Home > Poetry > In Through The Out Door

In Through The Out Door

He took me by the hand and read me Oscar Wilde
and when we came to The Ballad of Reading Gaol,
he turned down the lights in respect
of the glaring light which now shines on us.
Sometimes we forget the old days
and the chains that tethered queers
to the quaint seedy back-rooms
of anonymity and fear,
the half-life of the grey world
in which the best we could hope for
was a kiss from that strange boy
and a gentle, warm hand
on our ubiquitous,
framed by reputation,
penis.
‘I recognise you’ had many meanings.
‘I love you’ was a running-joke
in the bath-houses and the dark bushes
of the slightly diverted eyes that promised,
as the contract of entry,
never to tell.
Today, in the outrageous raves
and the annual parades
we lose sight of where the world has been.
Lest we forget, the old guys say.
In time and place
the new replaces the old by grace,
not by right.
An Albanian immigrant named Prokop Nano
said to me
without blinking,
‘Vere I come from, ve deal vit people like you!’
I knew what he meant.
A Hindi father does not speak of his son:
there is shame in his eyes
and he hopes that his caste-mark will exonerate him.
The Turkish taxi-driver tells me,
‘I have no brother – he died seven years ago.’
But I know his grave is dug deep in the cabbie’s heart,
not in the soil:
he is buried in words, not deeds.
A man from Mali spits on the ground
and say something in his native phlegm
that I really can understand.
Today, in an outrageous snapshot
of where the world still is,
I look back on the old days of my queer past
and can not promise that all has changed.
Half a world later and eleven lovers dead,
one from Aids,
ten by their own hand,
I wonder where the voyage to the New World has left us.
One by one in a promiscuous memory     [1]
their ghosts parade past me
and every one asks of me the same question:
Where are you?
It means, How far has the journey taken me?
How can we be queer in the cold isolation
from the history that taught us who we are?
We look at each other and remind ourselves
that Oscar probably would have something witty to say…
about now.
I have had my share of lovers
and I’ve had my share of losses –
more than, some would say,
as the abacus clicks one more bead to the tally.
In some transaction in which supposedly
I gain more than I have purchased
I have kept my receipts
and from time to time
remind myself of the journey.
Some do not even know
that once our love was illegal:
before they were even born
some of us came in from the cold,
in through the out door,
to find our own place to stand,
our own tūrangawaewae.     [2]
We are the love, we said,
that does dare to speak its name;
and that name is Queer,
etched on the trunk alongside ‘George luvs Betty’,
as the tree-surgeon is handed a protection-order.
The word barks out into the Brave New World.
I wonder, Have I acquitted myself in their eyes,
in the fading irises of the long-gone?
Let no nepenthes anaesthetise me     [3]
from the sharp-chipped road of experience.
For the new breed
they have nothing to offer the Cause
other than how they live that life that was given to them.
The great marches of meaning are but memories
and the vitality of the struggle replaced by party-pills.
We must help each other be the whole
that is the haunt of hallowed lives
in a community of perpetuation,
in a parade of variation,
at a point where past and present have no separate meanings.
Even the dirty old man has a story –
lest he forget! –
for his trials and tribulations carved out
an irrevocable Now
that we can not hear until the music is turned down.
I read my books,
lest I forget;
I write my words
in a humble homage to the fallen soldiers
who battled collar to collar with me
in the Great Cause,
in the trenches of a tragic life,
in the open fire of the enemy
who did not even know what the war was about.
You killed my brother in Hagley Park
and the judge and jury said,
‘Good on you, mate;
that’s one less faggot to worry about!’
Let us bury the dead with happiness
and mark the tombs not with poppies but pansies.
At the wake, let us read their poems
and their letters home
and turn their photographs into factitious shrines
and know that they did not die for nothing.
We enter the holy ground of the burning brothers,
each queer a cathedral with a crucifix well fought for.
Once more we come, comrades,
in through the out door,
as we take the time to wipe our feet
of the graveside soil,
before he approaches and kisses me…
tenderly…
on the cheek.

(2008)

Notes
1. Promiscuous literally means ‘mixed up’ or ‘at random’ and does not necessarily refer to excessive numbers.
2. The Māori word tūrangawaewae is often translated as ‘domicile’, but more accurately means ‘a place to stand’, a place to identify one’s belonging in the world, from components meaning the ‘place or identity (tūranga) of the foot (waewae)’.
3. Nepenthes is a mythical plant of Egyptian origin mentioned in the Odyssey, the extract of which causes a sufferer to be free of the pain of grief (νηπενθής, nēpenthēs, banishing pain, from νη-, -, not + πένθος, penthos, grief).

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