Poets Are The True Historians

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“Poets are the true historians.” – Harold Norse.

That’s what Harold said to me one day about fifteen years ago in the sun-filled front room of his cottage located off Albion Street in San Francisco’s Mission District. We had a unique friendship. I was in my late twenties, by then a long-time member of the radical AIDS activist group ACT UP San Francisco (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Harold was then in his mid-eighties, having lived a storied life of love and poetry across many decades and continents. I don’t remember what caused him to say that, but I recall how it felt: Harold was connecting his poems–and all poetry–to the deeper story of what they spoke about.

As the news of today’s bloody attack on the queer community of Orlando, Florida worsened, we all experienced a range of terrible and uncomfortable emotions. For gay men of my generation there is the constant question of why we were the ones who have survived the endless, relentless slaughter of our community. Florida has been part of the battleground of America’s hostility towards queers for decades. In the late ’70s washed up beauty queen and orange juice spokesmodel Anita Bryant was on a  homophobic “Christian crusade” to “save the children” from “dangerous queers” by eliminating our civil rights thereby condoning violent attacks against the LGBTQ community.

My two dearest friends and comrades in ACT UP SF, David Pasquarelli and Michael Bellefountaine, first met in the early ’90s in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. They spent a lot of time battling the Christian Right and the Church of the Avenger until the status quo dominance of the region’s gay leadership sent them on a road of urgency and action to San Francisco. Both eventually died of AIDS and I find myself now older than they ever had the chance to become. With them went my access to the twin engines of urgency and action which had previously propelled me through fear and despair.

So it is that I turn to poet Harold Norse–as historian–to offer some perspective with a selection of poems that articulate the rage, sorrow and love that pulse through these hopeless times. As some of these poems are long, the full text of each one can be read by clicking on its title.

HOMO– an excerpt from Harold’s last great work. He began writing the poem in 1984 during an affair in Amsterdam with a young dutchman “with shock of honey hair”. A shared visit to the Van Gogh museum inspires in the poet a desire to “fix you in this poem/As firmly as Van Gogh fixed your ancestors/In his immortal sketches. I pray for this.”

From there the poem grows to describe the long, proud, terrible history of same-sex attraction along with the nearly two Millenia of its prosecution and persecution by political and religious powers. By the time of Harold’s statement to me, the expanded HOMO (told in poetry, prose and Cut Up) was on its way to being his magnum opus, but remained uncompleted by the time of his death in 2009.

We Bumped Off Your Friend The Poet was inspired by a book review Harold read in 1973 about the murder of gay poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. What makes this poem so disturbingly powerful and sadly relevant is Harold use of Lorca’s assassin, a Spanish fascist, as the poem’s narrator.

Elegy for St. Matthew Shepard “martyred by criminal bigots blinded by hate” was written for the young gay man who was beaten and left to die on the prairies of Wyoming in 1998. Though 82 when he composed this elegy, the red-hot anger from Harold’s youth, under the threat of murderous homophobic violence, still burns through the poem until it is absorbed by the compassion that came from his broad knowledge of history.

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Elegy for St. Matthew Shepard

(1976-1998, martyred by criminal bigots blinded by hate)

 

Matthew, dear brother, sweet kid, a slip of a lad, 5’ 2”, effeminate youth,

your parents loved you and knew you were gay and were born that way like

children all over the world in all countries, all times, barely visible in a

child though predestined in puberty. Jesus never condemned you. But the

Church hasn’t heard the Good News: Love is no crime. It’s a force of attract-

tion beyond choice or will. For this you were killed, lashed to a fence like

a scarecrow, stripped, savagely beaten and left to die.

 

Crucified like Jesus who also looked like a scarecrow nailed to a cross, who

most likely was not blue-eyes and pink-skinned with Breck-shampooed

hair, who was also perhaps 5’2” – but awesome and wondrously gentle and

holy. Jesus Christ didn’t wear a white collar, preach sermons of hate crimes

of violence versus the innocent. Perhaps he was always high on the mind-

blowing sacred mushroom in his saintly Essene youth. He did not get

uptight about sex. He preached charity, decency, love.

 

A poor Jew born in a manger, a stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem, he

taught that each life was sacred, more precious than gold; and although he

may have had dirty feet, long hair, hippie sandals, he made the ultimate sac-

rifice for his merciful teachings that conquered the pagan religion of Rome.

O false Christians. You do not love Jesus, you love to exploit him, to sell him,

for profit, get rich in his name. “No queers or dykes welcome in church!”

You laugh and you mock as you murder Jesus, Matthew and Dr. King.

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Requiem for St. Robbie Kirkland

(1984-1997 martyred by schoolboys)

Teased , punched and kicked,
stoned with rocks since first grade
at age six, he did not choose
to be gay. He knew nothing
of sex, except as kids do,
Nature held sway.

Though girlish in childhood
his family loved him no less.
Boys taunted him, hooted and spat
in his face, yelling sissy and fairy
and sister Mary! They laughed at him,
jeering and sneering all day.

As they got older they goosed him
while rubbing their crotches, muttering
“Suck this!” and hissing like snakes.
At 14 he put a gun to his head
and ended the torment
before he returned to ninth grade.

The suicide note said, “I hope I can find
the peace in death that I could not find
in life.” Was this what Christ taught?
He who was mocked and nailed
to the cross? Now in His name
false “Christians” dish out the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A tribute website created by Robbie’s family can be viewed at robbiekirkland.com.

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War Poem

On the beach we talk of war

as the sun bleaches the sand.

They say it will be over in a year.

He says it’s the fault of the banks.

I say it’s the decline of the West.

It’s the rise of the East, he says,

We’ll be white bones like fossils and shells.

He speaks on infantry, aircraft and tanks.

It could last five years, I say.

He says it’s the fault of the Jews.

I say it’s irrational fears.

It’s the fault of the reds, he says.

I say it’s the red, white and blue,

and the fault, my friend, is you.

 

Miami Beach, ca. 1941/42

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The Queer Killers

He is looking for peace

& freedom? Kick the fag

in the nuts. Says he wants

Love & Beauty? Bash

out his brains: they’re not

doing him much good.

He’s a loser. Queer.

Shut his eyes for the last

time. The fag says

he’s a poet. That

figures. Break the fag’s

goddam ass. Let him go on

writing about a broken

face & two crushed balls.

The law won’t touch us, chum.

Venice, CA, circa 1970

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Parapoem – 21

i’m on my back dribbling stars from foamflecked lips

in a field of flaming chrysanthemums

bizarre beasts dance

mescaline moons melt into diamonds

the seal of solomon bursts

the electric river flows

streams of holiness gush between my legs

i give birth to white narcissus

six wands spring from the ground

lotus leaves sprout from the eye

Absolute Poem like a meteor streaks down

crushed by Earth in a swift instant

fiery chains of rubies flood indifferent Cosmos

i’m soaring out of my blood

 

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We Bumped Off Your Friend The Poet

Based on a review by Cyril Connolly, Death in Granada, on the last days of Garcia Lorca, The Sunday Times (London), May 20, 1973

We bumped off your friend the poet
with the big fat head this morning

We left him in a ditch

I fired 2 bullets into his ass
for being queer

I was one of the people
who went to get Lorca
and that’s what I said to Rosales

My name is Ruiz Alonzo
ex-typographer
Right-wing deputy
alive and kicking
Falangist to the end

Nobody bothers me
I got protection
The Guardia Civil are my friends

Because he was a poet
was he better than anyone else?

He was a goddamn fag
and we were sick and tired
of fags in Granada

The black assassination squads
kept busy
liquidating professors
doctors lawyers students
like the good old days of the Inquisition!

General Queipo de Llano
had a favorite phrase
“Give him coffee, plenty of coffee!”
When Lorca was arrested

we asked the General what to do

“Give him coffee, plenty of coffee!”

So we took him out in the hills and shot him
I’d like to know what’s wrong with that
He was queer with Leftist leanings

Didn’t he say
I don’t believe in political frontiers?

Didn’t he say
The capture of Granada in 1492
by Ferdinand and Isabella
was a disastrous event?

Didn’t he call Granada a wasteland
peopled by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain?

a queer Communist poet?

General Franco owes me a medal
for putting 2 bullets up his ass

 

San Francisco, 1973

 

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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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At the Caffé Trieste

the music of ancient Greece

or Rome did not come down

to us

but this morning

I read Virgil’s Eclogues

struck

by the prophecy of a new era

“a great new cycle of centuries

begins. Justice returns to Earth…

the golden age returns,” he wrote

of his millennium, describing

the birth of the infant god, “come down

from heaven.” Jesus was 19

when Virgil died at 89….

will the Golden Age never come?

same faces

thrown up each generation

same races, emotions and struggles

all those centuries, those countries!

languages, songs, discontents!

they return

here in San Francisco

as I sit in the Trieste

-recitative of years!

O Paradiso! sings the jukebox

as Virgil and Verdi combine

in this life

to produce the only Golden Age

there’ll be

Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Ira Norwinski.

Harold Norse at the Caffé Trieste. Photo © Ira Norwinski.

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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 99th Birthday

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Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at the Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photo © Michael Kellner

Harold Norse and William S. Burroughs at the Naropa Institute, July 1980. Photo © Michael Kellner

HNCover1Today would have been Harold Norse’s 99th birthday. Though he’s been gone for six years, Harold’s legacy is more alive than ever, as the recent release of his selected poems by Talisman House,  has introduced Harold’s life-story and poems to yet another generation of readers.

Next week, there will be two separate readings in Los Angeles where Harold had lived four and a half decades ago. Later this week, I’ll post some stories and photos from Harold’s time in Venice Beach.

In the meantime, why not take a look at Harold’s autobiographical essay Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 18? The 1993 entry, which can be viewed here, provides an excellent overview of Harold’s fascinating life.

Also here’s a short clip of yours truly reading one of my favorite poems of Harold’s, “Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness”, last December at San Francisco’s Bird and Beckett Records and Books.

Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness by Harold Norse

Let go and feel your nakedness, tits ache to be bitten and sucked
Let go with pong of armpit and crotch, let go with hole a-tingle
Let go with tongue lapping hairy cunt, lick feet, kiss ass, suck cock and balls
Let the whole body go, let love come through, let freedom ring
Let go with moans and erogenous zones, let go with heart and soul
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go with senses, pull out the stops, forget false teachings and lies
Let go of inherited belief, let go of shame and blame, in brief
Let go of forbidden energies, choked back in muscle and nerves
Let go of rigid rules and roles, let go of uptight poses
Let go of your puppet self, let go and renew yourself and be free
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go this moment, the hour, this day, tomorrow will be too late
Let go of guilt and frustration, let liberation and tolerance flow
Let go of phantom worries and fears, let go of hours and days and years
Let go of hate and rage and grief, let walls against ecstasy fall for relief
Let go of pride and greed, let go of missiles and might and creed
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

As a number of his contemporaries recently had events around the centenary of their births, including Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs and James Broughton, there’s certain to be some exciting and informative happenings next summer. If anyone is interested in being involved in such events, please contact me through this site.

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Celebrating Harold Norse’s 97th Birthday

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Photo © Nina Glaser

Photo © Nina Glaser

We salute Harold Norse on what would have been the great poet’s 97th birthday,  a day shared with visionary painter Frida Kahlo and visionary being the Dali Lama.

Harold lives as long as his poetry is read and his voice remembered. To that end, here’s a poem from Harold’s time in Tangier, breaking through to a new voice, a new man, recalling the visions and ecstasies shared with his young lover.

To Mohammed On Our Journeys

I was the tourist
el simpatico
and your brother offered you
and also himself
I forgot about your brother
and we took a flat in the Marshan
with reed mats and one water tap
about a foot from the floor
and we smoke hasheesh
and ate well and loved well
and left for the south
Essaouira, Fez, Marrakech
and got to Taroudant
thru the mountains
and bought alabaster kif bowls
for a few dirhams and watched
the dancing boys in desert cafés
kissing old Arabs and sitting on their
laps, dancing with kohl eyes
and heard the music down in Jejouka
in the hills under the stars
the ancient ceremony, Pan pipes
fierce in white moonlight
by white walls
with hooded figures
stoned on kif
for eight nights
and the goatboy in a floppy hat
scared us, beating the air
with a stick, beating whomever came close,
Father of Skins, goat god,
and the flutes maddened us
and we slept together in huts.
San Francisco 7.xi.72

 

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To Mohammed on Our Journeys

I was the tourist
el simpático
and your brother offered you
and almost himself
I forgot about your brother
and we took a flat in the Marshan
with reed mats and one water tap
about a foot from the floor
an we smoked hasheesh
and ate well and loved well
and left for the south
Essaouira, Fez, Marrakech
and got to Taroudant
thru the mountains
and bought alabaster kif bowls
for a few dirharms and watched
the dancing boys in desert cafés
kissing old Arabs and sitting on their
laps, dancing with kohl eyes
and heard the music in Jejouka
in the hills under the stars
the ancient ceremony, Pan pipes
fierce in the white moonlight
by white walls
with hooded figures
stoned on kif
for eight nights
and the goat boy in a floppy hat
scared us,beating the air
with a stick, beating whoever came close,
Father of Skins, goat god,
and the flutes maddened us
and we slept together in huts

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Let Go and Feel Your Nakedness

Let go and feel your nakedness, tits ache to be bitten and sucked
Let go with pong of armpit and crotch, let go with hole a-tingle
Let go with tongue lapping hairy cunt, lick feet, kiss ass, suck cock and balls
Let the whole body go, let love come through, let freedom ring
Let go with moans and erogenous zones, let go with heart and soul
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go with senses, pull out the stops, forget false teachings and lies
Let go of inherited belief, let go of shame and blame, in brief
Let go of forbidden energies, choked back in muscle and nerves
Let go of rigid rules and roles, let go of uptight poses
Let go of your puppet self, let go and renew yourself and be free
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

Let go this moment, the hour, this day, tomorrow will be too late
Let go of guilt and frustration, let liberation and tolerance flow
Let go of phantom worries and fears, let go of hours and days and years
Let go of hate and rage and grief, let walls against ecstasy fall for relief
Let go of pride and greed, let go of missiles and might and creed
Let go the dead meat of convention, wake up the live meat of love

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The Business of Poetry

The business of poetry
is the image of a young man
making music and love
to a girl whose interest
in love and music coincides
with an enormous despair in both
their inner selves like a plucked
guitar in the dry hot sun of
hope where savage and brutal men
are tearing life like a page
from a very ancient
and yellow
book
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Classic Frieze in a Garage

I was walking thru the city past umber embassies 

               & pine-lined palaces
                              fat palms beside balconies
                       the heat something
                                   you could really touch

                                     the kids with cunning
                                         delinquent faces
                                  after americano sailors

            -thinking of nerval    tends-moi le pausilippe
                  et la mer d’Italie & living
                          on the hill         posillipo          under
               a gangster’s dancefloor
                                                   among goldfinches

                                         on the bay of naples
                                                  in a stone cottage
                               over tufa caves in which the sea
                               crashed in winter     sweet gerard
                                                one hundred years
                       have made the desolation greater

     the tower is really down & the sun blackened
                     beyond despair      the loudspeaker drowns
                              finches     cliffs      caves
                                      all in the hands of racketeers
        yet i have passed my time dreaming thru this
                              fantastic wreck

walking thru incendiary alleys of crowded laundry
                              with yellow gourds in windows &
                              crumbling masonry of wars
                                    human corruption
                              so thick and hopeless that i laugh

when suddenly i saw among the oil & greasy rags
                               & wheels & axles of a garage
                                the carved nude figures of
                                        a classic frieze
                                there above the dismantled
                                parts of cars!

perfect! & how strange! garage
               swallows sarcophagus!
mechanic calmly spraying
                    paint on a
                                       fender
observed in turn by lapith and centaur!

                                                       flow
                           of unthinking flesh!
                                       frank thighs! eyes
                              of aphrodite!

the myth of the mediterranean
           was in that garage
      where the brown wiry
youths saw nothing unusual
                   at their work
    among dead heroes & gods

    but i saw hermes in the rainbow
            of the dark oil on the floor
                             reflected there
           & the wild hair of the sybil
                   as her words bubbled
mad and drowned
                               beneath  the motor’s roar  

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Island of Giglio

we sailed into the harbor
all the church bells rang
the main street on the crescent shore
hung iridescent silks from windows
stucco housefronts gleamed
rose, pistachio, peach
and a procession sang
behind a surpliced priest
carrying a burnished Christ
when I set foot on shore
a youth emerged from the crowd
barefoot and olive-skinned
and we climbed up rocky slopes
till dusk fell and close to the moon
at the mouth of a cave we made love
as the sea broke wild beneath the cliff

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Piccolo Paradiso

Piccolo Paradiso

let the age hang itself!  we’ve had
four marvelous days together
       no news reports        only music
               & no serious discussions
 

plenty of wine        the best
from the islands
     white
        falerno &  ischian
            & lacrima cristi
                                   we’ve made up
                              for months
                 of loneliness
                     hard work
                       nastiness
                            of ‘superiors’
 

             we may not live
         very well or long
our mistakes are perhaps too great
       to bear correction
          at this midpoint
     of our lives (you’re somewhat younger)
                         surely too great
to make up for the lengths we go
           to hide them

                                    e cosi…that’s
                                             how it goes 
   

                      but at least
                      we’re ahead of the game

                  we’ve stolen a march
                       on the dead       the herd 
   

if the return to grayness
sharp tempered weapons
of those who force life
into corners
       is more than we can bear
       remember this
           the wine
               the ladder
                    of stars that climb
                        vesuvius outside
                            my window
                         the waves
                           banging into smooth
                                tufa caves 
   

& the opera
              as we lay together
                                       remember 

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Carnivorous Saint

we dig up ancient shards
clicking cameras
among the dying cypresses
choked by Athenian smog.

yet cats continue basking
in the hazy sun
the chained goat sways in ecstasy
the Parthenon looks down from creamy heights
lichen and rust nibble the pediments
and tourist feet break the spell
of antiquity’s vibrations

the grass hits
as I look at rusty orangeade caps
thinking Who needs nuclear Apollo?
thermonuclear Minerva?
Nike crashing to grand finale?

we need the anti-Christ
who is probably playing football around the corner
the sweet boy who used to be called Eros
and wants us to be happy.

bring back the carnivorous saint
whose mother is no virgin
she’s Our Lady of Peace Movements
to ban the bomb and clean up the air
she’ll wave her umbrella and change the world.

ah yes, when the grass hits
old worlds burn down and new worlds form
in clouds of brown monoxide morning.

Athens, Jan. 1964

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I’m Not a Man

I’m not a man, I can’t earn a living, buy new things for my family. I have acne and a small peter.

I’m not a man. I don’t like football, boxing and cars.
I like to express my feeling. I even like to put an arm
around my friend’s shoulder.

I’m not a man. I won’t play the role assigned to me- the role created by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell, Television does not dictate my behavior.

I’m not a man. Once when I shot a squirrel I swore that I would never kill again. I gave up meat. The sight of blood makes me sick. I like flowers.

I’m not a man. I went to prison resisting the draft. I do not fight when real men beat me up and call me queer. I dislike violence.

I’m not a man. I have never raped a woman. I don’t hate blacks. I do not get emotional when the flag is waved. I do not think I should love America or leave it. I think I should laugh at it.

I’m not a man. I have never had the clap.

I’m not a man. Playboy is not my favorite magazine.

I’m not a man. I cry when I’m unhappy.

I’m not a man. I do not feel superior to women

I’m not a man. I don’t wear a jockstrap.

I’m not a man. I write poetry.

I’m not a man. I meditate on peace and love.

I’m not a man. I don’t want to destroy you

San Francisco, 1972

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