My Five Year (Dead Friends)

With my AA anniversary this week (43 years on July 6) I’ve done some reminiscing about my early years in recovery. My memory is helped by the journals I kept at that time – this was before keyboards & morning pages. Handwritten & for the most part more a listing of events than reflections on those events. In my poetry archive I have pieces that I wrote then which are more about discovering the gay world than exploring sobriety.

One artifact I have is a cassette recording of my 5 year anniversary from 1983! I’m not sure if I have heard it since it was first recorded. I also have a photo taken of the occasion, plus some of the cards I was given! The photo brings back some memories. I listened the the tape a few months ago though before passing it on to the Archives for preservation as mp3.

It is, I’ve been told by the head of that committee, a piece of gay recovery history that shouldn’t be lost. I had to hear it first before letting it go. It was a bit embarrassing to hear myself praised, to hear my actual ‘acceptance’ remarks. It was bittersweet to hear these voices of members who, for the most part, are no longer with us. Dead friends. So many dead friends.

Some murdered by HIV, some who died of life itself, some who moved away to Vancouver or Calgary to struggle with their sobriety in different surroundings but didn’t make it, deaths I heard of eventually. Voices I still recognized. Voices that I was happy to hear again. I even recognized laugher of people in the audience.

I do recall the tape being made but don’t remember who made it. Side A says ‘Duncan’s Fifth – Key unknown – 7 July 1983.’ Side B ‘‘Duncan’s Fifth in AA major – 7 July 1983.’ Printed by the hand of the taper. I love the Beethoven reference. It is the entire meeting from opening serenity prayer, passing the basket & the closing prayer. 

I was a little surprised that it played at all. Cassettes often dry out, loose their ‘dynamic tension,’ tape ends become disconnected from the spools. One of the reasons I was so happy to to move to from tapes to cds. There was nothing more dismaying than having the tape on your Walkman jam up & pulling it out with endless feet of tape dripping out of it. I may wait another 43 years before hearing it again though 🙂

This is a piece I wrote in Cape Breton back in 1977 when I was deep into my alcoholism.

Blackout

1

the fear

aware of the light

shapes the unseen

the fear

<>

is being awakened

at the wrong trembling moment

to your own pulse

2

I gave in today

without a fight 

without a second thought

gave in to nothing

being nothing

doing nothing

going nowhere

<>

I gave up

my dreams & hopes

plans of a great future

that’ll never come true

all that’s left for me

is to relax into resignation

without bitterness

to keep on giving in

without a struggle

<>

the plan now

is to sleep in

on all fours

to a snug shadow

of calm reserve

a smug disinterest 

about the things

I once had to become

3

I’m getting old 

the feel of fall

is colder in my bones

every year

<>

I find it easier to drink

to forget old unfinished fears

than to make new motions

toward an altered shape

I find it easier

every time I empty another bottle

the next seems more welcome

more of a proffered hope

than a fleeting solace

leading to remorse for old hurts

4

resignation

is a futile gesture

it is an admission 

to pretentions

I once had a vision 

a true sense of a special offering

a vision proved to be

am insecure self-indulgence 

a vision

that kept me so in awe

I could never confront

even my basic mortality 

<>

the vision of immortality 

before more than I could bear

no one is fooled but me

there is no dream revelation

just the dream

just the dream

to black out the image

of the self-pitying 

aging

drunken

unfulfilled visionary 

with no shape

no broken heart

just his fear

<>

the fear

last feeling of fall

has no vision

5

the unseen

is the futility of resignation

the inability to admit

that even as these words are

I intend to deny their meaning

<>

this is not defeat

I have nothing to lose

this is not resignation

I have nothing to concede

<>

the dream

will never change

that it may never come true

is the heart of the plan

<>

the fear

pulse of the plan

has no end

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No Room

No Room 

I’ve lived with the same man

for over forty years

I don’t use poppers or party and play

so I’m not gay enough for the room

<>

I did hiv home care 

buried friends 

stepped away from the front lines

so I’m not queer enough for the room

<>

I sleep around

sometime have unprotected sex

so I’m not a good example

for anyone in the room

<>

I don’t like Celine Dion or Babs

which is enough to get my

gay card denied

so I don’t have the credentials for the room

<>

I’m over several hills

hills only survivors 

know how daunting they can be

such as shame for not being young enough

to be in the room 

<>

the web sells us

face lifts work out routines 

websites for grandpa devotees

to keep them away from the room

<>

being acceptable in heteronormative 

assimilationist terms

was too conditional

I was amused 

abused

by the need

for the conformity

to be gay enough to be in the room

<>

I’m not sure 

if I ever was in that room

if I was

I wasn’t long for the room

I was tempted to call this No Room At The Inn but the religious connotations were inappropriate. The piece is clearly about assimilationist attitudes that try to rule the queer community. Attitudes that said it was fine for trans men & woman to fight for our rights but then tried to hide them so as not to cast a bad light on all those good, unassuming queers who didn’t want to scare the horses.

I’m not that I am preoccupied with the ways I may or may not fit into various categories I can’t ignore the ways my ‘not fit’ is made clear to me by others, directly or indirectly. PRIDE is clearly focused on a very specific ‘market’ defined by age, appearance, substance of choice, & body type. The one marked improvement in PRIDE over the years has been its greater awareness of race/nationality inclusivity – but honey if you don’t look good in heels, or leather chaps, or jeans you really aren’t that welcome regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

Many years ago I was invited to be part of a PRIDE reading by those of us over a certain age. Cool, I thought, we’re given some recognition. The event was unpaid, we were to be so grateful to be included we would perform for free (a standard PRIDE stance for many performers), the location was as far from the Church street core as possible – I was surprised they didn’t stick us down in Fort York. Only us performers & our friends could find the room.

One of the fallacies of inclusivity is that everyone has equal  footing – there is nearly always someone deciding who is the best example of what is to be included. The decision gauge is often unpredictable even when that someone deigns to use it on you. You could be let into the room but please stay in that corner there. 

Time to clean my room 🙂


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Pride Slugfest

One of the sure signs of summer has become the appearance of rainbow flags in corporate settings. How long before McD’s markets the Inclusive Burger to compete with the Gay Uncle Burger? Ooh look multicoloured sprinkles on the unicorn donut! I feel so seen. Where are the transvegan breakfast wraps? So many new markets to cater to.

So many rainbows to choose from – the classic, the trans flag, the combo, the maple leaf between rainbows, the blm, the (fill in your niche) flag. Clearly if you don’t have them all in your store window you aren’t an ally. If you don’t recognize the latest variation you are phobic. If you stick to the classic you are hiding your head in the glitter. With so many splinter groups clamouring for recognition if you support the wrong ones you are suspect. 

I was recently invited to contribute some pro-Pride remarks to a company as part of their lgbtqia+ inclusively week. If I am queer positive I’ll help them show their support as they sell more garments to increase their market share. If I don’t do it, for free, I’m clearly homophobic, if I expect $ I’m just an entitled slug. I declined. I’ve had enough exposure thank you. I’m not interested in another slugfest 🙂

Here in Ontario people are lamenting the pandemic restrictions that, like last year, have curtailed Pride public celebrations. Personally I’m indifferent. The parade has become a march of commercial sponsors interspersed grass-root splinter groups staking claim to their few minutes is the spotlight. 

(photos of an east end Toronto sidewalk)

The Days of the Week

control 

out of control

so hard to choose

which will give the better result

too hard to let go of

those expectations 

drives 

dreams 

goals

result of out of control

such a freedom

can someone with control issues

get out of control

with the need to control

hold on too tight

or drop everything too suddenly

relax into a puddle

even a puddle is controlled by gravity

free fall isn’t free

free form still has form

is the goal to be shapeless 

is uncontainable anarchy

aimless directionless

still has points of reference

that pull to the norm

can the norm be out of control

who can impose that structure

who gets to be the responsible one

while the rest

are wild and free 

is there actual energy in being out of control

doing nothing takes no energy

relax float down stream

the stream has control

the surrender is to another’s control

ven when out of control

someone is deciding

what out is

what control is

who the object is of these definitions

light need dark to exist

no one controls the days

just gives them names

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Not All Rainbows Are On Flags

Rainbows are showing up all around east end Toronto. These are pictures from the area bounded by Broadview, O’Connor, Main & Dundas E.

proud tree in Browning/Logan area
tight knit?

Craven Rd. fence
across from pape subway station

inclusive in the Mortimore/Coxwell area

mural Danforth/Patricia area
close up of mural
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Hollywood Poems

In September 2020 Philip Cairns asked me to write an introduction to Hollywood Poems – a collection of his writing. He sent me an advance reading copy & here is what I wrote:

“Philip’s Disney sweetheart was Annette Funicello, mine was Haley Mills. He exalts in Anita Ekbert, I was enthralled by Brigette Bardot. You might ask – what’s with gay guys & obscure female film stars? In his Hollywood Poems Philip explores that question in a series of tender odes which reveal as much about him as it does about the objects of his fandom. The Bedbug Blues pieces are funny & bitingly true.

The poems are like quilts stitched together with contrasting swatches of the fabric of his life, patterns get repeated, images emerge & a person appears. They are like meeting up with a chatty friend who tells charming stories with tangents that sometimes connect to each other but always connect to life. The style is Frank O’Hara meets Walt Whitman – amiable, comfortable, inviting & emotionally resonant.”

1990

I met Philip way back in 1990 when he was cast in Bushwack Theatre’s production of T-Shirts. One of his lines, that I still remember, was ‘I was never a cute kid.’ Which really summed up the way many gay men felt about themselves. He delivered it with sincerity. He became a valuable member of the Bushwack company of performers, & was featured in many of its productions over the nine years that the company lasted. 

After Bushwack ended we sort of lost touch for several years. I retuned to full force to my own writing & became involved in the Toronto spoken-word world, in which the out gay male perspective was seriously under-represented. I encouraged Philip to hit some of the many open stages. He found them somewhat homophobic but persisted.

Eventually he, along with myself, Lizzie Violet & others formed The Beautiful and Damned collective which ran a monthly performance series for two years at various venues. We rotated hosting, lined up features & musicians. It was great fun while it lasted.

I heard many of the pieces in Hollywood Poems when they were first performed at various readings, when of course, one could go to readings. You can get the book on Amazon. Check out his web page. 

HOLLYWOOD POEMS , www.philipcairns.com 

For more about him, The Beautiful and Damned, & Lizzie Violet take a search stroll through the TOpoet archives.

from may 2008

Ready

the ignored alarm

the heeded bladder

the rotation of cereals

kiwi a radical change

strawberries 

blueberries grapes bananas

different yet consistent

rotation from what is there 

to what is there now

the ritual with water 

the seasonal changes of view

but still the same view

the email check 

the rotation of  shoes undies

the clack of spoons

ring of phones

expected voices

expected scatter of opportunities

land in the same places

different days

yet the same days

this on the first Friday

this on the second Monday

a trusted structure

to give balance to the routine

never identical 

but always the same

does it need variation

can the little books be left out one day

consistency and variation

brief departures

make routine so welcome

enjoy more and more

what doesn’t happen every day

if it did 

pleasure would be gone

opportunity isn’t the aphrodisiac

or  is it

time memory fluctuations 

flow

picture of the innocent lie

the flavour of oranges

the melt of chocolate

the squirm of recognition

the long to muss hair

how can the hands keep reaching

each morning out of the bed

follow the slopes of the day

that rolls back to the same bed

to the same sleeping moments

dreams lost to bladder

secure consistent 

ready to ignore the alarm

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Disco Chips

May 19, 2021 marks 43 years since I stepped off a plane to arrive here in Toronto on May 19, 1978. I’ve lived briefly on Wellesley St E, Sherborne for about year, briefly in Thorncliffe, Bright Street for a year, Oakdene for some 40 years. I’ve had a ‘real’ job for the first year then nothing ‘real’ since then. I have cleaned apartments, ran a theatre company for about 10 years, became a lab rat for pharmaceutical drug studies.

On the east coast I was working for Famous Players & had asked them for a transfer & ended up being sent to Toronto. The year or so before I left Sydney I subscribed to the Body Politic so I knew there was a gay world larger than the rumoured gay path in the park. I wanted a land of opportunity. 

I remember my first few months here. Discovering the bars, dancing, getting sober. I was a blackout drinker & was afraid of backing out at the Quest & heading for home – which probably would have been Sydney – a very long walk. I learned my way around the subway system going to AA meetings. 

I left Famous when I discovered I had an allergy to money! My job there consisted of counting box off take. often thousands of dollars of paper more & coins that had to counted & rolled & recounted any hand in airless windowless rooms. Money is filthy & we had no gloves or masks or sanitizers. I got rashes on my hands, arms & severe red-eye. None of which worked on the dance floor 🙂

here’s a piece I wrote my first summer in Toronto

Disco Chips

<>

1

<>

electronics

chip away

at the solid state of me

disco chips

chip away chip away 

dance away

till only sweat remains

<>

slip away

escape for a time

a time of being

suck away fuck away

disco chips

chip away chip away

take your time

take my time

take my pace

leave my body

thumping 

jumping 

energy frenzy

fits the pattern

fumbles the patter

<>

then

up your nose 

up your ass

in your mouth

out of your grasp

cuts your palm

across the life line

the pulse line

pumping thumping

flopping

dancing fists

disco chips

chip away chip away

at the solid of me

<>

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains

<>

2

<>

I used to laugh

when I was warned

of the lure the scent the heat

of the pleasure palaces

laughed at the phrase

the symbol

till I realized

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat 

even when I saw

no real pleasure

no surreal palace

only a whispering wall

a muttering stuttering

wall of eyes

<>

I couldn’t resist 

the lure the scent the heat

<>

3

<>

disco hits

below the belt

disco chips

away the surface reveal 

my fear my futility

disco chips

disco hips & disco dicks

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco slips

into the ear

then into the blood

<>

no alternative 

no escape

no please

tango prisoners

music fists

pounding me down

driving my pulse

popper clones

danger zones

disco chips

suck away fuck away 

dance away

disco hips & disco dicks

chip away chip away

suck away fuck away 

dance away

till only the sweat remains.

<>

jn78

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Next Time

Next Time

the sex was good

but at this stage 

good wasn’t enough

I craved more than contact

<>

he certainly enjoyed 

the flesh on flesh

but not nearly as much

as he enjoyed the down low

the secret assignation

<> 

his exploration of excitement

of things his wife didn’t provide

I was his walk on the wild side

that made the cultural box

he felt he had no way of avoiding

bearable

<>

the sex was good

I was a non-threatening opportunity

that had nothing to do with me

as a person

as a spiritual entity

he only wanted the release

when he wanted it

<>

his travel here

often took longer

than we played together

play that was clearly more than good for him

but a vitally needed contact

<>

the sex was good

but for me

good wasn’t enough

I want desire

chemistry

there wasn’t enough chemistry 

for me to want more

not enough chemistry

to get an yen for him 

I knew enough about him

I didn’t care

<>

now to tell him

the next time he calls

and I know he will call

they always do

A guy I saw decades ago once joked ‘How long before I show up in one of your poems?’ He never did but he was aware that writers, poets in particular, often write about their lives – it is a way of processing our experiences & a way remembering them. I didn’t tell him that poetry is a fiction that reflects the truth without telling it – reflections are often distorted by the light, by time & the surface that sends back the reflection.

Some of my pieces are composites of real events that I’ve experienced or that friends had told me about. This is one of those composite pieces that reflects that balance between lust & opportunity. One would think with changes in cultural mores men (or women) wouldn’t feel so bound to fulfill the roles of husband or father but many still do.

Whether out of a sense of not letting down the folks, or maintaining their ethnic standards they find themselves in domestic relationship boxes – often though, as in the case of the married man here, he felt little conflict in maintaining two lives. He also enjoyed the ‘sneak’ of meeting up to spending time with me – overtime, going to the gym tonight, etc.

Things between us developed beyond this stage as we talked about our lives outside the bedroom. Not that he was going to leave the missus or anything stupid like that but a mutual fondness was strong. But fondness is no mask in these pandemic years. So I haven’t seen him in over year now; we email occasionally but, to be honest, if we never meet up again, life will go on. He’ll be a sweet memory not a heart ache. He texted that he’s had his vaccine so I know he’ll call.


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Zero Interest Rate

Zero Interest Rate

why I lost interest

wasn’t relevant to letting go

neither of us was that invested

or at least I wasn’t

he was a good technical fuck

made it clear how much he enjoyed

the time we spent together

but as much as he filled me up

he never fulfilled me

he was chatty enough

but conversations went his way

he listened to his voice

his point of view

would ask the same questions

give his answer

talk over mine

so I lost interest

<>

I blocked him on dating sites

rather than go into why 

I lost interest

why I found his paranoia

around identity theft 

made me distrustful of him

he knew too much for the innocent

because he was black

his racism couldn’t be confronted

he’d merely repeat his view

to call him out

meant that I was the racist

<>

it was a few years

since we’d had contact

then one day there he was

on my door step

having changed his online identity 

he’d made contact with me

never let on who he was

did a few things differently

gave me his email

which he’d never done before

though I still didn’t know his real name

the date was set

and there he was

with a slightly smug smile

<>

I wasn’t flattered

but was amused

he was still a good technical fuck

friendly enough

not a listener

talked over my replies

to questions he’d asked

<>

when he left

I blocked him again

somethings don’t change

and he was one of them

“I Can’t Quit Him” – actually ‘Her’ in the Blood, Sweat & Tears song, comes to mind when I think about this poem. If this basic ‘boyfriends past’ seems familiar, it is but is also a different occasion & a different guy too! Now if you are think – he’s bragging, or worse yet, he’s a slut. Get over it! If you are thinking – I hope I have as active a sex life when I’m his age – congratulations. Though those first two thoughts have some truth too.

Often guys who won’t take no for answer think they are demonstrating their persistence, their ardour for you. I see it either as, in one case, sex addiction – no thanks or even sadder desperation – no thanks. It’s not as if I have that active a sex life than I can ‘afford’ to turn down opportunity – but as I’ve said before – just because you’re interested doesn’t mean I have to be.

This is based on a true story! It did happen about two years ago. I have heard from him since mind you. He showed up once day, out of the blue, unmasked & expected me to be eager & grateful. I was neither, even when he did mask & he didn’t get past the porch. He was just in the neighbourhood wanted to drop by.

I didn’t say drop dead – not in the midst of a pandemic – but I was clear this was unacceptable. He was dismayed & claimed other guys have been less inflexible about lockdown restrictions. I told him I’m not like other guys & sent him on his way. I didn’t apologize or even say ‘try me when the pandemic is over’ – though that would have been a good delay, as covid19 will never be over. But better no hope than false hope.


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Future of the Past

The endless lockdown is making people long for things to get back to normal, to the way things used to be. Their sense of the future, of hope for themselves & their careers is cloudy. Before the pandemic their futures were relatively clear – career opportunities were promising but now that new office is whichever corner of your apartment are you going to work from home in.

One friend misses his coworkers presence – not that he misses them as people but he enjoyed being part of a team with whom he had casual physical interaction. Working at home you are your own annoying coworker – there is no one to shrug to after a phone exchange with a client. He can’t remember when he last wore a shirt & tie. His job is secure but he doesn’t feel he has a real future if it is going to be spent in his apartment all day & night. His solution is to look for a new apartment to be trapped in.

I’ve been inputting things out of my writing archive – some pieces going back to high-school, some from the mid-70’s before I moved to Toronto, before I ‘came out.’ As I reread these pieces I try to sense my frame of mind at that time, try to sense what I thought my future would be & how this writing figured into that future. With my fiction I dreamed of being a gay Stephen King at times. 

Stranded in the east coast I really didn’t have a vision of the future until I escaped in the late 70’s. But at least I sensed there would be a future that would be an extension of the comfortable present of the times. Now my friends are facing a future that isn’t as comforting, comfortable or secure. Anxiety has replaced hope. No matter how fashionable masks become the reason for them remains.

Incontrovertible

it’s all open to interpretation

no fact is provable

the side you aren’t on 

views that suits the truth you feel 

is the most suitable to your purposes

<>

no image tells all there is to tell

it’s all in the lighting

viewed often enough 

everything  changes

was that a head bounce off the ground 

or an attempt to get up

was that a punch back 

or a hand up to block a punch

was he asking for it

was that a look of distain

depends on the camera angle

the time of day

the race of the looker

<>

what other news feeds do we have

who decides what the news is

which aspect of the truth to report

can we deny what we broadcast yesterday

why not

who remembers yesterday’s news

the past is fiction 

there is no truth too incontrovertible

that it can’t be recast 

to something more dire

more trivial

which truth will get the most viewers

which is truly entertaining

which is merely information

does it matter if it factual

one study says yes

the other says no

<>

the methodology of studies

cast the questions

so there is no one answer 

to what is being asking

but one answer is all you are allowed

yes no

<>

do your believe your eyes

your ears 

what you read in the paper

is it real until it’s been on TV

until someone has been interviewed

do we wait till the the 11 o’clock news

to know what is going on

is it safe to go outside

<>

we are an endangered species

drowning in a sludge of facts and data

that tell us nothing

but fill us with fear or indifference

it may not matter 

what side of the bed you get up on

you haven’t actually sept

that was all in your mind

maybe because there is only your word

you slept

that night cam footage could be faked 

do you remember sleeping

you didn’t use the can

that wasn’t your piss 

splashing in the bowl

all in your imagination

you have no grasp on reality

<>

when nothing is real

nothing can be proved

the past is revisionism 

the futures can’t be photographed

so it doesn’t exist 

then again 

neither do you

you aren’t real 

just a demographic

irrelevant and unbroadcast

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