Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Familiar lines in a Thomas James poem

Tripping along from link to link, I ended up at this poem by the late Thomas James, whose manuscript has been resurrected by Graywolf. The last stanza contains two lines which should be recognizable: line three of the stanza contains the title of a book by Rigoberto Gonzalez; line one of the stanza recalls the title of an excellent book of stories by the late Allen Barnett, who died much too young in 1991.

I'm not all that well-read--the "gaps" in my reading are more like great glacial expanses--but I'm struck by the resonance of both these lines and by the fact that they reappear in two separate book titles 25 years apart. Were both writers familiar with James' poem?

I also find it heartening that a "lost" manuscript has found new life and a new readership. It's something I'm trying to do, in my small way, with chapbooks. But more than that, it strikes a chord in me as a gay man who survived the '80s and '90s in a city where dozens upon dozens of talented, witty, artistic friends and acquaintances vanished in their prime. The weight of their unspoken potential haunts me to this day, and I feel that I, personally, have not yet done enough to bring that experience, those voices, into print. I hope to do more about that.

And so I was both amazed and delighted to hear back from my query a while ago, asking if anyone had poems by the late Randy Brieger. A college friend of Randy's sent me a copy of his complete manuscript, Ink Pajamas. I read through it slowly, remembering some poems (he'd just started publishing widely before his sudden death), encountering others for the first time, recalling some of those Houston moments and mourning the loss of yet another talented queer writer I wish I'd had the chance to know better.
__ __ __


For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour

For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting

Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,

Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.

I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.

1 comment:

jchrisro said...

I found you blog doing a search on the internet for articles about Randy Brieger. Randy and I were roommates during his stint at U. of Southern Mississippi. I have more of Randy's manuscripts, short stories and plays, if you are interested. I still miss his sense of humor and quick wit. Thanks for posting information about Randy.