Friday, August 28, 2009

Poetry Friday - The Cavaliers (Toronto)

The Cavaliers (Toronto)

This hothouse forces odd loves into bloom:
the smoke, the noise, the semi-darkness stunt
the growth of shoots cramped by too little room
to start with. Each survivor is a runt.
Some mutants do thrive in this ambience --
their native habitat? Others, which sprout
better in less outré environments --
one's backyard garden, say -- get crowded out.
Though I admire the lush flamboyant growth
of tropic loves, I also want to praise
the homely ones. There should be room for both,
exotic blossoms and perennial gays.
My love for you's the hardiest of weeds:
a bit of earth and sky are all it needs.

Written during my first visit to Toronto in 1980. With only a week to find others like myself, I attended a gay men's discussion group; visited the office of The Body Politic, Canada's great gay-liberation magazine of the period; shopped in Glad Day Bookstore; and went to a few bars. My favorite was The Barn, a leather bar with a good DJ, and a friendlier tone than other leather bars I've been to, but I also liked The Cavaliers, a piano bar with (as I recall -- it has been 29 years since I was there!) potted plants for decoration. I was staying in an older YMCA building in the center of the city, which turned out to be cruisy (surprise!), but I wasn't quite sure how to relate to it. Though I didn't get laid during that visit, I still enjoyed the city and wished I could have moved there.

"The Cavaliers (Toronto)" has, I realize, an uncomfortably familiar pre-Stonewall literary vibe, of the gay bar as a stifling, unhealthy milieu. I confess my sin, but I still think there's enough truth in it to sustain the poem, and I still like the small twists I put in. The Cavalier drew an older crowd anyway, and I think that even today many gay men cultivate a sort of demi-monde sensibility in their gathering places. Others just ignore the dominant mood and use the bars or other sites to get what they want, and that's good too. I've also come to realize how important bars have been as community sites on their own terms. After nearly thirty years, though, this poem is now a period piece anyway.