So OK I think I’ve been an out queer person for long enough to write a few cranky words about rainbow capitalism for June, our special month of public awareness and parades. Corporations are invited to shut up and quietly give gobs of money to trans people of color and other folks whose gender identity or sexuality put them at risk of political persecution instead of making LinkedIn graphics. Queerness isn’t a flag or a hashtag or a sales section at Target: more like a constellated pattern of selves, ways of being in the world that link us across time and space.
But and so let me give you some queer poems that are breathtaking for my own sad gay brain. (I use gay and bi and queer interchangeably as the mood strikes for myself: despite caring very deeply about “the literary arts” in scare quotes, I don’t particularly care about finding exactly the right word for my glorious midlife identity journey. The word “gay” appeals to me as a reclamation of something that was used mockingly in my teen years, now that I’m grown and have realized how little it matters what other people think of your harmless behavior. Which is to say: I’m not interested in dating cis men but life is long, gender’s a spectrum, the world is a vampire, here are some poems.)
I hadn’t heard of Jason Schneiderman before I saw him read alongside Ada Limón at the big literary conference, and look, here she is reading his poem that permanently lodged itself in my heart during that reading, “In the End You Get Everything Back (Liza Minnelli)”. I love stuff: collecting it, perceiving it, looking at how other people arrange it. So the metaphor of heaven as an infinity of custom shelving storing everything you’ve ever loved, everything that surprises you with joy: what could be more perfect for a packrat? This is a poem about time, and age, and what you get from age. Who dies? Everyone, but hopefully you know you’re loved before you do. You become whole through the experience of love, which must necessarily begin with loving yourself. Sorry to be corny on main! Trust that this poem says it better than I did.
Another poem recently began untangling certain knots in my mind about queerness and time. “Is time is queer/and memory is trans/and my hands hurt in the cold/then” is a mouthful of a title by Raquel Salas Rivera – I love that the slashes imply linebreaks within the title, or simultaneous things happening. Then what? This poem purposefully confuses timelines, putting us squarely in the singular forever (which is “Composed of Nows,” lest we forget) and crossing languages at its fulcrum: “the sí;” appearing at the exact halfway point, an axis for the stanzas to orbit. Putting forever in a poem isn’t new but putting “memory is trans” in the title is quite new and revelatory to me. Memory, like all experiences we may want to consider the life of the mind, is squarely situated within the flesh. And the flesh can be transgender, can journey through hormones (or not) to find pleasure (or acceptance, hope, or just moments of wanting to crawl out of itself less).
Once you have the lens of queer desire and affection to place on poems, it’s tempting to put it on everything. Like hot sauce, queerness tends to punch up what’s already wonderful. And I’ve delighted in Frank O’Hara’s avocado salad “Poem” since long before I could envision my own gay future. It’s about the sensual experiences of avocado salad and a big ol’ crush, but also the space between love and forgiveness, which aren’t the same. The breathlessness of this poem is perfect, to me, rushing headlong into the mere presence of the beloved that “changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper.” Consider sending this poem to your crush today! It embodies a pattern of thought I’ve had often this summer: am I allowed to be this joyful? Well, who’s stopping me from letting “all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement” as I bike to and from my cute little dates? Absolutely nobody.
Anyway, those are a few among a wide and growing garden of big gay poetry thoughts and feelings that I have, today. It’s a cliche to say so but I do hope this message finds you well. Let’s keep existing in our truths, beyond rainbow flags and parties, into the great wild unimaginable future.