors be damned, I will find it where I may. I will find it in my memory of Richard Blanco’s words, hard as mountains and wide as sunlight. I rise tomorrow to bathe in the everywhere sky he sung of; I rise to honor my forbearers, for Harold Norse, for all the men who did me right and wrong and the women who have held my heart, for all my friends who love different like I do—and don’t think I am forgetting those who happen to be what we currently call normal, you too I live for. I rise so that I may know there is at least one more like me living, something I didn’t believe in when I was growing up. I never would have written that before I was nineteen, now I want you to know it.