Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My 'Problematic' Poem "I am Known as Walt Whitman," according to Michael Theune in Pleiades

[When I first started this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would NEVER post my own poems here. However, my poem was singled out in a review of the #34 issue of Triquarterly. Poetry critic Michael Theune described the poem as "problematic" in Pleiades which I just recently discovered. There's no better thing for me than to be called a "problem"--a description often applied to gay men. I love attention no matter what kind I receive. Attention is something I can mistake for love, and I like a lot of love. Today, I will post the "problematic" poem. Very soon I will offer a response to Theune's critique--Thank you, Theune, for supplying me with new material. I wanted to write about Chip Livingston's "Museum of False Starts" but I haven't spent enough time with it.]


I Am Known As Walt Whitman


To the gay men who spend their Friday nights lurking in the cyber chatroom, I am known
as Walt Whitman. My alias. My secret identity. My better half.
Somewhere in that claim a stupid joke can be found. Don’t expect me
to discover it. I’m too busy on-line looking for the man who offered my boyfriend

his first taste of crystal meth. It got him so messed up he couldn’t stop
meeting men off the internet, and then begging them to stay after they had their release.

Of course, they always left. Bored, he did other risky things
like having sex in a bathroom stall at Wal-Mart where he was arrested
for indecent exposure. (Somewhere on those tiles there is a trace of him.)

He lost his job as a minimum wage earning bagboy at Wegman’s, causing him
to avoid the grocery story altogether, the only one in town. Crystal kidnaps
your hunger anyway. His appetite resurfaced elsewhere.

Like in orgies where condoms were thought of as unnecessary ornaments.
(Somewhere in my voice, useless empathy can be found.) He contracted HIV.
I broke up with him because I didn’t want to take care of someone who was going to die

in such an uninspired way. Somewhere in this narrative
there may be a shred of logic to be found. O, my dumb dead boyfriend,
you are my expired muse. Because I know you gave so kindly to strangers, I imagine

your hole as raw as the material for this poem. Bloody and needy and lovely. Somewhere in your flesh I had wished to find a reason to forgive you. Somewhere
in your grave I will find the redemption I’ll need for hating you.

Somewhere in another poem I will find the strength to tell this story
without invoking the name of Walt Whitman. But now I need him. I need that dead homosexual to find a way into my prayer for you. I can’t let this be a poem about me

and you. It needs to be something larger. Something that moves our words
beyond a story of drugs, a memoir of lonely people, a poem of catharsis.
Are you listening from the heavens, my worthless love:

Walt Whitman wrote those poems about desire and flesh and never felt any better. Somewhere in that knowledge a lesson can be found. But now
all we have are these words, words which will not be remembered

by any more than a few hungry readers, words which will disappear
as quickly as the instant message in a chatroom, words that will be as unrecognizable
as the misunderstood ones in what was once someone’s meaningless, necessary poem.

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