Saturday, April 29, 2017

One Hundred Days of MAGAtude

One Hundred Days of MAGAtude



One hundred days in,
Teetering on the cusp of nothingness
Cloaked in bombast:
Call it, “losing,” if you must:
Call it action by inactivity:
“Conservatism,” if you’re grasping:
“Authoritarianism,” if you’re overreaching.

One hundred days in,
Wondering what comes with one-oh-one,
Made history re-made:
Populist demagoguery:
Inch-measuring by the foot:
Confusing electoral with popular
Except when it’s convenient.

One hundred days in,
Flopping where feud-picking flips again,
Pivoting one-eighties:
Conflating fact with alternates:
Instigating feckless foes:
Pitting science against faith,
Favoring—understanding—neither.

One hundred days in,
Handlers with hands and lips overwhelmed
By faux hysterics, bubbled:
On the sheen betwixt hired, fired,
Marginalized and replaced,
Repealed-not-repealed. Cut,
De-tethered, toxified, not-cut.

All bluffs:
Like tax-free disclosures,
Like bumbled mandates,
Like threatened shut-downs,
Like overblown crowd sizes,
Like walls and bans and
            Treaties
And impulsive triggers:
Populist rhetoric,
Neo-con rhetoric,
Anti-other rhetoric,
Isolationist rhetoric.
Like MOABs on empty bunkers,
Like Tommys on empty airfields,
Like jobs in emptying industries,
Like bullets in empty chambers,
Like hate in empty minds:
Still bluffing.

One hundred days in,
Where détente is blasphemy,
Where ideals are ridiculous,
Where nuance is shattered,
Where what is who without why:
Where already-great America
Needs making great again, again.

One hundred days in,
Embarrassed, dark years yet to endure.
Yet,Democracy and Republic
And Constitution stronger than
            This, history’s fecund blip:
Great days ahead, just beyond


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Baptizer

Baptizer

(Reprinted with permission from BLACK KETTLE)
“Tell me the story again?”
It’s changed a lot over the years. Haven’t you heard it enough?
“It’s been forty years, and it always gets better.”
Or worse. I’ve certainly told it enough. We’ve all changed; you certainly aren’t the princess you were back then.
“Easy, queen, don’t make me talk about your...”
Do you want to hear the story or not?
“Oh yes, honey, get me a drink.”
Still as demanding as you were in 1979.
It was his first time at a gay bar, if you could call it that.
"First time or gay bar?"
Don't interrupt. Jesus!
"Okay."
So, he'd been to a gay bar once before, by accident. His boyfriend at the time lured him there. Until that visit, his first in twenty-nine years—his last in four—the gayest place he’d been was his lonely and confused closet. The younger co-worker from Michigan who he eventually admitted was his boyfriend provided the second gayest place he had ever been: bed.
"How sad."
I told you to mind your manners. Besides, it wasn't so sad. He was a different kind of gay, unlike anyone I'd ever met—not that I ever actually met him officially. Sure, he went through his years of self-doubt and the overwhelming pressures of self-discovery, but these were as attributable to adolescence as to homosexuality. He was, from all accounts, accepted and touchingly close to his family. His family back home had known since he was very young.
            And handsome, man was he handsome: close-cropped black hair, piercing blue eyes, a smile that lit up every room, and well, frankly, an ass that you could stack books on.
"He was a reader?"
Shut up.
"What did he read?"
And big biceps and feet.
"And?"
All I know for sure is that he had big feet. He looked right through me. I was practically invisible to him, though he did acknowledge me when he sat down next to me at the bar. I remember the sound of his voice—low-timbered and dripping with a Midwestern drawl—as he asked, "Is anybody sitting here, buddy?"
I've often imagined the rest of his body, but those parts uncovered by his snugly fitted jeans and tee shirt were enough for me to know that he had a beautiful body.
"Yum."
Yes, yum. "Well, now there is." I had flirted…with a resounding thud.
He never acknowledged me again, even as he commenced to pounding Grey-Goose- and-cranberry drinks. Although half the other fellows at the bar were drinking similarly pink drinks, none looked as nervous or as out-of-place as he did. I assumed that he had arrived by accident, unaware that this under-the-radar gay restaurant was well-known for its drag-hosted Bingo nights and tight-shirted bartenders.
He had "chicken" stamped across his forehead in glitter.
"Cluck. Cluck."
God, Girl, you are annoying.
I sat back and watched as I sipped my Cosmo martini—my boys made them strong and sweet, just like me.
"Must not have been too sweet, then."
Every hawk in the room circled.
It was early, so it was mostly old queens our age that spied him. He played with his digital watch, completely oblivious to the spectacle he was rapidly becoming. He kept pounding those drinks —must have had four within fifteen minutes. The bartender—bless her heart, not one who took kindly to being upstaged by anyone—decided to pour some charm into the increasingly stronger concoctions. He leaned over the bar and smack into his patron's three-by-three corner of personal space and began chatting him up. "No, I'm not from here. Just moved from up North." The bartender pretended to listen as he protracted eye contact. The newbie, clearly uncomfortable, was nearly caught in the trance-like hypnotics that the bartender had made his stock when "He" walked in.
"He?"
Son of a bitch. I hated him. He had recently started showing up on Monday nights out of nowhere. He drank cheap beer; he pounded them. After a few weeks, it became apparent that beer wasn't all that he was pounding. He always came alone and left with the hottest boy here. He was impervious to the bartenders' charms, which made him all the more frustrating. When, finally, I introduced myself as the proprietor, he was completely unmoved.
I considered banning him, but had no reason to. He was pleasant and courteous and, even though they couldn't get in his pants, the bartenders liked him well enough. He never got so drunk that he was belligerent and he tipped well. He completely upended my game.
I wanted him so bad I could taste it. I hated him. He reminded me of myself at that age.
"Honey, you were something to behold!"
He would saunter in, pretending to be innocent—he was an actor, after all—and sit at the bar until the first pretty young thing walked in. Although he was nonchalant about which hot boy he'd leave with, he clearly had a type. I'd had them all before. I broke most of them.
“You broke me!”
Must you remind me?
Of course, they would all say, "Hi," to me on their way in. They'd elbow up to me to get a free drink. Sometimes I'd slip a little (what I told them was) coke to them. It didn't cost me anything; it was mostly baking soda. Besides, I didn't want them too high. If I did take them home, I'd want them able to perform. Even then, I liked to bottom from time to time. If I didn't take them home and they stayed at the bar, they'd drink too much. And you know those young queens, they don't drink anything but top shelf. I had to watch the bottom line.
Sometimes I gave them cash.
"Of course you did. I'm not here to judge."
But, I knew that if he was here, that I might as well lay low until he left. In the event that there was a tie for the night's meat, I could still get a decent lay. Some nights, mother fucker, he would get here, score his boy, and leave early enough to return around nine o'clock for a second round.
I saw everything; it's my place for Christ's sake. Of course, I would see when he met them in the bathroom the first time. I would see them sneak back the second time to make out in the stall, sometimes giving or swapping quick blowjobs.
"You could've banned him for that. This is a bar, not a bathhouse."
They would try to sneak out, with him, under my radar. I knew what they were up to. I'll admit that I took particular satisfaction when he left with the small-dicked guys, not so much because they had small dicks, but because they like big ones. He carried himself with enough swagger to support only six and a half.
"How can you tell that?"
I swear to God, if you don't stop interrupting… you develop a sense.
So, this new out-of-town kid was definitely his type: not girlie, not too young, not too old, and clearly lost. Hell, the kid was everybody's type.
"Swagger?"
None. He sat there with the coy obliviousness of a nine incher.
"Mmmmmm."
My bartender had just poured me another drink, so I sat back and watched. I watched him perform the same old show: casually sit down and order a cheap beer, banter with the bartender, off-hand comment to his right, banter to his right, right hand on newbie's knee, order another beer, move in for the close. He played the script perfectly. His unwitting object fell for it completely.
I could tell from across the bar that the newbie’s response was different. As I later found out, he truly was new and his eyes sparkled with what he must have thought at the time was love. He ordered more vodka crans as he fell more deeply under his seducer's spell.
I considered interrupting, but knew that nothing good could come from it. It was not my place to save, only to serve. I felt for the boy, but I knew that this rite was one that all newbies must pass. If not me, it might as well be him.
"I thought you hated him."
I did, but I'm a realist.
I have no idea what they talked about, but I doubt that it was very deep. Between the professional's well-adapted series of minimally probing questions and the amateur's intrinsic shyness, I can imagine that they talked about Michigan and parking spaces and snow and beaches.
I watched his hand creep up his thigh. He made it seem so tender and sincere. He was good, I'll grant him that. Smooth professional.
“Oh, I love that song.”
It did not take long before they had clasped hands with their fingers interwoven. This was a strange turn of events as it implied an intimacy that I had never witnessed from the regular. It appeared that the tables were turned. I was captivated.
"What do you mean?"
Innocence was winning over cunning. This was either the best act ever or was decidedly different this time around. The Michigander had the upper hand and commanded the moment.
A commotion rose outside, and I took a passing—unworried—glance toward the door.
Then, out of nowhere, the mob entered. There must have been twenty or thirty of them...maybe fifty. We had—over the years—experienced our share of shakedowns: unruly straights looking for trouble, off-duty police officers looking for protection money, detestable self-hating homos angry with us for having the bravery to live out our personal inclinations. Dealing with the occasional violent event was a cost of doing business that we all bore.
Most everybody in town knew we were here and allowed us to carry on as long as when we emerged into the public streets we went unnoticed. They did not want us flaunting our aberrant lifestyle where we might be visible. We had to be ghosts.
            Not apparitions within our own space this time, though; they outnumbered us three to one. Never before had they come in with so much force or purpose. They had never come in with bats and billy clubs. Until this night, the most violent attacks were with words—drunken epithets hurled with the occasional beer bottle. This time, they were organized and angry.
"Damn orange juice."
            Yes, damn orange juice. That bitch got everybody so whipped up into a stupid frenzy.
I stood up and positioned myself between the mob and my patrons as the mob spilled into the dark room. I held out my hands in front of me as if directing traffic. I managed to get one word out, a screeching, "Stop!" Maybe it was just a screech.
"So butch."
            Stupid is what it was. They were not carrying Bibles or crosses.
They beat the shit out of me. The first flank, five men, who wielded baseball bats and sported brass knuckles and boots, unleashed the fury of the straight world upon my body as if my body were a piñata. No sweets came out of me, just blood and teeth. They busted my skull, six ribs, and shattered both of my femurs. In a flash, I was nothing but a clump of flesh on the floor. I lay there and waited to die as the flood of hatred filled the room and trampled over me.
“Holy shit.”
I watched as the mob attacked every person there. Some were lucky enough to circle around the bar and make it around the mob to the front door, but not many. I heard screams and bones breaking over and over. Limp and powerless, I could not move. Positioned as I was on the floor, through my swollen eyes, I witnessed the newbie stand beside his new suitor. He gazed into the eyes of the lead attacker and held him in his glare for a moment.
They knew each other.
"I just got shivers."
I later learned that it was his uncle—the man who he had moved in with upon his relocation here only four days earlier. Apparently, that uncle was the only person in the family not aware of his “tendencies.”
“You’re killing me!”
Poor choice of words.
Among all of the pandemonium that erupted around and surrounded them, they seemed to fall into a still, silent bubble; they just stared at each other. I could only see the blue eyes of the boy glistening with tears as their heads shook at each other. I could see his lips moving, but I could not hear what he said. I noticed that he had not released the firm grasp upon the hand of his new friend. The interlaced hands seemed, even from my perspective and distance, to tighten.
He was eye to eye with his own uncle—the man at whose table he had eaten dinner that very night—and their rigid face-off was interrupted by the momentum of the crowd that surged forward.
Behind the bar, my bartender was throwing bottles of booze at the attackers. God bless him, he started with the cheap stuff first.
“Bless her fucking heart.”
Vodka, gin, and tequila flew end over end from behind the bar. When he got down to the last few bottles—the high-dollar cognacs and bourbons which we only sold by the snifter—he knew he was in for it. If there were an Olympic sport of liquor-bottle tossing, he certainly would have won the gold for style if not accuracy. He actually stopped a few from the mob who, in their supreme cowardice, did not seem to handle pain as well as they inflicted it.
"Bastards."
He was so brave. When finally they captured the bar and he ran out of defensive objects to hurl, they descended upon him as he flung napkins and salt shakers in their general direction. When we—I—crawled, dragging my broken body to him—finally reached him, barely breathing, in a pile of broken glass, we discovered a still un-thrown fistful of cocktail straws. They unleashed their fury with such anger and blunt precision that I knew he could not possibly survive.
He did live, however he was never the same. He carried anger and hurt in the same whiskey-stained cauldron until he got the gay cancer a few years later. He weighed sixty-eight pounds when he died; you could still see the scars from the beating through the lesions. When his heart finally stopped beating—I was at his side—his last word was, "Fuckers." We all knew what he meant.[vi]
As nephew and uncle stood frozen, three men grabbed the third, wrested his hand free from the actor-friend he'd made just eighteen minutes earlier, and pummeled him with fists, knees, and feet. He fell faster than I did. For all of the wood cracking, flesh tearing, screams, howls, and glass bursting, only two sounds will haunt me forever. The first was the sound of the boy’s head being crushed. As he fell, his empty eyes met mine. He was dead before he hit the ground. The contempt I previously felt for him all those nights faded in a second.
This was my fault. That boy was gone and it was my fault for having this place. I will never forget his hollow, lifeless gaze.
Still in their bubble, the new boy had a newly empty hand. He reached into his jeans, and from his waistband pulled out a gun.
"No kidding?!"
            Along with the hammer, his uncle's head cocked. I could not see his face but I assume that he was suddenly no longer silent. I imagine that he apologized. I imagine that he pled. I imagine that all of the words, and the meals, and shelter he'd provided for four straight nights, fell on suddenly thankless ears.
The black pistol rose to a ninety-degree angle with the grimacing boy's torso and discharged. The back of the uncle's head exploded, painting a red mist on everything and everybody between them and the door. The hulking body crumpled to reveal the gun-wielder taking aim upon the men who had just killed his fourteen-minute beau.
"Jesus!"
I felt my sphincter loosen as five more shots were fired in succession. I watched the attackers fall, gruesomely, upon the ground. It seems that they all captured my eyes as their putrid spirits fled their bodies for whatever hell they had earned.
I knew, at that moment, the moment when the sixth concussive gunshot echoed through the room, that our world had changed forever.
I was wrong.
It was not until the seventh shot that our world changed forever: a martyr was born in death.
As the room emptied of the thugs, a single police officer stepped in and fired one perfect shot through the heart of our blood-christened hero.
"Sounds like you've repeated that line a few times."
He grabbed his chest where the bullet entered. He first looked up, confused. Why had he been forsaken, he must have wondered at the plaster ceiling. Then, the most peaceful and most reposed look I had ever witnessed washed over his porcelain face. His glance re-trained down, toward the young man who had already stolen his heart and quickened his spirit that evening.
He never removed his hand to reveal the bullet hole, but the blood spilled down and painted his gray shirt crimson. He smiled and I saw a tear form in one eye as his legs buckled. He fell into a pile upon his lover. As life fled his body, he was made whole upon the mass of his fallen everything.
They never even kissed, and here they lay together in a perfected yet uncompleted eternal bliss. They were, in every sense, betrothed before God and man. In death, they were husbanded.
As I told and re-told the story over the years, I fed the myth. Hell, I created the myth.
“The story has certainly, well, grown.”
When their families came to piece together the remnants of their sons, after my jaw was finally unwired, I told the story of their eternal love. When the first ex, the way preparer, came to pay his respects, we cried together over the lost souls that would forever occupy our hearts.
Over the months that followed, police interviewed me. There would be no charges against the mob. The only criminal actors, it seemed, lay in a crumpled mass of young and beautiful, bloodied flesh.
Then the families arrived, who came in search of the truth, for closure. They snuck in under the cover of darkness and left, often the same way. I told them what I knew. I told them what they needed to know, though few could accept—even in death—what their sons were. "They were not," I heard more often than not.
I learned that these boys were sons and uncles in their own rights. I learned that they were loved by many. I made these boys lovers; I made them my friends.
“Truth demands this story.”
Then, over the years that followed, the politicians came in search of heroes, causes, and votes. Then the reporters came looking for feature stories; then the novelists. Every time I remembered the story, given the audience, I remembered another detail. Perhaps I re-remembered details.[ix] One thing for sure, we needed these boys to be heroes. We needed these boys to be lovers.
            I saw many men come of age and die over the following two decades. Damn AIDS.
"Damn AIDS."
I rebuilt this bar in their honor. I replaced the candles with fluorescent bulbs and made this into a place where men could openly connect—to live— instead of hide. It is a monument to them. I loved those boys as though they were my sons.
I love those boys as though they are my fathers.
"Me too."
I love those boys.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

That One Thing

That One Thing



There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way you smile when you see me after a week away,
That sly, almost shy glance away,  
That, “Hurry up and get in the car,”
At the middle-lane airport loading zone.

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way, instead of simply kissing me in the morning,
You turn your back to me, prone,
And say, “Scratch,” and let me feel
You from shoulder blade to back-small.

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way you give me updates on the cats’ antics,
How Luna’s been sweet-lounging,
How Gus has been fat-snacking,
How they’ve been sunning outside.

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way you obsess about the food I eat and don’t,
Mostly out of fun and teasing,
But with the unspoken concern about
My health and that “borderline” BPR.

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way your eyes sparkle in the twilight,
The way your lips purse when I kiss them,
The way your body arcs when I hug it,
                        Making room for other touches.
The way your feet don’t stink,
The way your hair greys at your temples,
The way you wear the same five shirts
                        That I’ve noted you look so good in.
The way you fold my laundry,
The way your butt fills every pair of shorts,
The way you never throw anything away
                        Just in case I’ll look for it someday.

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way you let me write love poems about us,
And don’t mind that I share too much,
And don’t mind when they don’t rhyme,
And love me back with quiet approval.  

There’s that one thing I love about you:
The way you love me and the way you let me
Love you: without affected fanfare,
Without annoying pretense,
Simply acknowledging and accepting.

There’s that one thing I love about you:

            Everything.