“Do the impossible. Restore life. . . “

[This is not, by the way, an attempt to mimic the poetry style of Mark Jarman.
I started writing this several days ago and only today decided to post it here—
yes, after I stumbled upon his poem—below. ]

Nicer than his or mine.

Nicer than his or mine.

Getting old (look—I know sixty-eight isn’t old these days
[sixty is the new forty and all that nonsense], but wait until you’re there)
leaves you wondering—if you have any sense at all—about things
you never thought about when you were young.

It’s possible I’ll live twenty-nine more years.
My father did.
Live to be ninety-seven, that is.
And my mother to ninety-two.
Whenever whatever however I write these days
it’s really the same notion,
a notion I bet you can’t understand
if you’re not at least, oh, say, sixty
and thinking about retiring or about living out your life
in some way you never thought would happen.

Eighteen years ago—
for a class on the history of Dallas I was taking
when I thought a second PhD would be a good idea
(which it turned out not to be)—
I found a half dozen “old” gay men to interview
about what the lives of gay men in Dallas were like
before Stonewall
(in case you don’t know, Stonewall was a gay club
the New York police raided in 1969—
I guess to show the faggots and drag queens they couldn’t
live with impunity
because their very being was an affront to society—
and for once the faggots and drag queens fought back.
It was ugly, Rose who was there told me.
It was not a wonderful liberating moment in the
history of civil rights, or even gay rights.
It was a brutal fight, Rose said.
People were brutalized even if they were not hurt.)

 —for a class on the history of Dallas I was taking—
I found a half dozen “old” gay men to interview
about what the lives of gay men were like
before Stonewall, as I said,
and what happened was that I found out more
about myself than about them.
I was—I am—humbled at the thought  (and wary)
of ending up like those dear men.
They were alone. The oldest was eighty.
The youngest sixty-seven as I recall.
But at forty-six or whatever age I was then,
I thought they were ancient.

1950s cement and steel.

1950s cement and steel.

One of them offered me a cup of coffee, which I accepted
more to humor him than to satisfy any need or desire of my own.
I didn’t really want to accept it because he made it in a pot
(one of those metal electric percolators that you plug into the
wall socket above your kitchen counter, and it bubbles
the life out of whatever Folgers grounds you happen to have on hand)
from which he dumped the grounds,
swished it out with water from the tap and no detergent
and refilled the basket with new grounds
and more water from the tap,
and it began to gurgle and make new coffee
without really having been washed and with
fewer grounds than he could possibly expect
would make a decent cup of coffee.
And I thought it was pathetic that the old man
lived that way on the umpteenth floor of a
high rise retirement community owned—I think—
by the Methodists somewhere down near Baylor Hospital
and he told me he couldn’t afford to live even there
if the Methodists didn’t subsidize him.

And I live on the fourth floor of a mid-rise apartment building
constructed in the 1950s out of concrete and steel
the way they build nothing these days,
but it’s too old to be fashionable—or even beautiful—
and it’s owned by the family of one of the old guys
who lives downstairs,
a gay man older than I am,
and this morning—except my coffee maker is a
French press and I use more coffee than I should
and it’s not Folgers—I made myself coffee
pretty much the way that old queen
living in the not-so-good neighborhood near Baylor
in that high rise with all those other old people
made coffee without thoroughly washing the pot
I thought of him and was shocked that I’ve turned out
to be more like him than I would ever have predicted
except he had been a Methodist preacher and had
grandchildren living in California who had not been
to seem him for a couple of years,
and he couldn’t afford to go to California to see them.

. . . living out your life in some way you never thought would happen. . .

. . . living out your life
in some way you never thought would happen. . .

I have so much in common with the old Reverend
I am simply stunned.
It’s not the coffee pot or the lack of funds to travel
to California or living in an old building instead of
one of those luxury apartments downtown in some
spiffy restored high rise like the Joule Hotel.
I do have those things in common with him,
but what is truly amazing
is that I remember him talking about
his loss of belief in the religion he preached all of his life,
and that what he thought about most was that
it didn’t matter if he died today or five years from today
because he would be the same dead
whenever it happened,
and he wasn’t sure what his life added up to so far.
That would have been the same whether
he was an old queen or not, he said, but he wished
he’d gotten on with the business
of being gay sooner
so there was enough of him left to find
the man he wanted to be with whenever he died.

I understand all of that now
even though I never was a Methodist preacher,
and I’ve been on with the business of being gay forever.
This is not depressing. And if you think it is,
you can’t understand just as I said at the top.
I want to
“. . . do the impossible.  Restore life to those you have killed.”
Beginning with me.

If I Were Paul
by Mark Jarman     

[Note: the reference is, I’m pretty sure, to the Apostle Paul writing an epistle. HK]

Consider how you were made.

Consider the loving geometry that sketched your bones, the passionate symmetry that sewed
flesh to your skeleton, and the cloudy zenith whence your soul descended in shimmering rivulets
across pure granite to pour as a single braided stream into the skull’s cup.

Consider the first time you conceived of justice, engendered mercy, brought parity into being,
coaxed liberty like a marten from its den to uncoil its limber spine in a sunny clearing, how you
understood the inheritance of first principles, the legacy of noble thought, and built a city like a
forest in the forest, and erected temples like thunderheads.

Consider, as if it were penicillin or the speed of light, the discovery of another’s hands, his oval
field of vision, her muscular back and hips, his nerve-jarred neck and shoulders, her bleeding
gums and dry elbows and knees, his baldness and cauterized skin cancers, her lucid and
forgiving gaze, his healing touch, her mind like a prairie.  Consider the first knowledge of
otherness.  How it felt.

Consider what you were meant to be in the egg, in your parents’ arms, under a sky full of stars.

Now imagine what I have to say when I learn of your enterprising viciousness, the discipline
with which one of you turns another into a robot or a parasite or a maniac or a body strapped to a
chair.  Imagine what I have to say.

Do the impossible.  Restore life to those you have killed, wholeness to those you have maimed,
goodness to what you have poisoned, trust to those you have betrayed.

Bless each other with the heart and soul, the hand and eye, the head and foot, the lips, tongue,
and teeth, the inner ear and the outer ear, the flesh and spirit, the brain and bowels, the blood and
lymph, the heel and toe, the muscle and bone, the waist and hips, the chest and shoulders, the
whole body, clothed and naked, young and old, aging and growing up.

I send you this not knowing if you will receive it, or if having received it, you will read it, or if
having read it, you will know that it contains my blessing.

2 Responses to “Do the impossible. Restore life. . . “

  1. Pingback: “You look like a god. . . Why don’t you try writing. . . “ | Me, senescent

  2. Pingback: “God’s gonna trouble the waters” | Me, senescent

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