Here is Timothy Liu’s poem The Decision:
When I removed
the ring I had
been wearing for
a decade, a ghost
underneath — the skin
where the gold
had been — my finger
cinched where it
had been constricted
as I prepared to
step into the night —
How comforting it is to not be forced in a poem to deal with any periods! No declarative statements, sentences. There's no complete sentence in Liu's poem of overt political statement. Which is about a mandate which in its own way sentences gay men to an unfair punishment. Queers can't marry.
I see Liu's poem as a re-enactment of a tragic gesture. Not a statement.
Liu's poem is clever, no?
More than clever I say. His poem is kindness. It provides temporary relief in a pause, a rest.
That's what makes poems special. It can offer something other than a statement.
We need more poems. As well as useful, political statements. Sometimes those things are the same, some times not.
Appearing in the July issue of the Harvard Review, then August on Poetry Daily, no doubt the decision is The Decision-California’s “decision” (thank you Timothy for not naming it directly; it hurts sometimes to hear) to allow the killing of gay men. The Decision is Proposition 8. Which says you can’t marry; you don’t exist; please go and die.
Liu knows discursiveness, no matter how ultimately lyrical, has its drawbacks. Sometimes he uses it, sometimes he doesn't. Here in this poem he doesn't.
Discursiveness yields a whole lot of statements. And then someone, if they’re engaged and usually if they disagree, offers a lot of other statements. Statements accumulate. They really do. And they do quickly. No matter how hard you try, there’s always another statement, perhaps a necessary one, perhaps not, that’s going to get past you.
That frustrates me. I like to think I can capture all the statements about a particular subject and put them in a list.
That’s why I like grocery lists. It’s nice to see things stacked, as they are in a list.
Think about all the wonderful things you can stack: library books, pressed shirts, Legos.
Maybe Legos aren’t that good for a gay man to think about. If you can’t marry, it’s hard to adopt. No kids, no legos. I always preferred Playmobile.
Liu’s poem also makes it clear that one of the horrible things about Proposition 8 is that you can’t completely explain what gay men have lost as a result of it. No statement can sum it up. Statements should be able to do that, no?
Proposition 8 taught gay men that you need to make a lot of statements to fight inequality. You can’t really make enough. At the same time you can only hear so many. Everyone needs to stop at some point. Or else you need to go into your room, lock the door, and play Enya.
Even without a lot of statements badgering me, I do that.
I love Enya. I listened to her all the time when I took my Latin exams.
Proposition 8 affirmed gay-haters that you can make an inaccurate statement and, as long as it’s a statement, one made with conviction, you can capture and murder. Making statements make you feel one of two ways. Like you’ve been pinned down or that you can throw someone against a wall. That's why you make your own statements. This isn't to say in any way you shouldn't make them. It's just that everything hurts in its own way.
Liu knows periods can be dumb. He knows statements can be useless. For this particular poem, Liu has the solution. His solution is not a statement. It’s a dash. A dash is a pretty good thing if you don’t skip over it. A dash looks like something you can sail away on.
That's what how I think of Liu's final dash in his poem anyway.
You can glide away on it. Past Proposition 8. Past all the statements. You just keep on moving. Away and “into the night-”
New poem in The Cortland Review
5 weeks ago