HOMO (excerpt)

“Mad, bad and dangerous to know,”

Wrote Lady Caroline Lamb in her diary

The night she first met Lord Byron. He

Had no used for prudes and said so—

He refused to compromise

With social reticence on sex.

(In Venice when Shelley asked

Why he was always surrounded by rough

Young men Byron replied: “What I earn

With my brains I spend on my arse.” Shelley

Left.) Byron’s memoirs were

Destroyed by his English publisher.

Too outrageous. Too obscene.

His journals and letters reveal that he

Had incestuous fun with his half-sister

And describe a party they both attended:

“Countesses and ladies of fashion left

The room in droves,” he wrote. But many

More threw themselves at his feet—wives

And daughters of the nobility,

Governesses and servant girls.

He threw himself at the feet

Of gondoliers and stable-boys.

Today only rock and film stars compare

With his effect on the public. Shelley

Wrote: “An exceedingly interesting person

But a slave to the vilest and most vulgar

Prejudices, and mad as the winds.”

By which, presumably, he meant

His undisguised love of working-class boys.

Shelley, alas, was a frightful prude

For all his anarchistic faith.

(And probably a closet-case too.)

Byron in every act and breath

Was a flaming iconoclast to the bone.

Revolutionary for human rights

Centuries ahead of his time.

Of poor Keats he wrote rather callously:

“A Bedlam vision produced by raw pork

And opium.” Matthew Arnold wrote

Of all three: “Their names will be greater than

Their writings.” Their memory lingers on.

Byron practiced what he preached:

“Ordered promiscuity.”

He found it most in Italy

The most sensual and sensible

Of Western nations, the country of love

In all its forms, and the country of beauty.

Oppose this to England, the country of duty

And you will understand Byron completely.

In the Coliseum he once invoked

Nemesis to curse his wife’s

Lawyer—with great success, it seems,

For the later man cut his own throat.

What all the biographies skirt

When they describe his exploits we

Can now fill in: when they write of his women

“With great black eyes and fine figures—fit

To breed gladiators from” they don’t

Tell us how much he enjoyed their sons,

The gladiators he went down on.

*

Ever since Justinian

Who wanted more power over the Church

Fifteen-hundred years ago

Passed the first law against same-sex love

With the perfectly logical excuse

That homosexuality

Caused earthquakes, we have seen

Religions and politics

Condemn gay sex as crime and sin.

The law had no effect upon

The population; they behaved

As if the Emperor had gone mad.

But some prominent bishops lost

Their bishoprics and balls,

Were tortured and exiled. Many more

Churchmen were castrated and died.

The best historian of the time,

Procopius, states these harsh laws

Served as pretext against the Greens

(The Emperor’s circus opposition)

Or those “possessed of great wealth or

Who happened to have done something

Which offended the rulers.” We know the empress

Theodora used the law against

Personal enemies. When a young Green

Made some nasty remark about her

She charged him with homosexuality,

Had him castrated without trial.

Procopius says that this cruel law

Was invented chiefly to extort money

From the victims among whom were numbered

Pagans, unorthodox Christians, astrologers.

All Constantinople turned against

Theodora and Justinian

On this matter, as did other

Imperial cities. The Church itself

Was a prime target of the civil law

And played no part in its enactment.

 

Later the Church got into the act.

The Spanish Inquisition threw

Faggots into the fire to burn

Witches and other heretics,

Especially the unconverted Jew.

Thus for a mad millennium

Or two the world has been in the grip

Of the criminally insane:

Neros, Caligulas, Justinians,

Torquemadas, Savonarolas,

Stalins, Hitlers, Mussolinis,

Cromwells, Falwells and Khomeinis.

*

Nothing can stem the longed-for-same-sex need.

No matter what man-made laws may cause

In suffering. Wherever you go

The tide of sexuality swells

For same-sex love. With few exceptions

Most countries shut their hearts and minds

Against it, slam a dike or dam

On nature. Well, these may work with water

But not with the sexual tide. In

The Moslem world where the Rubaiyat

And Sufi poems extolled boy-love

The fundamentalist police

Chop noses, hands, feet, necks and dicks

Off for this universal need.

In the Soviet Union and its iron bloc

Torture, exile and slavery

Greet “decadent bourgeois acts”

Like tenderness of men

For men, women for women, as if

Sex could be legislated and made

Politically correct. No head

Is screwed on straight. Chez nous

In the USA Gay men and boys

Are bashed and killed with impunity

In the name of God, no less. The world

Has gone berserk with politics

And sick, depraved religion. Murder,

Their lingua franca, prevails. Nuts

Quote the Bible and Koran

Convincing us we’re better off dead

And try to prove it as fast as they can.

In Rumania if you’re caught with your pants

Down in flagrante you can tell the police

That your Rumanian comrade was buying them.

The young men will peel for American jeans.

We live under dictatorship

Whether of God or man.

Stalin is said to have deported

All Russian homosexuals

To the Arctic Circle, Tschaikowsky

Murdered by the Czar

For an affair with a young

Prince. The imperial doctor injected him

With typhus—to avoid a scandal.

Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty

Could not save him. Eugene Onegin

And Pique Dame could not have a sacred

Hair of his beard. The Czar wept.

No other course presented itself.

(The Empire must be maintained.)

Russia’s greatest composer martyred

For homosexuality.

Gogol, “Mother of the Russian Novel.”

Also involved with a prince, died

Young, thus avoiding homicide.

*

Remember the drag queens in Greenwich Village

Who fought the cops with their fists and any

Available objects? They

Sparked Gay Liberation, an

Unprecedented event

Equivalent to the Warsaw Ghetto

Uprising of the Jews against

Vastly superior Nazi might.

Once ignited the spirit

Does not die. Israel rose

From the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto,

Gay Rights rose from the ghetto

On Christopher Street. It

Is better to die fighting than

To live on your knees. Krishna was right

To admonish Arjuna when he refused

To fight his kin to the death. His brothers

Would have finished him off.

Pacifism does not work. I say this

Sadly. We’re up against

Ignorant armies and must

Defeat them or die.

*

Love is not a crime;

If it were a crime to love

God would have not bound

Even the divine with love.

                         (Carmina Burana)

*

Anacreon, who “delighted in

Young men” confided, “I’m old,

There’s no denying it. So what?

Among young satyrs I can dance as well

As old Bacchus himself!” When asked

Why his poems were always about young boys

And not about gods he replied: “That

Is because young boys are our gods.”

He was a pleasure-loving, wine-loving

Boy-loving poet. “Whatever Plato

May say it is unlikely that

Handsome Alcibiades,

After sleeping beneath the same blanket

As Socrates, arose intact

From his embraces,” Lucian wrote.

Dying at eighty in the gymnasium,

His head on the knee of a boy, Pindar

Seemed happily asleep

When the attendant came to wake him.

Sophocles at fifty-five

Confessed that despite his age

He often fell in love with boys.

And Aristophanes wrote

That the favorite occupation

Of sophists and intellectuals

Was to make the rounds of gymnasiums

To pick up boys.

They went to their lessons

Accompanied by their little friends.

At twelve a boy already

Appealed to them, says the great playwright.

They considered him in the prime of life

Between sixteen and seventeen.

At eighteen he was over the hill.

*

To have a father of some handsome lad

Come up and chide me with complaints like these:

Fine things I hear of you, Stilbonides,

You met my son returning from the baths,

And never kissed, or hugged, or fondled him,

You, his paternal friend! You’re a nice fellow!

(The Birds, Aristophanes)

 

Zurich/Amsterdam, November, 1984/San Francisco, October, 1985

 

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