Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday -- this is not what i wanted

this is not what i wanted.
i wanted to love you in the dark,
my hands busy on your body as birds' wings.
i wanted to kiss your breast as a pilgrim would kiss a relic of a saint,
to poke my nose into your pubic hair like a puppy sniffing for something interesting in the grass.
i wanted to sleep beside you untroubled by old loneliness,
needing fewer blankets in the winter because your body gave off such warmth.
i wanted to wake in the morning to find you curled up against me, your hair brushing against my back.
i wanted your sleeping arm to dangle over my shoulder.
i wanted to laugh with you over wine in an obscure restaurant,
each of us knowing that we would not have to sleep alone that night or any other night.
i wanted you to wake and tell me about a dream you had that i was in too.
i wanted to love you, to love you, to love you.
instead i seem to be running through cold northern forests,
wading through drifts among wet dark trees,
and my feet are bleeding.

--October 21, 1970

I can still see here the influence of e. e. cummings, Allen Ginsberg, and maybe a dash of W. H. Auden. But beyond that, it occurred to me on rereading it how sexually ambiguous it still was -- I was, after all, still four months from being able to tell anyone else I was gay -- which ties to the larger question of ambiguous poetry, song lyrics, and so on. This is what a closeted gay poem looks like, relying heavily on second-person address ("you" can be either male or female), and the somewhat archaic, self-consciously poetic "breast." Which doesn't mean that every poem that exhibits such traits is necessarily a closeted gay poem, but how do you tell it from one that isn't? The poem is built on the very ambiguity that makes it possible to deny that "you" is the same sex as the poet. In my case, of course, the ambiguity is resolved by the fact that I eventually came out, wrote poems explicitly to or about other males, and am telling you today that this was one of the implicit ones. But when we don't have that knowledge, why should all poetry default to heterosexuality?

(I wish I could figure out how to put hanging indents into a Blogger post -- it doesn't seem to be documented anywhere.)