“. . . When our grand passion had not yet become familial. . .” (Thom Gunn)

Boston, 1991

Boston, 1991

Somewhere in a box or pile or a file or a stack is a musical creation of mine (or not―it most likely met the same fate as most of my compositions), a small song cycle, a setting of three poems by Thom Gunn from his 1966 collection, Positives. I wrote the cycle in about 1970.

I don’t remember the poems or the music. I wrote the music as part of the work for my MA degree in music composition at what was then California State University at Los Angeles. I chose Gunn’s poetry because I found his book at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and it was the first collection I owned by a poet I knew was gay.

Yesterday I wore an old lavender T-shirt, shapeless and faded―like me―from the Boston Gay Pride Parade in 1991. My first Gay Pride Parade was the 20th in Boston—1990. For it I had a T-shirt that proclaimed in black letters nearly covering the front, “Nobody knows I’m gay!” In 1992 I had a T-shirt with the logo of the Boston Aids Hospice as I marched with the other volunteers from the Hospice (it closed in 1997, after I had moved to Dallas).

A member of the AA group I most often attended in 1991 had been present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. I used to own a book about the riots which contained a picture of her (yes, women were involved in the riots). She was uncomfortable with what she saw as the flippant use by the gay community of Stonewall as a rallying point. She remembered that night only with horror and fear. She could not bring herself to march in Pride Parades.

I was married at the time of Stonewall, but I remember watching the coverage on the national TV news and thinking I should have been there. My wife knew I was gay. Those were the days when many of us―my wife and I included―thought that getting married would somehow end my being gay. (Or, more likely, I thought it would provide “cover” for being who I knew I was.)

I wore my “Together in Pride, June 8th, 1991, Lesbian and Gay Pride” T-shirt yesterday to attend the celebration at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a selfie wearing it at the event.

Trying to sort out for myself, much less for anyone else, the complexity of my feelings throughout the day yesterday, and especially at the celebration, is seeming to be impossible.

First observation. I was (as I have become accustomed to being) one of the oldest people in the group of 2,000. My guess is there were fewer than 50 of us 70 or older.

Second observation. I was alone.

Third observation. It all seemed too easy.

Fourth observation. My tears over and over again yesterday were of joy, relief, fulfillment, jealousy, longing, and grief simultaneously and progressively, impossible to sort out.

Of course I am elated, overjoyed, and ecstatic at the Supreme Court decision, relieved that that step on the journey to civil rights is taken (I wonder if the LGBTQ community ready now to tackle racism, poverty, and xenophobia in this country).

The only man I have ever wanted to marry died in 2003 after we had been together 12 years. I sometimes long to be with him, and I grieve that we were never able to have a legally recognized relationship.

I grieve—yes, that’s the correct word—for the relationships I have had, beginning with my marriage to Ann. I grieve also that I am alone, that meeting a man I would want to marry, now that I could, seems improbable, if not impossible.

Hugged by the man I would have married

Hugged by the man I would have married (taken 1993)

Most of the crowd of people younger than I that gathered at the Cathedral of Hope yesterday—this is not sour grapes but a statement of fact—cannot know how much I treasure that 24-year-old lavender T-shirt (many of those wonderful folks were not even born in 1991). Or the pictures of my second partner and me taken in about 1985.

Or the memory of my “coming out” in my university newspaper in 1965—4 years before Stonewall.

I have never done anything “important.” Other than be something of a role model for (sometimes frightened and depressed) gay college students for 30 years. And volunteer at the AIDS Hospice. And march in parades. And write some pieces that have been published over the years. And try to be a good partner. And maintain a career viable enough to take care of myself.

One of the men I love and admire most these days was part of the Lambda Legal team that brought Lawrence v. Texas to the Supreme Court. One of my closest friends was a leader in ACT-Up in Boston in the ‘80s. A friend was the founder of the Gay group that still exists in the American Baptist Convention.

I’ve never done anything publicly important for the cause of LGBTQ rights. I’m not one of those the speakers last night acknowledged they were “standing on the shoulders of.”

Except I’ve persevered. I’ve lived a life of quiet (sometimes) desperation, desperation that may or may not have had anything to do with being a gay man (that’s a topic so complicated seven psychiatrists and three neurologists have never been able to untangle).

And now I am alone.

I’m not asking for anyone’s pity. Only some acknowledgement and understanding that my feelings yesterday were justifiably complex and contradictory. Which means they were (are) like my feelings my whole life long. My passions were my passions when they “had not yet become familial.” Could not become familial in the most basic sense.

“THE HUG,” BY THOM GUNN (1929-2004)
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.
―(From Selected Poems by Thom Gunn. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.)

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

The First Gay Pride Parade in Boston, 1970.

“Time has grown up on its own without me. . .” (Yousef El Qedra)

Their companion piece is missing.

Their companion piece is missing.

The color blue is not apparent in my apartment. The first noticeable color is the red of the fake Persian rug straight ahead from the front door. The two deep blue Palestinian glass pieces I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are now on the shelf of the table straight ahead, but they are below eye level.On the table in front of the living area window are two (I think) lovely pieces of blue glass, each of a different not-real-Waterford that Waterford sells under its name. I like them. I paid more for each of them than I should have, but they are blue.

For a year or so I had another piece of decorative blue glass, a small many-faceted blue bowl made by Jim Bowman of Bowman Glass in Dallas. His wife Mary Lynn, who is also an artist in glass, is an acquaintance of mine. The bowl sat on the table by the window with my two pieces of marginally Waterford blue glass.

However, I have lost Jim Bowman’s bowl.

How does one lose a blue art-glass bowl? I don’t know. It’s simply gone. Non-existent. Probably not non-existent, simply not in its assigned location, and not where I can find it.

I could blame its disappearance on old age. I’ve put it somewhere and don’t remember where. I doubt that. Besides, I couldn’t blame that sort of forgetting on my old age. It would not have been out of character for me 40 years ago to have misplaced a decorative piece I like very much. Forgetting, misplacing, losing have been my constant companions my entire life.

That’s probably because I don’t pay attention. It’s no mystery. I go through life floating just a tad above reality, never quite putting my feet down, never quite sure I know where I am. That’s hyperbole. But it’s closer to the truth than I wish it were.

It’s not because I am so otherworldly or preoccupied with important ideas or have too much on my mind. No, I simply don’t pay attention. I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t because I can’t.

If one of the symptoms of aging is forgetfulness, I am destined, I fear, to be (or already am) that confused little old man everyone finds either pitiable or comical. But how will anyone be able to tell? Anyone who knows me well knows this is not a problem of aging for me. It was a problem when I was 12.

From time to time I have blamed my spaciness on TLE. I don’t know if that’s medically accurate or not. I fear it’s probably a simple matter of my not paying attention.

That the husband of my friend made the blue glass bowl is not only reason my losing it is weird.

Blue is my favorite color.

I remember the exact moment I realized blue is my favorite color.

I was at Anna Bleyle’s home in Scottsbluff, NE, playing with marbles she gave me to keep me occupied while she was looking after my siblings and me. I was in third or fourth grade. She was our favorite adult, a few but not many years older than my parents. Her husband and his brother owned a jewelry store. Her niece became a Methodist Bishop. Her nephew was the only boy we ever knew who was high school cheer leader (in the dark ages of the `50s).

The blue ones are best.

The blue ones are best.

I remember thinking, “Wow! Those blue marbles are the best ones. I love that color!”

My question: how can I remember those details (and many more) about those wonderful people from 60 years ago but not remember where my beautiful blue art glass bowl made by Jim Bowman is that was on the table by front window for about two years until sometime in the last few weeks when I did something with it I can’t remember?

I know. I know. “The short-term memory is the first to go.” Well, perhaps.

Now a jump from one topic to a totally unrelated one.

I’ve become fascinated by Palestinian poetry, both old and current. I may, after 30 years of teaching college English, have found my “specialty.”

The Gazan poet Yousef El Qedra and I have so little in common it’s almost absurd for me to say that I find my own experience in his work.

But listen. Listen to these lines.

Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me.

Can a 70-year-old Caucasian American man who has never wanted for anything, whose most difficult moments have been tiny seizures and a bit of discrimination because I’m gay possibly relate to a young Arab Palestinian trapped in the hell-hole that his home has been turned into through dehumanizing Israeli onslaught after onslaught?

The total of what I know about Mr. El Qedra is that he

is a poet and playwright who lives in Gaza. He has a BA degree in Arabic Literature from al-Azhar University in Gaza. He teaches drama, literature, and writing. He has written, directed, and acted in several plays. He has published four collections of poetry and some of his poems have been translated into French and Spanish.

(Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature 45 – Writers from Palestine.) Banipal has published several of his poems.
He knows from experience what I begin to know from age.

I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

What does that have to do with the color blue? Or a small piece of blue art glass. Only this. Loss does not necessarily mean despair or even depression. Viewed with hope (and perhaps humor) it can impart a sad, strong desire to live.

My inconsequential hope―to find that blue bowl. Silly? Yes. But a manifestation of my need to catch up with the time that has grown old without me.

“I HAVE NO HOME,” BY YOUSEF EL QEDRA
I saw clouds running away from the hurt.
I have no language.
Its weight is lighter than a feather.
The quill does not write.
The ink of the spirit burns on the shore of meaning.
The clouds are tears, filled with escape and lacking definition.
A cloud realizes the beauty she forms—
beauty which contains all good things,
for whom trees, gardens, and tired young women wait.

I have no home.
I have a night overripe with sweats caused by numbness all over.
Time has grown up on its own without me.
In my dream, I asked him what he looks like.
My small defeats answered me.
So I asked him again, What did he mean?
Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me. So did irresistible gravity.
I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

Translated by Yasmin Snounu and Edward Morin
From BEFORE THERE IS NOWHERE TO STAND: PALESTINE ISREL POETS RESPOND TO THE STRUGGLE. Ed. By Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler. Sandpoint ID: Lost Horse Press, 2012.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks fro Anna's. A fortuitous blue car in front.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks from Anna’s. A fortuitous blue car in front.

“. . . the future remains translucent and unambiguous. . .” (Philip Schultz)

An ostentatious mirror and some dried funeral rose petals.

An ostentatious mirror and some dried funeral rose petals.

—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.

In the 48 years since I graduated from college, I have lived in 11 houses or apartments. I lived with my late ex-wife in three. That is an odd formulation—late ex-wife—perhaps as odd as our relationship sometimes feels. We were married from 1967 to 1975, and she died from the ravages of breast cancer in 2002. She had been married to a Canadian writer, divorced in about 1990. In the time since our divorce, I had had three male partners. The last of those relationships was my only healthy one. Jerry died a year after Ann died, of melanoma.

Ann and I owned a home in Upland, CA. We sold it when we moved to Iowa for my doctoral program at the University of Iowa.

In 1977 I moved to Boston without having secured a job to be with my first partner (an irrational and addictive move). Seventeen years later I moved to Dallas to be with Jerry—but a year after he moved there, that year spent reshaping my career to be a self-supporting grownup when I moved. I didn’t reshape my career for him, but figured out how to do what I had always wanted to do.

Through all of the years after we were divorced, Ann and I were in amicable contact with each other. After her second divorce (she told him he could have the bimbo and she’d have the Palm Springs condo) we rekindled the friendship we never should have interrupted by getting married.

Ann with a friend of her Canadian writer's, on a movie set in Iowa.

Ann with a friend of her Canadian writer’s, on a movie set in Iowa.

I began writing this piece about Ann on May 28, the 48th anniversary of our wedding. I don’t know the exact date in 1975 our divorce was finalized. In those days (perhaps still) Iowa had a no-fault, do-it-yourself divorce procedure that, when approved by a judge, cost us $40 for the filing fee.

How we remember certain details of our lives is a great mystery to me. I remember our wedding—the music surely. We chose the wedding party on the basis of their singing ability—we had to have a six singers for the William Walton motet “Set me as a seal upon thine heart.”

The text is from Song of Solomon 8, KJV:

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it.

Fortunately four of our best friends were accomplished singers and completed the ensemble. Mine was the weakest voice in the bunch—Ann’s was the strongest. My best friend was a tenor voice major.

I have thought many times since 2002 that I had no idea what “love is strong as death” meant when I was a foolish young groom. I was with Ann in Canada two months before she died and returned for her wake. I was with Jerry when he died.

Suddenly
everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.

The feeling that everything is afterwards did not come upon me suddenly. It has been an awareness developing since Jerry died. Everything is afterward. I live alone in an apartment of my own choosing. The furnishings, what might pass as a décor, is stuff that I am “eager to hold [with] any agreeable infatuation.” The 1880s-vintage highboy chest of drawers Ann and I bought in about 1968. The china closet and the ostentatious Victorian mirror I inherited from Jerry. The painting of a sea storm by my uncle’s late partner (of 60 years). My mother’s ladies’ afternoon “circle” coffee cups and cookie plates. The pipe organ built by my steady friend (and Ann’s) for 50 years from college, Steuart Goodwin.

Everything IS afterwards.

Both Ann’s and my fathers were Baptist ministers. They looked forward to a kind of afterwards that I cannot fathom. I think, now and then, about the afterwards Ann and Jerry and our fathers and mothers are experiencing. I wonder. That’s all. I wonder. I’m not certain what Philip Schultz means by

The sky,
however,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering

but I look at the sky and think it’s unwelcoming, indifferent to my suffering.

My thinking about all of these people is heightened because I’m going through old photos and other memorabilia, so when I’m in the afterwards, my brother and sister won’t think they need to. And in the middle of this process I, as executor of her estate—some 13 years later—received notice that a house lot Ann owned atop a hill in the Ozark foothills in Oklahoma was about to be sold for the back taxes. Oops! So I pulled together the funds from her estate to pay the past-due amount.

The hill is the home of the “esoteric Christian” community Ann was part of the last few years of her life. People whose sense of “afterwards” is, as far as I can tell, that nothing is ever “afterwards.” In some form, a variety of forms, we all go on and on and on forever.

My “sober, recalcitrant [house—is] swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age.” I refuse to commit to whether that is good or bad. The light used to penetrate my dreams. It seldom does now. My truths are “untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.”

And the future is totally “unambiguous in its desire to elude” me. Will the future be different if I get rid of Jerry’s ostentatious mirror, his picture looking down on it, or the toy xylophone my mother gave me for my fifth birthday? Or save the vase of brown rose petals from Ann’s funeral wreath?

“Afterwards,” by Philip Schultz
Suddenly
everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.
Suddenly
it’s evening and the lights up and
down the street appear hopeful,
even magnanimous,
swollen as they are with ancient grievances
and souring schemes. The sky,
however,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering.
Speaking of suffering,
the houses—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.
Meanwhile,
our loneliness,
upon which so many laws are based,
continues to consume everything.
Suddenly,
regardless of what the gods say,
the present remains uninhabitable,
the past unforgiving of the harm it’s seen,
while
the future remains translucent
and unambiguous
in its desire to elude us.

(Philip Schultz [b. 1945] is the author of The Wherewithal [W. W. Norton, 2014] and received the Pulitzer Prize for Failure [Harcourt, 2007]. He is the founder and director of The Writers Studio and lives in East Hampton, New York.)

On a trip to the Glimmerglass Opera

On a trip to the Glimmerglass Opera

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“. . . do not resist an evil person.” (Jesus of Nazareth, quoted in the Gospel According to Matthew)

The following is my response on Facebook to the following news story from the Texas Legislature.

In Texas, it soon could be legal to bring a gun to college

I wish I could say this is unbelievable. But since carrying a gun seems to be the norm out here in the wild west, I guess all I can do is pray for a retirement home in the UK. I would like someone to explain this to me on purely ethical grounds without resorting to the 2nd Amendment. Why is this acceptable as a matter of morality without the childishly petulant, “I have a right?”

Saying that anyone – especially a college student in class – is safer if people are toting guns is absurd.

An acquaintance pointed to the incident of a “mad gunman” being stopped on the campus of UVA. (This was, of course, a hoax–which so much “evidence” of the need for guns is.) How many millions of students spend how many millions of hours per year in class and on campuses without any incident? One lone “mad gunman” (even if it were true) being stopped does not justify the danger of a kid sitting in class next to a gun-toting vigilante.

BUT EVEN THAT IS NOT THE POINT! My hope that someone can explain the MORAL truth behind “open carry” still stands. At best it is expediency, not morality. It is expedient because we know that we have failed so miserably at creating equality (in race, in economic opportunity, in gender, in religion) that we perceive, perhaps rightly, that some people are angry and disenfranchised enough to be violent. And we have also failed so miserably at caring for people with emotional problems that we need to be ready to shoot them when they lose control.

It’s the worst kind of utilitarianism. It has nothing to do with “Thou shalt not kill,” or “love justice, do mercy, walk humbly with your God,” or “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.” We have, according to Antonin Scalia, the constitutional right to be gun-toting vigilantes — ignoring not only the moral injunctions of the tradition most of those who speak the loudest for the right espouse but also the moral philosophies of all civilized societies.

Being “in the right” means being willing to forgo that “right” for the sake of the greater good.