My friend, Dwayne Purrington, a poet from the Twin Cities area, has accepted the challenge to be what I hope is the first of many creative writing projectors.
His brand new, never published poems, like spring breezes this time of year, bring fresh images to our mind's eye. They are full of the wonder, poignancy, and longing of a special group of newly gay older men, post-Brokeback Mountain men, trapped in aged bodies with young minds yearning to be free...to be understood...and to be in love!
The movie of our generation, the older generation, is Brokeback Mountain. It was a watershed movie especially for closeted gays. We immediately connect in our minds with that time when we were young and could have gone up on Brokeback ... and come down with the love of our lives. No matter that it is a starcrossed love. Those boys actually found what we are all searching for...as the song says, "a love that will never grow old."
I was born the same year as Jack and Ennis, 1944, and in 1963 when they went up on Brokeback I was a 19-year-old in my prime, a thin, lightly muscular water ski bum on the Colorado River in California. As we saw the movie and now contemplate what it did to our thinking, the biggest question in our lives...is it too late for us?
Dwayne and I and so many others moved to tears and to begin our coming out by way of Brokeback Mountain are looking at our new gay world out of old eyes. I met Dwayne at the Gentle Shepherd, the local MCC, when we were both beginning our coming out process. He after 39 years of marriage, and me after 43. This has been an emotional time, and we had lots of long talks about what we should and shouldn't do as older gentlemen in our newly all gay world.
We're old, not bad looking, but way past our prime looks, living in aged bodies with young minds and trying to come to terms with feelings of loss for what might have been. In my case, having never been attracted to women, and completely in the closet and fearful of having any kind of emotions for men, only recently has poetry come alive for me. Free from the closet and able to look at men with an honest approach to love, I finally 'get' what others 'get' from love poems...and it is A-m-a-z-i-n-g!
It is impossible for me to go back to those ski bum times, or to recapture my youth. One of Dwayne's poems talks about what it is like looking for our kind of relationships. We're not looking for old men to share our lives with, because in our minds we are much younger than our age. We are looking for younger men to help us explore this new life. His poem is entitled: Birth Dates Lamented.
"I was born too early," he lamented
"I was born too late," his gay lover bemoaned.
"Pearl Harbor was bombed when I was 2 years old."
"I remember Operation Desert Storm"
"I saw gay bars raided by police!"
"I missed bell bottoms and disco!"
"I remember the Stonewall riots!"
"What about the Bee Gees?"
"I buried friends who died from Aids."
"Sex is safe now."
"I lied to myself until I was sixty-five."
"I came out when I was twenty-five."
"I'm old enough to be your grandfather"
"We have the same facial profile"
"I haven't always looked this way."
"Now I know what I'll look like when I'm .....older."
"Will I see you again?"
"In the afterlife, I'm sure"
Now that we're out of the closet, and it seems like we are ever looking for love and companionship in our new world, daily occurrences take on new meaning. This second poem, Gaydar Glances, expands on the moments we have each day that acknowledge the longing for companionship in even just a causal glance.
The light blinked green at opposite ends of the urban sidewalk.
Not verifying the emerald light of permission,
The crowd stepped off opposing curbs and moved as one
Toward the opposite semaphore.
Two strangers in the crowd glanced up simultaneously.
Their eyes met as they reached the painted center line.
But the stranger to stranger eye aversion did not occur.
One's eyes an intense blue; the other's blue, but faded.
No, the eyes did not avert, but locked.
Is it because gays can know gays by a simple glance?
Is it because the eyes mirror the soul as the bard proclaimed?
Is it because the eyes reveal a yearning?
Or was it a glimpse of a life of common experience?
A cognizance of a life lived on the sidelines of society.
A life lived with hurts hurled by homophobes.
A life lived with guilt because of preaching from pastoral pulpits.
Could a glance pierce that deeply into a man's soul?
Could a glance reveal sadness masked by a smile?
Could this be a man to be loved?
But the pace of the foot traffic marches on.
The strangers must turn backward to maintain eye contact.
An awkward posture is assumed but then abandoned.
The crowd reaches the opposite curb and proceeds as one.
For Dwayne and I who have lived a lifetime closeted, our new understanding of what it is to be gay and our wish that others understand is well explained in this last poem: Five to Seven Per Cent. I love the snowflake imagery of our inner dream now that others will see how wonderful we are...the beauty of the Five to Seven Per Cent.
"Five to seven per cent."
That's what the experts answer
When they ask,
"Just how many gays are there?"
"Of the population, five to seven percent."
"Oh!" they answer and then fall silent.
But, is that the end of it?
Shouldn't more questions be asked?
Isn't there further curiosity than, "Oh"?
Shouldn't the journalistic query,
"May I follow up?" be posed?
Is it five to seven percent of all populations?
Is five to seven percent a constant
Of national populations?
Of racial populations?
Of ethnic populations?"
Is it five to seven percent of the religious right?
Is it five to seven percent of the liberal left?
And what about history?
Is it five to seven percent of the upright Neanderthals?
Five to seven percent of the ancient Greeks?
Five to seven percent of the feudal Europeans?
Five to seven percent of the founding Fathers?
And how and where are gays placed?
Can placement be compared to a snowstorm
Where similar, yet matchless snowflakes descend?
Are all but five to seven percent of those flakes propelled about
With wild abandon by the blizzard wind ?
Are then five to seven percent carefully grouped and placed
On some selected, sculpted drifts?
Perhaps those that form protruding ,frozen fingers onto the roadway?
The first drifts to exhibit the graceful art of windblown snow.
To portray cold, rippled shapes of white.
To feel the warmth of the winter sun.
To be struck by the wheels of the speeding car.
To be hurled backward into the ditch by the snowplow .
Made to conform to the other matchless flakes,
Awaiting another wind to form the beauty of the five to seven percent.
Might there be an elevated, enthroned DNA Master
Encircled by myriads of computer screens displaying unborn genomes.
Carefully calculating five to seven percent,
He rolls the cyber dice and makes the placement.
One to St. Paul, one to Seattle, one to Miami
Two to LA and two to New York.
"Bingo! Seven per cent!" He exclaims, twirling his chair.
And then, another screen; another genetic code tweaked.
"Oh" is the reply.
Do they care? Why do they ask?
You've wrenched your heart to confess,
By opening the window to a tortured past.
You've spent sleepless nights of agony to form just the proper phrase
To explain a nonconforming life.
And then the reply, "Oh".
Is it polite conversation that motivated the query?
Is it more information than needed?
You'd prefer to be kicked.
You'd prefer to be sworn at.
Than to be dismissed with "Oh'.