At a recovery meeting, when we could meet face to face, after a step had been read aloud – going from person to person around the room – a member shared on their difficulty with the hetero male normative language. When they read their section they de-gendered the language & as did some of the others who read. They implied that those of us who did not, lacked sensitivity to important gender issues.
I gave an inner shrug – I’ve been around recovery rooms long enough that I am not unsympathetic to this but at the same time I’m in recovery to recover not to deal with linguistics or how to do the gender appropriate reading aloud of the literature.
Referring to God as a him is off putting to some people, referring God at all is off putting to some people – if I don’t take pains to make the proper substitutions I make them feel unsafe. What can one do. Stop reading aloud? Ask for a show of hands, before reading starts, of people who feel unsafe because there are cismales in the room who don’t mind being called he? Online some people are including their pronouns as part of their names. (By the way my pronouns are it or that.)
After reading at an lgbtqia open stage an audience member spoke to me about enjoying my pieces but wondered if such sexually explicit material was appropriate because many in the community were triggered by such material. I had introduced one of pieces as being explicit but I guess I hadn’t allowed people enough time to leave the room. I’ve spent enough energy in saying my ‘partner’ & avoiding gender specific pronouns so as not to offended delicate hetero sensibilities that I’m not going spare lgbtqia by suppressing myself. I’d rather not perform than get trapped by self-censorship.
Quincy Jones is a chameleon. His work with others is classic without a sense of his personality over-shadowing theirs. He lets the artist shine & I’ve heard anything he’s been involved with & thought ‘that’s a Quincy Jones production.’ He is not a revolutionary like, say, Phil Spector.
I have a couple of lp to cds of his ‘solo’ work: This Is How I Feel About Jazz, Plays Mancini, Ndeda. The first I found in a remainder bin & it is smooth bop. Ndeda was double set I bought used, that is a compilation of some of his soundtrack music (In The Heat of the Night) & instrumental things like Soul Safari. The Mancini is sweet & they are a perfect match. If nothing else Quincy Jones is a tasteful, elegant producer.
Near Jones is a set of lp to cd transfers of Scott Joplin music performed by Joshua Rifkin, Southland Stingers, Canadian Brass & New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble. Joplin almost became a footnote, his music relegated to music scholars until the movie ‘The Sting’ that made his rags universal & they were resurrected by so many ensembles one lost track & sometimes couldn’t tell who was playing which one. I enjoyed them in small doses 🙂
Most of the recordings are too respectful, treating them like Chopin Etudes, some are jazzier & some are more in the line of sweet polite salon orchestras. So many artists recorded these I’m surprised there isn’t a Tomita version 🙂 Unlike many early 1900 blues performers there are no historic recording sof Joplin actually playing but there are some player piano rolls he made which are fun & can be found on YouTube.
A short story discovered in my archives. It goes back to pre-1995 as the original printout is dot matrix 🙂 I’ve done minimal editing. It is based on a real incident.
The Allegory of Love
“Not again!” I reluctantly pushed Steve’s roaming hand away. “Don’t start something you’re not going to finish.”
He squinted up at me, uncertain & a bit drunk.
I leaned in to speak directly into his ear. “Just because I don’t like being used doesn’t mean ‘stop so soon’.”
“Used?” He took a deep swallow of his beer. “What do you mean?” He stepped back & bumped into a man in leather.
The bar’s music was so loud I couldn’t hear myself. “Call me. I can’t talk here.”
Steve nodded & disappeared into the crowd.
Thank God I thought, breathing a sigh of relief & dismay. I do like Steve, but too much to continue with pointless flirtation.
I suspected that time a couple of weeks ago was our last encounter. It had been under the same circumstance. Me feeling the lure of the full moon & Steve feeling the lull of enough brew. We’ve had fun many times before & I always look forward to what I called ‘rubbing our two sticks together.’
Steve shared an apartment with Ron. When I met them both several years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party. I was instantly attracted Steve. They were introduced to me as friends not as boyfriends. Ron was a bitch, or so it seemed. Ron & I got into clawing at each other for some reason. Something we’re all too good at, I suppose.
I ran into Steve a few nights later & came on to him like the proverbial ton on brick. It was a meltdown in the sack & has been nearly every time we got our sticks together. Usually at my place but sometimes at his, if Ron wasn’t in. Over the years sex was so good, & Steve comparable enough, I would have set up housekeeping with him, except there was that Ron in the ointment.
Steve never described them as being lovers, but Ron seemed to run more of Steve’s life than anyone should run anyone’s. But who am I to judge?
I was open with Steve about my affection for him. He wasn’t displeased, but I could sense that emotions frightened him. Staying with Ron seemed to be his way of keeping scary feelings at bay. For lat couple of month I felt their relationship was about to change, but our last encounter made me see things differently.
I’d arrived at the bar later than usual & was making my first foray into the smokey land of men, when Steve reached out of a dark corner. He grabbed me by the belt & pulled me in for one of those long, sloppy kisses that turn me to jelly.
“Good to see ya, Brian.”
“It’s been awhile.” I laughed. I knew he was a bit looped; he usually was to be so bold.
“Watcha’ been up to? The photo biz still keep you in focus?” He teased, running his free hand over my stomach.
“Things are developing well enough. And you? Getting anywhere in men’s wear?”
“Got a promotion.” He said proudly.
“Things must be going well.” I gently bit his ear.
“We’re opening a new branch since I took over.”
“Great! Soon you’ll be Queen of the Reduced to Queers.”
He giggled. “I really like you. You make me laugh.”
“You make me …” I squeezed his bunds.
“Same here.” He returned the squeeze, while draining his beer. “I’ll be right back.”
He darted off for another beer. As I watched him merge into the crowd, I wondered if this was going to lead to one of our meltdowns. Short, stocky & hairy, he was the perfect teddy bear for me to curl around tonight.
Back with a beer, he hugged me affectionately. “You know my little wang goes ‘boink’ whenever I see you.”
“That’s nothing to complain about.”
“How am I in the sack?”
Feeling a little insecure tonight?’I thought, as I replied. “You’re great. I keep coming back, don’t I”
“You treat me so …” he took a swallow of beer.
“Tender?” I offered.
“Yeah! Like you cared.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You deserve it. Just one thing.”
“Often we’re too rushed. I want to savour what I enjoy. I hate to eat & run when the food is so good.”
“Thanks.” He pulled me in for another fly-popping kiss. “Let’s go.” He said pulling on his jacket.
“The coast is clear tonight?”
“Ah, who gives a fuck? It’s my home as much as his.”
“You’re sure? You know I …”
“Sure.” I felt a slight misgiving. “What the hell. We can go to my place, if you’d rather.” I suggested as we walked along. “You really don’t a nose-bleed going that far north.”
One of the things that Hot Damn! It’s A Queer Slam encouraged me to do was examine, in even greater detail, how our sense of sexual self is ‘created.’ Much of it comes from pop culture. Rampant heterosexuality dominated & even as the lgbtqia community was coming into the mainstream it often remained caught in those heterosexual behaviour constraints such as marriage for acceptance, being a good homo by adopting children to create the typical family.
Even sexual interactions were caught up in this coding – top, bottom, fem, butch, masc, whatever. This piece looks at some of the theories I read about in exploring sexuality – the wrong body has recently morphed into trans body diaspora, which, to me, it logical. But back in the day it was considered a fringe rationalization to make non-het sexuality acceptable.
Similar is the theory that one is haunted/possessed by the spirit of the opposite sex- so its really not me that likes men but the ghost of the woman that has taken over my body.
Both theories that I find amusing as opposed to informative or definitive. I still live in a culture that is sex-a-phobic period. As much as there appears to be an appreciation, say, for women owning their own sexuality it’s still seen through the male gaze of acceptance. It’s also a culture in which suffering is deemed authentic & while pleasure is deemed intellectually shallow.
So I’ve stopped wondering about the puzzle of my sexuality & have opted to ignore any data, any attempt to explain it & choose to enjoy because I am fine with being intellectually shallow.
An acquaintance in recovery, someone whom at one time I guided through step work & some life decisions, called me recently. I haven’t heard from them in three or four years. They called to make an amend for their overly intellectual stance on sexual issues.
I wasn’t sure what to say. At the time I knew them, I never felt one way or the other about their stances on anything. I certainly was never offended or hurt by anything they said. An amend is to address damage done, offences given. When we went our separate ways it was with no rancour on my part.
Part of the process of recovery is to grow & change & to move on when one feels it is time to do so. I didn’t see any need then, or now, for them to apologize for moving on with their growth. I listened while they went though their amend & didn’t feel the need to ask for any more information than they gave me. I said I accepted the amend. We joked a little about covid & keeping safe & that was that.
It did remind of the last time a member made an amend to me earlier in my recovery & I accepted it. A month later he accused me of not even being able to accept an amend – apparently I was supposed to say how much I appreciated their humility & how hard it must have been for them to make the amend to begin with. But much like this most recent amend I had felt nothing much about the incident he was being humble about.
I also kept that to myself – why diminish what was important to them by saying it was nothing to me. I did look back on our interaction -nothing that transpired stood out for me. I listened, they talked, I made supportive comments & when directly asked gave opinions. Life goes on. There’s no need to make amends for that.
It has been fascinating to go back into my past by reading & writing about this chapbook. Memories of writing the pieces have been fragmentary, to say the least. Motivation, inspiration & locations are more nostalgic than revealing.
Many old the first drafts were written by hand run little note books, many on my clunky typewriter in my basement room in the family home – that room is still there though I think it’s had new floor & walls since I left. The walls were covered with my paintings, shelves of books, lps, my stereo system & my little desk.
Some in my first apartment in Sydney. I shared a workroom with my roommate. He made pottery & I made poetry. I remember renting an electric typewriter to do the final drafts of Distant Music. That second-story apartment had a huge front balcony where I would sit & write in notebooks & drink. This was the first time I had a room for sleeping & one for writing.
Some of the poems are solid, some reflect the pop music of the time, the striving to be deep, poetic rather than … I’m not sure what ‘than’ … I wanted to impress as much as I wanted to express something about myself. I was in the process of coming out, letting go of the pretence that I was bi so the sexuality that appears in the work is very suppressed.
The sequence of the pieces was mine & the flow, in general is pretty good. Today I would probably have not started with the Dance but with something less abstract such as Woodsman – which would invite readers to search for the chainsaw wielder.
1 – I was visiting a friend in Halifax when I wrote this first section. I went there to see him & also to buy music that didn’t exist in the Sydney record store. One of the albums was of electronic/experimental music by the likes of Pauline Oliveros – yes even then I was pretentious enough to like the real thing 🙂 The music pulsed like wings flapping. My friend’s cat jumped up to the window ledge to confront the pigeons in the balcony but there were none there.
‘the thinnest edge’ is how one can leap to the wrong conclusion & get caught trying to figure out how to get back to solid ground. I’ve always had a ‘fear’ of balconies.
2 – I always write to music. These were the days of manual typewriters, when working on a manuscript could be retyping a whole page to correct a single typo. I was an okay typist & loved the sound in my workroom of the click of keys, the tempo of the pounding. Then I could never type fast enough to capture what I was thinking.
I think the music I was more fascinated by was Santana’s Abraxas – chasing a thousand tiny percussionists with my keyboard. I was also digging Weather Report, Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Writing as fast I could before I flew to pieces.
3 – The old wrinkles are typos, edits, rewriting, re-sequencing the verses in a poem. I was also writing a novel at the time so energy was flowing in several directions. ‘creaking bones’ echoes ‘skin & bones’ from an earlier poem. The final verse is a direct reference to Dylan Thomas’s “In my Craft or Sullen Art.” Though at this time I had no lover to drift into.
4 – The Welsh connection continues in this section. This sense of of my heritage doesn’t appear in the chapbook until now. There is a feeling of the east coast, of Cape Breton, that is present in some of the pieces but here I am relishing, or it is wallowing, in my own roots.
After traversing Egypt, Japan, Africa & am brought back to my ‘toss-up time’ & my own origins. The workshops at UNB were acknowledgements of me as a writer – the ‘toss-up’ was the decision of what to do with my expectations of being taken seriously. Was it to dream of this romantic ‘velvet window seat’ success or something more realistic?
5 – a reprise, with variations, of the first part of this poem. ‘cat music’ becomes ‘ man sounds.’ ‘bed charmer’ echoes ‘bed-ridden’ from The Last Waltz to give the whole book as sense of completion. The first piece in the collection invites you to ‘set sail on my body’ – this last verse asks you to ‘hear the man sounds/ sailing off wailing baby cries.’ The book progresses from that boy to this man. I hope you enjoyed the journey.
Of the pieces in the chapbook this is one of the ‘newest’ & reflects a definite stage in my growth philosophically & emotionally. I’m actually directly questioning cultural norms around romance, sexuality & indirectly probing the nature of gender. Clearly I am ‘questioning’ not yet coming out but opening that door 🙂
‘Paired by demand’ hasn’t changed all that much though. We live in a culture where being ‘single’ is seen as an an unhappy choice, a sign of emotional immaturity. Being trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship is for some reason healthier than being single. Getting out of one is merely making one ready for the right relationship to come along. If you wonder how we are ‘structured’ think of how impossible it is to afford to live alone. Most restaurants are at least two seats per table. Bars stools are about the only single seating offered. Drinking alone, yea.
At the time I wrote this I wasn’t as articulate about this squeeze of the cultural imperative to mate bond. Being queer & somewhat closeted at the time I was conflicted by trying to fit the heterocentric romance module I was presented with. The sacredness of fidelity, the sinful cost of pleasure. Folding bodies like folding chairs that only the right person could unfold. You’re nobody until somebody unfolds you.
Looking back I see how the exploration of the cultural mating imperative has become one of my running themes. Like masculinity, it is something that goes unquestioned. Marriage for love & not politic – i.e. merge alliances between nations, merging financial concerns – is a somewhat recent development – maybe 150 years old. The nature of ‘forced’ is one of convenience & control that is accepted & goes unrecognized. The deepest loves of my life have never been forced.
This piece has been one of the more enduring in the chap book – the one people still remember – the one that new readers will say – I really enjoyed the one about the bus. Several year ago an actress friend of mine included in her one woman poetry performance along with pieces by TS Eliot, James Joyce (yes yes yes).
It is one of the story-telling pieces & became a poetry narrative structure I use frequently. You can read this piece & understand what is happening. It is almost like a film story board but with more subtext as text – a voice-over narration. It demonstrates one of the things poetry can do – with it one can select fragments to tell the story without having to fill in connecting details.
One can use phrases like ‘the doors kiss open’ that gives a clear sonic sensation but also adds the sexual hint of ‘kiss’ – legs, like doors, can open to let in a kiss. As I recall it was piece that wrote itself. Edits were to add certain details ‘clutched’ became ‘crushed’ so that ‘crush’ would be echoed by crust.
The unspoken offer, mute opportunity, is the real story. The narrator is caught up in this fantasy, reading what he wants to see into every move of the lady. Does he even really make eye contact? How much of this actually happens: the bread, the falling back a little. Who hasn’t indulged in a sex fantasy on public transit while looking at a stranger, often looking away if the stranger looks back. Longing for contact it is easier to look away than acknowledge it.
Waiting for the days to change is a long wait. We have to forgive ourselves for opportunities not taken, for busses missed.
Another piece built on repetition, structure, & conflicting sensations – ‘abrasive’ ‘finely’. Echoes with no source or resolution. Verses start simple then stumble into complex syllables, allusions & confusing images so that ‘simplicity’ becomes ‘complexity’ so rapidly one never fully grasps the simple – it gets yanked out of your hands.
I was, still am, fascinating by the Egypt of the Kush. I watch endless documentaries on royal tombs, mummies, lost cities. On the east coast I read books on the Egyptian pantheon of god & goddesses. The story of Osiris was as compelling as the Christian beliefs that over-turned them. Sobek is the crocodile god, while Apis is the bull god. Why I put them together is lost to my memory 🙂
The chorus is a return to the simple. ‘catacomb’ contrasts with ‘plain folks homes.’ Also the realization that mummies, regardless of who they were, how old they were, how desiccated they were, they are still skin & bones. The same skin & bones we have today. The human body hasn’t undone any major structural change in the recorded history of mankind.
The second section steps away from simple to embrace busy images that flow in a dream like logic – blistered ears, to forest fires. Music has always played a big part in my life – I can remember coming back from hearing a live band with sound-blistered ears. As a drunk I sometimes suffered from telephonites – calling friends to maintain, create some contact, context – that I may have found but never really felt. In the end I was doing the best I could to feel at home in my own skin & bones.
This is one of the earliest pieces in the collection & as such is the most revealing of young-man excess & emotional melodrama. Nicely over-written with more force than I possibly felt at the time. It’s difficult for me to see any specific influence beyond nameless prog-rock lyricists. It makes me think of the dance pose of reaching out to some imagined horizon for the unobtainable. Sound & fury signifying the need to impress readers with the use of language 🙂
I wanted to write a poem that would make someone fall in love with me. I wrote many variations with this subtext in mind, which knowing it was an impossibility. Language can lead to connection but isn’t a magic spell.
It is another of my imposed structure pieces ‘our noun verb noun etc’ that gives each verse a pattern of theme & variation. The theme being the search for something or someone & the inner obstacles that have to be dealt with to find it. Reading it now I cannot say what the object was then – other than sounding deep & philosophic about the plight of the love lorn. Another of the closet subtext pieces where gender is avoided.
It reflects my fears of ‘no one’ because at that time there was no person who was the focus of my affections. I had lusts, longings for some but the urge was physical not emotional. Then I still believed a relationship was the way to fulfillment. Today I know relationships can be fulfilling but real fulfillment is a spiritual journey 🙂