If you’re haunted sometimes by memories of “gay terror” from your childhood- especially when it involved family- this essay is for you. In reading it, I recognized so much of the familiar and long-past memories of shame and fear that molded me, that sent me- much later- into the world with clearer purpose. I also recognized the stories of clients and friends- and not just gay friends- many of us eventually disappointed or confused the people who raised us….
At thirty-one, I sit at a candlelit table across from the man who will be my husband. I tell him about my grandmother and the coping mechanisms I developed; how they naturally led me to writing; mechanisms that became part of my very creative process. Becoming withdrawn and introverted, I grew to become an observer of the world, instead of a participant. In order to survive emotionally I learned to read my environment very carefully and then craft appropriate responses that would (hopefully) prevent abuse and ridicule from my grandmother. I explain to my husband-to-be that I am still that quiet, repressed boy whenever I am in a room full of people, trying to be as invisible as possible, but taking in every detail, sensory as well as emotional, that will eventually surface in a poem.
My work is often described as vivid and lush; relatives often marvel at my recollection in my poems of family events and details. Qualities I attribute directly to the skills spawned from my coping with my abuse. But beyond that, I’ve come to understand why writing and me became such a great fit. It allowed me to participate in the world, to feel alive, while remaining an invulnerable observer, safe in my room, at my desk, in my imagination where no one, especially my grandmother, could hurt me.
It’s beautiful and humble and brilliant. Please read the full essay here. And then, in case you missed it, watch Richard Blanco read his lovely poem at the president’s inauguration yesterday.
The snow covers the sins of the world,
and the light slowly returns to the hemisphere I live in.
But the guns are not silenced,
the hungry not satisfied,
the angry not loved-
despite the peaceful heart,
the plentiful harvest,
the need to be understood-
despite the gospel of childhood that springs to life about now.
Maybe it is spite, after all, that is the enemy of all we love-
that stands in the way of love.
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious and would
like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old
sword, the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t
expect to arrive.
This is one of the most poignant and beautiful poems I know.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA