Reliving with HIV

I moved to Toronto in 1979. In that first year I got sober, met the man I still share life with, and lost the job that brought me to Toronto. The second year I was working closely with gay men in recovery. The gay cancer – GRID – was already taking its toll on the community. When it first became AIDS – people were confused with Aydes: a diet candy – which went out of business partly because of the phonetic associate with the disease.

A couple of men in 12-step-recovery got me involved in what eventually became ACT – The AIDS Committee of Toronto. I attended those early board meetings as a group of men, women, gay, queer, lesbian, straight created a structure for dealing with what became a holocaust. I helped create the buddy system. Did home care for men I knew. I cycled out of committee work & became part of a meditation, healing circle. I buried more people that I can count.

That’s not a resume I care to reflect upon but recently I read “Hold tight gently: Michael Callen, Essex Hemphill, and the battlefield of AIDS” by Martin B Duberman. It looks at the history of HIV activism in the USA though the lives of two talented men. One white, one black. You know, I can’t recall many minorities participating in those early days when ACT was being shaped here in Toronto. This book reveals the complexity of class, race & marginalization.

Reading it I relived my own fears, frustrations & powerlessness in those years. I felt grief as each – Michael, then Essex died as a result of the inability & unwillingness of the medical community to deal with the crisis. The book also reveals in detail how the marginalized minorities were often left to their own devices to be included in anyway.

The music of Michael Callen is still available on iTunes, check him out on YouTube. More cabaret style though his days with the Flirtations and great fun. Essex Hemphill’s spokenword can be seen on YouTube as well, but be warned he is a brilliant, fearless & confrontative in ways that are still challenging today. Some made me tear up. Sadly most of his writing is out of print 😦 (I’ve ordered two of the out-of-prints via Abe Books). His poetry is breathtaking & heart stopping. His open-hearted emotional frankness has now become one of my inspirations.

Formative

she asked

are you married single 

neither

widower

nope

you have to be one those

I’ve lived with my partner 

for over twenty years 

we aren’t married.

oh, I that’s common-law

what is her name

his name you mean

oh there’s no place 

on this form for male spouse

he isn’t my spouse

he’s my partner

very well 

I’ll put own common-law 

 

now what religion are you

none

oh you don’t believe in God 

as matter of fact I do believe in God

then what faith do you practice

none

but you can’t believe in God 

and not have faith 

I do have faith

I do believe in God 

but I’m not caught up 

in any religious persuasion

I’ll say atheist then

atheists don’t believe in God 

I reminded her

but I have to have answers for this form

I’ll just put down atheist

no I am not an atheists 

is there a place there for heretic

no

 

then the form is fascist

it doesn’t allow 

for practices 

other than those it defines 

as acceptable 

I didn’t create the form sir 

I’m just filling it in

but you made that judgment call 

didn’t you

that if I wasn’t religious 

I had to be atheist 

agnostic at best

 

we can skip that  part of the form

then why is it there

for statistical purposes sir

but the only people 

who get statistically counted 

are those whom the form allows 

to be included

what about us who don’t fit 

the confines of the form

don’t we get counted

you get counted as nonbelievers

but I just told you I do believe in God

I’m just not Catholic

Buddhist

Jewish or whatever 

possible categories you have 

on that form

isn’t there a box you can check for other

no sir there isn’t

let’s move on please

 

what political party do you support

is this as relevant 

as the religious question 

or just more statistical information

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every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Deserved

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks.

Who knew the simple life could be so complex.

Deserved

this is not 

what I started

not what I expected

I didn’t ask for it

I don’t know how to stop it

no one does

yet I get blamed

from so many sides

 

sides that push me to be

responsible

for being born male

for being born white

for being gay queer nonconforming

if I don’t use

whatever entitlement I have

to advance the agendas

of those who fault me

I remain an enemy

 

it doesn’t matter

who burns me at the stake

they all have their legitimate reasons

who am I to complain

I’m getting what I deserved

not what I asked for

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El segundo primer beso

El segundo primer beso

I knew that I missed your kiss

but I didn’t realize

how much I needed it

 

that came as a surprise

much like the moment

when it was clear

that our last kiss

was almost the last kiss

 

maybe neither us knew

it was to be the last for awhile

it might have a lasting memory 

until I had that dream of you

 

we hadn’t spoken for two years

after that kiss

not that it ended in anger

it just ended

 

first I stumbled upon

a short clip from a porno

a Latino man 

with a beautiful face

talking Portuguese to the camera

while playing with his dick

his eyes

his smile

his sexual eagerness

was so much you

though you spoke Spanish

but that look

that invitation

is the same in any language

 

then I had a dream

of you emotionally hurting

I dreamt it twice more 

before I had to reach out 

 

we reconnected shyly

gladly

then hungry for that first kiss

deeper

than the memory of the last

‘Based on a true story’ 🙂 One of the dumbest things I ever did was when I stopped seeing  … um … let’s call him Beso to keep it simple. I’d meet him on line & our first meeting was chaste & our second was incendiary. His work shifts made it difficult for us to see each regularly so each time was special. He’d even been to my house for supper a few times. Then it ended without warning.

 

Being an all or nothing guy I unfriended him etc. But I couldn’t get him out of mind. He was one of the  few men who I wrote poems for/about. As this piece says nothing happened but it just ended. The porno clip is fact – I watched it several times & each time Beso haunted me. 

I had that dream. I doubt if I would have recontacted him without the dreams. I friended him again on FB, asked if he wanted to meet up to catch up. We met and went for coffee & creme caramel. We came back to my house and boom – incendiary. Some thing sin his life had changed: work etc. But the chemistry hadn’t changed.

I could have let my stubbornness keep us apart forever. The thought of dying & never seeing him again did away with that stubbornness. Life is short enough as it is & inviting as much joy into as one can makes perfect sense. Even if that joy doesn’t fulfill all exceptions what it does fulfill is enough & always leaves me wanting more. 

 


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Born to be Blown

for some reason this post from 2014 has gotten dozens of hits this past week

TOpoet

Where are the really sex positive queer anthems? After posting my Monday music blog I continued to ruminate on the many gay/queer pop performers I knew of – from Divine to Tom Robinson, from Jobriath to Pet Shop Boys. A fairly extensive list the more I considered it. Pansy Division, Jimmy Summerville, Limp Wrist (noise rock), The Frogs (folk punk), Sylvester. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobriath

snowlionlion in winter

Some really rock and Pansy Division does have some great in-your-pants stuff – Beer Can Boy, James Bondage – done with a sense of play. But much of what seems to get the most ‘air play’ Rufus Wainwright, KD Lange – settles into the romantic not the body.

umblsaving mr snow banks

I suspect there is a fair amount of self-censorship going on at the same time. A need to present queer as non-threatening, just like everyone. Which is true of pretty much most pop…

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Chapter XLIX – Birk Drunk in the Trees

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Chapter XLIX

Birk

Drunk

in the Trees

The O’Dowell rally to protest the back-to-work legislation was at the North Sydney arena. After what one newspaper called ‘an armed insurrection’ an emergency sitting of the federal government had been called and a bill ending the strike was passed. BritCan had been granted all its conditions for reduction of tonnage payments. Most of the miners had returned to start the work getting the collieries ready for use. 

The stands at the area were three-quarters full when Birk and Clancy arrived.

“Not many left to show up for the other candidates’ rallies tonight.” Clancy said looking around. “O’Dowell knows how to play his cards.”

They got some free cheese sandwiches and tea and pushed as close as they could to the raised stage area in the middle of the auditorium.

“I hope he’s stronger than this tea.” Birk said pouring his paper cup out before crumpling it to toss it away.

“Tea’s never right in anything but a mug.” Clancy said. “I hope he’s stronger than the bunch that caved in to BritCan.”

The near by church tower rang the hour and at the last of the seven peals Steve O’Dowell came out from beneath the stands to rousing applause. He was followed by Gus McLelland, his campaign  manager, his sister and Lillian McTavish. As they walked through the crowd he, or Lillian, stopped to shake hands with various people.

When Steven got to the stage, the audience stood and continued to applaud. Gus went to the microphone. “Thank you all for coming out. It’s been a short but hard fought campaign and from the turn out here tonight I’d say we’ve already elected our new member of the legislative assemble. Steven O’Dowell.”

Another roar of approval came from the crowd.

Steven stepped up to the microphone, adjusted his tie and motioned for the silence. “I don’t want to count my votes before they are cast. All I want to say is that we proved we can stand the gaff. Once the tories are in power we’ll see if the BritCanada Coal Company can stand the gaff when we force them to listen to us, to listen to the people who live and die here and not to their fat board members in Montreal and Toronto and London. Strike breaking laws have no place this country.”

The audience was back on its feet, stomping on the floor boards, whistling and yelling their approval.

Steven unbuttoned his vest and signalled for silence again. “I have to thank Gus for all he’s done, for my sister whose faith in me has kept me going and my fiancee, Lillian McTavish, whose promise of marriage as given me another goal to aim for.”

“When’s the date?” someone called from the audience.

“A week after the mines fully open again and you take home your first pay packs. Only then. Once you’ve had your just reward then I’ll deserve mine.”

“She sure looks fine up there.” Clancy said to Birk.

“More than she ever did before.” Birk hardly recognized the Lillian on the stage. He was used to seeing her in her plain shifts, her hair tucked away under a hat or a shawl. Here she wore a form-fitting dark blue dress with a hat that allowed her hair to fall to her shoulders.

“Sorry you didn’t fall for her.” Clancy nudged him.

“No! Us poor miners could never give her the things she deserves.”

“When BritCan said let’em starve we won’t negotiate because the workers can’t stand the gaff, we proved them wrong. We’re going to take the gaff and shove it into their faces. I’ve learned from the mistakes of my my worthy opponent. I’ve seen where he’s refused to change, to actually listen to the people and do what has to be done. 

“He’s done a valiant job but he’s trapped in a party that won’t listen. The Tories have listened and have already promised you to put an end to this strike breaking legislation. That is their first matter of business once they are elected. And mark my words we will be elected.”

Brik and Clancy pushed their way out while the cheers continued. 

“You going back to your ma’s on the mainland to vote?” Birk asked as they walked back to the ferry dock.

“Haven’t given it much thought. Neither of us can cast a vote for O’Dowell, no matter how good his sandwiches are.”

“Old enough to starve but not old enough to vote.” Birk said.

They sat on the railing of the Dingle Dandy back to Castleton Mines.

“Steven sounds like he’ll get things done.” Birk said lightly tapping the deck with the heel of his boot. “Blackie says it’ll make little difference who wins the feds hold the cards.”

“Yeah, the cards BritCan dealt them. Here take a tug of this.” Clancy pulled a flat bottle out of his coat pocket.

“Where you come by that?”

“While you was taking the piss behind the arena.” Clancy unscrewed the top and took a swing before passing it to Birk.

“Not sure if I ought to.” Birk took a small sip. It had a sour apple taste that burned as it went down. He shuddered, took another swallow and passed it back to Clancy. 

“A bit strong for ya?” Clancy took another gulp and put back in his pocket.

The ferry docked and the passengers exited.

“Warming up.” Birk said as they walk up the short rise that lead to the main street.

“That happens in June.” Clancy said. “This’ll warm it up faster.” He took another swig and passed it to Birk.

Birk glanced around to see if anyone was paying them any attention.

“Go on! No one cares. Birk it’s as if your ma was always hovering around you somewhere.”

Birk moved into a shadow between two buildings and took a bigger swig. He coughed as it went down. He took another one before handing it back to Clancy.

“You’re getting the hang of it.”

“Not old enough to vote, but old enough to drink bootleg.” Birk said.

“Old enough to fight and die for your country too, if you had to.”

“Dodging that machine-gun fire was enough war for me.” Birk said. The moonshine made his head spin a little. “I was never so scared in m’life.”

“Not even when the little nun first smiled on you.”

“Not even then. That weren’t fear anyway.” He swung his fist playful at Clancy. “She got what she wanted and it sure weren’t me.”

“Sure weren’t me either.” He grabbed Birk in a headlock.

Birk slipped out of it and darted up the lane that lead to his house. Clancy followed. The street light didn’t go as far as Birk’s house at the end of the lane. 

Birk hid in a shadow and his eyes adjusted to the dark. He saw Clancy stop to peer around for him. He skirted behind two houses till he was at his own. Peeking out from around the corner he gave a little whistle to let Clancy know where he was.

“Got you my slippery one.” Clancy grabbed him from behind. “Two can duck around in the dark you know.”

Birk elbowed Clancy into letting loose his grip. He scrambled to the back of the house and out into the field behind it. He stopped by the tree where he did his thinking.

The sky was clear.

“You out here?” Clancy said quietly.

Birk gave another little whistle. Clancy made his way over to the tree.

“Nice view of things from here.” He sipped from his flask.

“Yeah.” Birk took the flash, took the last swallow and tossed as far as he could. “There’s that empty.” 

They leaned against each other shoulder to shoulder.

“We should go fishin’ again soon.” Clancy slurred. He grabbed Birk in another headlock.

“Hey!” 

Birk grabbed Clancy around the waist to break free and they fell to the ground. Even when Birk broke free of the headlock neither was willing to let go their hold. They rolled in the grass attempting to get the other to submit.

“Say uncle.” Birk grunted as his pinned Clancy beneath him.

“Not until you do.” Clancy heaved and pushed till he was on top once again.

“You may not want to,” Birk wrapped his legs around Clancy and held him between them. “But your little fella sure feels he’s ready to give up the battle.”

“Yours too.” Clancy muttered.

“Not as much as yours.” Birk stopped squeezing with his legs.

He sagged on top of Clancy, enjoying the closeness, the urge of the hardness trapped in their pants.

“Quick.” Clancy pushed him away, kicked off his shoes and yanked off his trousers. “Don’t want to muss these up anymore than need be!”

Birk did the same, tossing his overalls and shoes in opposite directions. “Ma’s got enough washing up to do with me adding these to the pile.” 

Flesh to flesh. Face to face. Clancy spit on his hand and slicked their members as he pulled Birk to press on him.

In a few moments it was over.

They rolled away from each. Clancy’s hand rested on Birk’s hip.

“What do think of?” Birk asked

“When? Now?”
“Yeah. When we was … rubbing?”

“Can’t say as I think of anything ‘cept what we’re doing. How good it feels and that I want it to last longer.”

“The … spark at the end you mean? I try to hold off but I can’t.”

“Not only that but all of it. The wrestling, the holding, the …. the closeness of us. Even when you needs a good wash up I don’t mind.” Clancy moved his hand along Birk’s rib cage.

“You saying I stink?”

“When was the last time you were in the tubs at Mrs. Franklins?”

“Last time we was there. That Colonel Strickland won’t any but him use the tubs. ” Birk stared up at the stars. It was as if he could count them individually. 

He dozed off till Clancy’s snores woke him. His back ached from where he had fallen asleep in the grass. It was still night. He wiped himself as clean as he could with a handful of grass and put his clothes back on while he watched Clancy sleep on the ground. Clancy’s shirt was open and his nearly naked body glowed in the darkness.

“Clancy?” He whispered, then repeated louder. “Clancy” He gently toed him in the soft of his belly. “Clancy.”

Clancy woke with a start. “Wha!”

“It’s Birk, you drunken fool. Get yer pants on afore it rains and washes your little fella away.”

“You taking advantage of me in my sleep.” Clancy joked as he reached for his clothes.

“No more ‘an you do when I’m awake.”

“Were are m’boots?” Clancy pulled on his pants.

“I think I heard one of them hit the tree over there. Don’t know where t’other one ended up though.”

“You’r ma mind if I kip over tonight.” Clancy put on the shoe he had and hopped over to find the other one by the tree.

“You must be some drunk.” He put his arm around Clancy shoulder and pulled him close. “You’ve been kipping since I don’t know when.”

“Good drink that.” Clancy said. “M’name’s Clancy, innit?”

 

The next day Birk accompanied his father when he went to the poll to cast his ballot.

“You comin’ Ma?” Birk asked his mother.

“No. It’s not fittin’ a woman should cast her vote.”

“But it’s allowed. Mrs. Mc.” Clancy said.

“What’s allowed and what fitting are two different things Clancy. I was not one of those who wants women to be able to do everything and anything a man can do. Politics is no place for a woman. No place.”

“Can’t say as I blame you.” Clancy said. “Sometimes it doesn’t aim to be a fitting place for men either.”

Outside the polling station miners were gathered, smoking and talking about who they were going to vote for. 

“Even if wasn’t going to vote for O’Dowell I sure wouldn’t say so in front of these guys,” Birk said to Clancy.

“At least you could read which one he is on the ballot.” Clancy joked. “I hope his soon-to-be missus must have taught you to read that much.”

Mac went in and came out ten minutes later.

“It’s pretty simple boys. There I was thinking I’d have to write me name down somewhere at least or even his but all I had to do was mark an X and put it in the box.”

“Let’s pray that X makes a difference.” One of the miners said. “Sometimes out with the old doesn’t mean much if the new broom can’t sweep what the old broom couldn’t sweep.”

“New broom might it hard to sweep this mess up.” Clancy said.

The next afternoon word was out that it had been a clean sweep of the old government. Birk hoped the new broom would do some good.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Ivy Jackson Jalbert

 

On the shelf are three stand-alones by Ivy: Apartment Life; Long Distance; In The Clear. In 1997 I read a review of Apartment Life and picked it up in December of that year. I enjoyed it enough to pick up another two of their releases. This is cafe music. Easy listening songs about love, loss, longing & travel. There is a decided French influence that adds to their appeal. Singer Dominique Durand has a sweet whisper of a voice – like Brigitte Bardot or Jane Birken. Appealing, almost romantic, background music for making out. 

The opposite is true for Millie Jackson – she doesn’t make background music. On an mp3 collection I have – Caught Up; Still Caught Up; Pleasure. All are classic r’n’b soul. Millie has a fine raspy voice. The albums are all concept albums about obsessive love gone wrong from the pov of the stalker. This is great music that taps romance in a highly relatable way as opposed to the blissful lovey dovey love song way. 

Also in this mp3 collection is Sister Monica: as the name suggests this is secular gospel music mixed with real life 🙂 She has rich full voice. Worth checking out. As is Alice Ruiz & Rogeria Holtz’s No Pais de Alice – fun Latino music with a message I nearly understand. Finally in this collection is a return to real French with La Mome: the soundtrack to the 2007 Piaf film. Recordings of Piaf, some slightly remixed for the sound track plus some of actual soundtrack music. This is a soundtrack that doesn’t need the movie for you to enjoy it.

I first heard Laurence Jalbert on MuchMusic’s French Kiss (no longer on the air) A P.Q. Bonnie Riatt but with more sensuality. I have stand-alones of her 1st & Corridors. Both bought in Montreal. Like many Quebecois singers her style ranges from r/n/b, soul, pop, a touch of country, some with traditional influence, even jazz. A warm inviting voice. My French hasn’t improved though 🙂

Protect

From were he stood on the crest of a small hill Tom could only hear broken phrases. A group of voices chanting in the night. The wind broken up the chant, as did the trees between him and them. The voices rose and fell almost with the rise and fall of the waves that crashed at the base of the cliffs. The timing had to deliberate yet how could it be?

‘What are you listening to?’ Steve asked.

‘Can’t you hear it?’

‘Sounds like the wind in the trees.’

‘No. It’s more than that.’

‘Perhaps a blood sacrifice to the moon?’

‘More like some drunken kids howling at the moon.’

The wind dropped suddenly. There was a cool stillness around them. A figure stepped out ten feet in front of them A te‚enage boy with a sloppy smile and even sloppier clothes.

‘Yo, watcha gawkin’ man. Take a good look while you can. There’s nothing other than the moon and you be the snake skin soon soon.’

Several other teens stepped out around them. Each repeating the same phrases.

‘We seem to have …’

‘Yo, man, no say anything. We protect. You be needin’ protection.’

The circle of teens pressed closer. All boys, about fifteen or sixteen years old.

‘We should be getting back to our hotel.’ Steve said. 

‘You be stain’ at Casa Trib’mana?’

‘Yes.’ Tom flexed his hands, ready.

‘Not to worry, man, we’ll not harm you. Others would be doing that, but we aren’t like that. We protect. Protect the foolish likes of you.’

In the dim light Tom couldn’t make out the faces of these teens clearly, but as they came closer, he saw streaks of scarlet had been drawn around the eyes, several short dashes of green along the chin.

‘You look at our whiskers.’ the first teen said. ‘We make our selves fit the world. You see this world.’

The boys spread out and vanished except for the first boy.

‘You better be head, back. A night like this isn’t one for strangers. You know my meaning. Not for strangers who have no idea where the world is headin. You need help ask for Rumba. I be Rumba.’

‘Thanks.’ Frank turned around. They headed back up the path.

‘Did you get all that?’ he asked Tom.

‘I think so.’ he tapped the bag that held the video camera. ‘That was best we’ve gotten so far.’

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every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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‘Quieting the colonial hum’

 

The Hot Damn! season 5 finale filled Buddies in Bad Times to the rafters. The house filled so rapidly that the event actually started on time !! Yes, a spoken word event that started on time 🙂 House music was provided by DJ Sofia Fly, who also supplied great entrance & exit music for the slammers. Not that the energy of the house needed any help 🙂

 

The show opened with Charlie Petch’s land acknowledgment followed a set of songs by Ogichidaa Kwe. The song about the warning heard but not believed resonates in our political climate as we deal with governments who feel warnings are not to be believed without the right corporate backing.

I was one of the lucky poets who participated in Nasra Adem’s Mirror of Tarot workshop the night before at Unit 2 so I was ready to see their feature set. In a flashing of red and gold Nasra’s set was spokenword alternating with songs and a dash of political anger. 

some moments from that set: the sun looks up & catches my glint – I just want to ride my intentions – I quiet the colonial hum around me – how loud men are with their fear – healing only happens when I’m safe enough to call for help – bluest black starlight – if this shit ain’t intersectional it don’t exist – white feminism can suck my dick – you can wipe your tears they aren’t needed here.
After a break Charlie started the slam with the queer national anthem – somewhere over the rainbow. Then the eager slammers hit the stage with pieces that were emotionally powerful, funny, deeply personal & accurate skewering of our dominant culture’s inability to accept diversity on all levels.

moments from round one: a shade of blue trying make bruises jealous, half my identity was stolen from me by the time I was six, I want you to talk to me rather than write it all in your journal, compensation doesn’t undo the truth, he tried to whitewash me with his bedsheets, my bravery doesn’t mean your allyship is unnecessary, down the rabbit hole of trauma, the nights my memory of you is my razor blade, I never studied dance but learned how to fall with precision, it’s safer to play chameleon, either swallow fear of be swallowed by it, fat kids should eat because they are fat, every bite tastes like shame.

Moments from round two: you don’t want me & it cuts to my soul, wrote a note on my phone not to text you, the sound of motherhood knocks a cracked door, when in this city I avoid the subway, I would hold you the way gravity holds the atmosphere, I guess it isn’t about sex anymore, confession is telling how good she tastes, is there a way to be Christian & not be ignorant, being queer is fucking difficult, I used cover girl to cover up the hicks, congratulations! you’re straight, why can’t I be as angry as him.

Over these five years Hot Damn! as become an amazing force for diversity. It has created & maintained a safe space were the gender marginalized members of already marginalized communities can come together to express their loves, frustrations, fears and outright fucking anger without being judged. Oh right, they are judged as part of the slam, but that’s a different matter 🙂

It was a non-stop feast (or perhaps feeding frenzy) of words from the competing poets Sulva, Charly Bird, Dee Durward (QUEIRDO winner! Doe!) Robert Molloy, & Danielle Workman. After scores were tallied: the top three were (it was SO CLOSE) Jayda Marley (3rd 58.5), Fira (58.9) and winner Wes Ryan (59.2). 

 

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Alden Nowlan

I’d forgotten how deeply I was influenced by the poetry of Alden Nowlan until I bought a copy of his collected poems for myself a year or so ago. My shelf is so extensive it’s taken me until this year to start reading it. It is a doorstopper. When asked what Canadian poets influenced me early on I would say Margaret Atwood, Susan Musgrave. 

Nowlan’s writing is conversational I guess I didn’t think of him as someone to mention. He didn’t write capital P poetry. I’d read others like Milton Acorn, Al Purdy but they didn’t stick to me the way Nowlan did.

In reading this collection I recognize that my usually conversational style come directly from him. He wrote about ordinary things, cows in a field, the smell of a hospital bed and fashion them into powerful moments. He was also a master of the end line, as I tend to be, that turns what one has just read, on its head to reframe everything.

 

I also have his CBC recording Alden Nowlan’s Maritimes – in which he reads some of his poetry one one side, the other side is a radio play based on one his short stories. I did meet him once when I was at the University of New Brunswick summer writing workshop. He didn’t lead any workshops but some of us were invited to his home to talk about our poetry. He was most encouraging.

 

Next to Dylan Thomas there is no greater influence I can think of on my poetic vision.

Arachnologic Romance

what’s that word

you know the one

that you call a kiss

that feels like walking 

into a dew jewelled spider web

on a sunny day

while looking in the basement 

for that lost sock

you know that word

 

that kiss 

that slip of the tongue

that tip of the tail

wagging excitedly

yet with a vague damp unease

at the same time

wanting to give in

yet feeling it’s all too sudden

too stuck on your face

while one hand reaches up 

to brush the spider web off

the other wants to fondle the spider

 

what is that word

I have to get the right word

for that sensational sensation

also a word for that rapidly

elusive need for the right word

I have to tell you all this

in exactly the right tone of voice 

if I don’t

it may never happen again

I may never find that sock

I’ll have to go with one foot bare

on this chilled concrete floor

while other in snug in a sock

trying to balance that tightrope

of grit under one foot

and comfy protection on the other

 

when did I lose that sock

when did I do laundry last 

don’t I have another pair

upstairs in a safe room

in neat rows in a drawer

no it has to be these socks

the ones you like to pull off my feet

with your teeth

 

you like to undress me

kiss each bared part

my outline in your silver silva

draws me into that web

the bad at the centre

where we devour each other

without a second thought

what about the the other sock

 

the word has escape me

I thought I had it trapped

like your tongue

held firmly in my grasp

as it slips slides

elusive fleshy fragments

tender mysteries

and all I can think about

is the tender shock of 

cobweb on my face

don’t want it to get into my eyes

bad enough 

it has caressed my lips

it has a dusty sooty taste

is it hygienic 

can I catch insect infection

eating a cobweb

one hand darts up to brush it away

but stops when I see 

the spider scuttle away

back into the dark

shocked by the size of this catch

not ready to crawl across my shoulders

the way you do so well

not ready to take the seed

and play it into new shapes 

along my stomach

each breath slithering cool trails

laughing at the moment

 

turning over in the bed

looking for our clothe

time for clean socks

the other must be in the laundry

I’ll be right back

only I’m stuck here

caught in a loss for words

looking for a definition

that will wind you around me forever

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every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
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Enemy At First Sight

Enemy At First Sight

some people

bring fear into a room

ideologies that I am expected

to accomodate

without knowing

what fear they bring into the room

 

they prejudge me

for prejudging them

merely because of who I am

of who I appear to be to them

 

I am an enemy at first sight

without having to say a word

or take any action

other than being there

of being unlike them

 

they feel unsafe

because I am not invisible

and it is my fault

all my fault

for not understanding

what they haven’t told me


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In The Company of Strangers 

In The Company of Strangers 

after two minutes

I knew this conversation

wasn’t going anywhere

it had started off so promising 

with an ‘I can’t wait to meet you

I’ve heard so much about you’

 

so we meet

we start to talk

and after a minute 

their eyes look around

at others

for others

for escape

 

we nod at the right times

chuckle at the right times

but aren’t looking at each other

eyes rove over one another’s shoulders

looking for some someone better

 

our attention intention

we showed in each other 

abruptly comprised

by the alluring promise

of others around us

of faces and smiles

of someone else to talk to

all of them is at least as interesting

all of who would only hold

our eager attention for a moment

because like the one 

who was so eager to meet them

our eyes would be darting

looking someone else

with bigger promise

bigger reputation

to be seen talking too

to be seen walking away from

to a better opportunity

 

because there is always a better opportunity

even when the one

in front of you is good enough

This ‘attention intention’ has happened to me so many times I’ve stopped bothering to make conversation at things like readings, workshops, book signings, people’s parties (even my own.) People want to be seen talking but rarely want to be seen listening 🙂 I have mastered the nod, frown, chuckle responses to the point where, much like them, I’m not fully listening as their eyes dart around the room for the person they were really waiting for.

Or if they aren’t placing around the room hey are glancing at their smart phone, or stopping in the middle of a chuckle to check their smart phone. The news feed from people not in the room being more commanding than the people foolish enough to be in the room. Or maybe they are texting or receiving  nods to someone else already in the room.

Occasionally someone does engage me in a ‘real’ conversation that starts with asking about me then quickly becomes them talking about themselves. I never discourage them. I know how to say things like ‘great’ or ‘that must be very stressful’ ‘tell me more.’ Which gives each of us a chance to glance over each other’s shoulder.

 

I no longer take such social interactions seriously or personally. At one time I did get miffed when eye contact couldn’t be maintained longer than it took to recognize each other. When someone say’s ‘it’s been great talking to you’ I know it really means the view over my shoulder was good. 


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