HAS BEEN PURIFIED
IN FLAMES OF LONELINESS
IN TEARS OF GRIEF.
(November Journal, 1993)
A single stanza memorized in second year of high school has affected my life more than any other poem:
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
W.E. Henley, 1849-1903.
I was first visited by the muse of poetry in 1963. I was 30, and slowly becoming aware of a sexual attraction to men. I was already married for five years, with two children.
All of the following poems will make more sense set in the context of my life story.
I am deeply grateful to Professor Johanna Stuckey for proofreading my manuscript, but all mistakes especially metre! are my own.
If I have wandered vaguely through the shadowed wood,
Directionless but always on the move; if years
Of life's experience have failed to leave their mark
On judgment’s sure facility, then should
I cease to search?
If hopes had died, and fears
Of Death's approaching step welled in me chill and dark,
Then would I halt pursuit, encamp where I am now,
Surround myself with wife and children dear,
Secure my post, defend possessions gained
In busy wandering.
But hope burns bright to plow
In virgin soil still unexplored, in lands not cleared
Of trees and undergrowth, and yet unstained
By human sweat.
For thirty tours of earth
About the sun, I've reckless plunged ahead and back
In search of self; enquired of travellers I met,
In sharp debate engaged, and weighed the worth
Of man's philosophies.
No beaten track
Attracted me for long, ere I began to fret
To chart untested truth. But recent days have found
A new awareness casting light on routes
Now distant cold horizons long forgot,
Shaping their winding patterns cross the broken ground
Into a map!
A wondrous wholeness now transmutes
The separate strands I solitary wrought
To one design, a tapestry of QUEST
To measure life. I see that I've so lived that when
The sickly hand of Death should beckon me
Surrender life's brief lease to breathless dust, and rest,
With smiling gratitude for all I've met til then
I can agree.
Falcon's sweep in soaring flight,
Devouring skybound air --
Could cage contain this noble kite,
Or tether bind to care?
Spirit-winged undying youth
Uplift to heaven's dome,
Renewed in strength by loveborne truth
And life itself his home.
Never hope this bird to hold
Within your heart's confine.
Daring all, your wings unfold;
Pursue his steep incline.
Follow close his joyous cry
As long as life condone;
Comrade spirits of the sky,
Our lust for life is one.
Our planet barely kissed the spring-pale sun
And thawed the frozen earth a single day
When eager limbs and anxious flesh were one
In love’s sweet joy and gentle disarray.
What magic here, or fate, that two lives cross
So wondrous close on life’s storm-tossed seas,
And seek sweet solace in each other’s loss
Of singleness, by joined extremities!.
Your love on Easter morn I never shall
Forget, though future loves may still improve;
And pray that we may grow to trust in all
Each finds in each, and guard it all in love.
For Easter’s message is the news of love
That Death has failed to stifle in the grave;
Not hope of ressurection from above,
But here on Earth, where love has power to save.
For Christ has died to be reborn on Earth
God’s son debased his glory in the tomb
Proving not heaven’s price but life’s full worth;
Blessing the love that frees mankind from doom.
Nor did he fetter love to single kind
But blessed the many forms that give it grace
And promised all who love with single mind
The vision of God’s nature face to face.
Though we are mortal men of unknown days
To die, yet God each error can forgive
Save one the fool who unto death delays
His joy, as if this life were given not to live.
So let us live, dear friend of mind and heart
As He has taught us, tasting each day’s joy
In love and hope, together or apart,
Til Death shall end our friendship and our joy.
For Paul B-er, my first male sexual partner, in 1964. I was trying to remain Christian yet become a self-accepting gay, a combination I soon found impossible.
But when sincere
A word most dear
Your love to tell.
For Troy, 1965
Sweet summer’s smiling days are gone
As autumn shivers down the trees
To frost the green-leaf’d towers gold,
And crimson heralds call the snow.
But sunshine gently warms my heart
Though autumn leaves are dark and chill;
Your smiles beguile the lonely days
When summer’s smiles have sadly flown.
Your youthful features soft and sweet
Are crowned with blond and curly hair;
Your slender body stirs my blood
And quicks my pulse with new desire.
To hold you close is splendour rare
That rivals autumn’s proud display.
As leaves now die to shelter earth,
May friendship grow to lasting love.
• • •
Death is always there waiting.
The Upper Room
(for the Music Room, private gay club, published in
Two Magazine, 1965, under my nom de plume, Peter Alann)
Here is a room where mankind meets
To shed the chains that drag us down;
A room where music warmly greets
We exiles from religion’s frown.
Embrace the warm red glow of light
When up the dingy stairs we climb
As sperm goes thrashing up the tight
And fertile chamber, ent’ring time.
We join gay figures gliding slow
Across the polished dancing space
Then quicker pacing bend and bow
To wilder music’s hectic race.
Outside the room a world of hate
That spits upon our love of man
But here inside our friendly gate
A garden safe for banished clan.
Yet Eden here and world outside
In mortal conflict soon must strain
When music dies and lights subside
The gay and straight must mix again.
Prometheus bound upon his rock,
Our Saviour nailed athwart his cross;
Their crime: the truth they dared unlock.
We taste their anguish, share their loss.
I see an ancient Upper Room
Where men await their Lover’s fate,
A cup upraised in glory’s boon
Then crushed to earth in street-mobbed hate.
He had no grudge and none have we,
The world is large enough for love
Of many kinds. So let us be.
We too shall have our room above.
Evening is the loneliest time
When day’s bright light no longer banishes
The shadows of memory.
Then night flings down its challenge:
Must I sleep alone? Or find
Some warm and gentle
Substitute for love?
Yellow-toothed rat to gnaw man’s troubled soul,
Keep him from sleep, undo ambition’s zeal,
Tear at his heart and suffocate his will,
Adam’s black curse ‘til Eden’s repeal.
Earth of creation and water of life,
Lifting forth poetry, music and art,
Root of my spirit and womb of my soul;
Well-spring of Deity, man’s counterpart.
Bottomless pit I vain try to fill,
Meeting new people, exploring new thought;
Weary of loneliness, longing for love,
Hoping to find but never be caught.
Loneliness, mark of our mortality,
Fate’s harsh whip, seal of our infinity.
Dividing man from man, lover from beloved,
Yet binding all in one great destiny.
Elegy for a ruined youth
A true story for Doug C.
Innocent youngster of twelve turning years
Rite of your manhood about to begin
Fate of a body distinct from your peers,
Victim of hunger mankind calls a sin.
Voice sweet soprano to lead the church choir,
Family joys and affection of friends,
Life just beginning its zest to acquire,
When into youth’s bliss a queer man descends.
Visiting preacher of brimstone and fire
Odd in the appetite rending his soul,
Grasped in his vision the boy in the choir,
Lusted to touch and his beauty extol.
Psalm followed sermon in solo display,
Voice of the twelve-year-old rang through the nave;
Brief benediction then into the day
Filed forth worshippers redeemed from the grave.
To the boys’ choir-room the preacher stepped down,
“Glorious solo” to warmly exclaim,
Reaching to help with the boy’s flowing gown,
Touching his blond hair with casual aim.
“Beautiful day, and I’m driving to town
After lunch. Say, would you like to come on?”
Was it the smile, or the minister’s gown
Preventing boy’s shyness fearing a wrong?
“I’d like to go, Sir, if we’re back home by five.”
“Then it’s agreed.” And so fate sealed the hour
For his initiation into life
When he must learn love’s agony and power.
Preacher and boy toward town in the car
Stopped near a wood where a brook gayly sang.
Through grass-robed ground and by sand-golden bar
Nature’s sweet welcome in birds’ voices sang.
“Like fishing?” “Yes sir, I do.” “Then why not
Try my new fishing rod?” “Okay, I know
Up the stream by the rocks, just the spot.”
“Fine then my boy. Here’s the pole. Shall we go?”
Playful fun among the trees. Chase and hide
Behind the bushes. The preacher runs, sighs,
Carelessly pulls the boy close to his side,
Wrestles and rolls, softly rubbing his thighs.
Emotion fills the unsuspecting youth.
Passion he never knew nor hoped to feel.
Lips search out lips and warm hands grapple truth
Divinely physical, supremely real.
Dreamlike they move now, through uncommon sex.
Waves of confusion crash through the boy’s
Innocent mind and half-reluctant flesh
Robbing his future and poisoning its joys.
Searing the passion that glows much too bright,
Scorching the body in flesh-quickened earth,
Called out and kindled in spring’s sunny light,
Blown into fire although latent from birth.
Christian-pure love the old preacher had claimed
Guided his life and instructed his ways.
But numbed by seduction, emotion’lly maimed,
Boy faces manhood and tortured long days.
Whom shall we blame, for what preacher begot?
God, who made life? Or a social disease?
Parent and teacher, who ought to have taught
This youth to protect life’s delicate lease?
How shall he mend, when so costly the toll?
Must doubt and suspicion plague evermore?
Is it not safer to wall up one’s soul.
Faithless to anyone? Bolt fast the door!
But love is life, and to love is to dare
Open the wall and unbar the gate.
Sure we’ll be hurt, when we let ourselves care.
Why else did God suffer Christ’s anguished fate?
Preacher an old man, his life has gone by.
Fate has now taken its measure of him.
But twelfth-year’s youth has a long time to die.
Shall he be warped by a man’s tragic whim?
Let us not blame for the cross each must bear.
Live and love, whatever the cost.
All turns to good in His infinite care,
Love all-redeeming, and nothing is lost.
Twenty short stanzas are unfolded here,
One for each year of your life to this date.
Which does the future hold? Love’s risk, or fear?
May God’s love bring you his blessing, and faith.
I am never far from you
Given to Franz Leitner, 1967,
when I went to England to study
for my Ph.D.
Though I am gone three hundred days
Five thousand miles across the sea,
I am not gone an hour away,
Because my heart is yours always.
Just look around this happy room
Where we have shared our growing love.
Look at my books, my desk, our bed.
How can you say I’m far removed?
My body may live in England
But here is where my love is home,
And every day until I return,
Remember, you’re never alone.
Each day I’m gone I will recall
One way I love you, so in all
That makes almost three hundred ways.
Shall I tell you what some are, now?
I love your kind and gen’rous heart,
Open to give so much to me.
I love your laugh, your smile, your voice.
I love the things you want to be.
I love your walk, your graceful dance;
Your cheerful coming home from work.
I love to see you draw or read,
And dearly love your company. . . .
I’ve lost count, but there are at least
One hundred ways I love our sex.
We’ve tried them all, and I’m not bored;
When I’m back we’ll do all again.
Each love I’ve named is part of you,
And though each day I think of one,
The day will come to add them up
And hold all love again in you. .
You are my heart, my other half.
You are my body and my soul.
I may seem gone and far away
But I am here, at one with you.
* * * * *
Alas, I returned to Franz several times, and several times he visited me in England , but I could never teach him not to equate sex and love, not to be jealous about who else I fucked just for the pleasure of it. Eventually he became violent in his possessiveness, and we parted. He left the unpolished version of this poem when he died of AIDS in1985. You’ll find the whole story on my web site.
New Year, 1968
For Franz Leitner.
What man of us has found a way
To slow the steady shuffling feet,
Or stay the cruel yet healing hand
And spend again a single golden hour?
God himself has not found a way.
The year is gone, the new year is begun.
What work remains, we may yet fulfill
And friendly company may yet enjoy.
No second chances here, no moments to regain,
But time has not run out. Life still burns on.
So grasp with greater lust each spark of life
And kindle fiercely to star-dimming light.
Rival the jealous gods with joyful ecstasy,
Plumb every silent depth, soar to heaven’s peak
Until the fire dies and round us folds the night.
(See footnote to previous poem)
Watching my son Peter at play
Eros, I thought, while watching my nine-year son at play,
Is like a child, upgrown enough to stand on his own
And pull away from hugs too tight or clinging,
Preferring to touch lightly but not to be consumed.
Yet when I walk away for mere ten minutes time,
“Where are you going, Dad? How long will you be gone?”
Sure he’s independent, confident of himself alone
When Dad’s in sight! My presence reassures his every need.
Eros is like that, not jealously defensive or on guard;
Confident and assured, upon its own two feet it stands,
Providing love is near, and ever close to hand.
To stay in reach is also to be in touch .
But eros like my child, when parted for too long
Or by a distance greater than its reach or sight
Soon trembles, asking “Is there something wrong?
When will calm return? Am I enough?”
I think as well, considering my own ambivalence,
My need for independence and reassurance both,
That lovers parted from beloveds soon lose touch,
Forget, no longer recognize, find substitutes.
How long? How far? Back when? Will it be soon enough?
Taking a chance on love
For Nelson Carry, 1977. A lovely young man carried away by the first wave of AIDS.
Is just not right for me this time.
I want to squeeze too many words into every line.
They crowd into my head
Waiting to be said.
Intelligent. Gentle. Artistic. Handsome.
Considerate. Affectionate. Good-humoured. Honest.
Every one of them deserves to be said about you
But how am I supposed to fit them into one poem
And make them rhyme too?
If I wrote the poem I feel
It might drive you away.
I’ve frightened others by letting them see
How important loving and being loved is to me.
You’ve warned me to be careful, and I am.
But I’m also taking the chance
That you don’t scare easily.
I put beauty first
And hoped goodness would follow.
Now I’m old alone.
Wrestling with an angel
For Nelson Carry, l977.
“And an angel wrestled with him
Until the break of day...
Then he said, “Let me go,
For the day is breaking.”
But Jacob said “I will not let you go
Until you bless me.” (Gen. 32:24).
I wrestle with an angel
To my eyes wondrous fair,
Whose soul is sheathed in armour
Against the risks of care.
No use is it to batter
Against his fear of wounds;
I can only let him ponder
How much my love abounds.
Named my house Kairos,
Ancient god of good timing.
Life’s narrow escapes.
Alone in my house
My old dogs nuzzle my hands.
Memory comforts me.
A last desperate effort
For Kevin, October 10, 2000
What a daunting challenge!
What a dangerous risk.
What a glorious prospect
If Fate allows success.
Over five weeks past
I’ve let calm happiness
Rely on fragile choices
Of an untried young man.
Oh, I am well grounded
In faithful friends and years’
Experience. I’ll survive what comes;
I’ve weathered storms before.
I keep my hope reined in
And try not to dream.
Yet longing scorns caution
And seduces me to risk.
He’s gone to his cramped room
“To think about old issues
And seek some counselling.”
I said “I understand,” but do not.
I’m glad he takes moving in
So seriously, but dread the cold feet
Of a timid ‘counsel’ who advises
“Too fast, Don’t take the risk.”
Well, I must be strong.
If Kevin voids his words
I’d rather have betrayal now
Before I care too much.