Friday, October 10, 2003

the poems of Tim Dlugos 

recently i was rereading the poems of Ed Cox, a book gifted to me by the incredibly generous Buck Downs. Cox's poems make me sad at the end of the book, the way reading any dead poet who was alive at some point since i've been born makes me sad. i said this to a friend recently, who told me that that sounded like self-reflected mortality issues. or something, which may or may not be. but "issues"? okay, we're going to die, YEAH i have an "issue" with that! in fact i want to run in the streets SCREAMING MY HEAD OFF about it some days. what keeps me inside and keeps me from screaming is some sort of fucked-up societal pressure to behave. the little bit of pressure to behave left in me.

but Cox and Dlugos died so young. and wrote so beautifully. i'd really like to have read their poems as old men. they would have destroyed us with their power by then, which probably sounds romantic and silly and I don't care. Hart Crane's mother held seances to get poems beyond the grave from her son. yeah it sounds weird, but i like it!

the first time i read Tim Dlugos he was already dead. it was the long poem "G-9" named after his hospital room. later that night i dreamt that i found a phone book open to D with Dlugos's name underlined in bright red ink. i called the number, he wasn't home the machine said, and wasn't sure when he'd be home, then ended the message with a line of poetry i certainly don't recall.

David Trinidad edited the selected POWERLESS, and it's a remarkable book in many ways, right down to the haunting cover art. why there isn't a collected is a surprise to me. there must be a million other poets or poetry lovers besides me who love this man's poems. and there are so many poems i've seen outside the selected which are really amazing and i'm sure you would all want to read them.

POWERLESS was actually the name of a separate manuscript Dlugos had written. it wasn't meant to be the name of the selected. but for whatever reason, decisions were made on Dlugos's behalf after his death, and things landed as they did. it's a fine selected in every way, as i've said, but i've also now read the unpublished manuscript POWERLESS, and i have to be honest, the movement of the poems STUNS poem-to-poem!

in his preface, Trinidad mentions the Dlugos collection STRONG PLACE, another great American book, now also out of print. The poet Fran Ryan had given me a copy of that book some years ago. STRONG PLACE is one of the books i'd grab in the event of fire. i'd like to share a poem from that, if it weren't for the one i've already picked out from the selected. Trinidad also says he regrets that he couldn't include the long poem "A Fast Life." but when Trinidad did a special Dlugos issue for The James White Review he was able to include the 30-part poem, to my delight. By the way, "A Fast Life" takes place--for the most part--in Philadelphia and its surrounding area. if you can get your hands on a copy of that issue of The James White Review, DO!

about a year ago, in a used bookstore in New York, i came across a crumbling copy of an old lit mag called HOT WATER REVIEW. it was from 1976, published in Philadelphia. to my surprise there were three Tim Dlugos poems, one which i'd never before seen called "Dreams"

"Dreams" is a long, 6-part poem. here's one of the 6 called "1-24":

I go back to visit a house I used to
live in, and hear my ex-lover say he'll
kill me if he finds me there. So I climb in
a window and spend the night on the floor
of the locked room where he keeps his files.
The files contain pictures of our life together.
I call Tim from an extension phone, and learn
that he has not yet slept with Bob, because
the latter thinks it should be a religious
experience. Tim is tripping. My ex-lover
hears the noise, and checks his files to
investigate. But I'm invisible.

now don't you believe that that poem should be published somewhere in a collected? if you don't think so, keep it to yourself please.

when i was up in Salem recently with hassen, we were in a library where she was studying documents of the witchcraft trials. there was a box of FREE books we of course sifted through. one of the books i grabbed was a hardcover of THE CHRISTOPHER STREET READER. for those who don't know, it was a rather important magazine for the gay community in the 70's and 80's. important in the sense that the information included was sometimes the ONLY way the information, back then, would circulate.

in this reader are two articles by Dlugos, which i read this morning. the first is called "Gay Widows" which of course deals with the layers of problems which arise from the death of one member of a gay couple: legal issues, property rights, etc. written before 1983, but these issues for gay couples still haven't been resolved. the 2nd article is about gay priests, which i'm kind of sick of hearing about (to me it's as silly as a Jew or African American wanting to join the KKK), but i read it, simply because i like the way Dlugos writes. after finishing it i turned on the radio JUST IN TIME to hear a news report stating that the Catholic Church STILL will not condone condom use. never mind the millions and millions of suffering lives... i was about to go on a tangent just now, but STOPPED myself with three dots!

i recall reading a memorial poem Eileen Myles had written for Tim Dlugos, in which she said something about being grateful that he had never brought up his views on abortion, to preserve their friendship, and how much that meant to her. that's important to remember, an important lesson of gratitude to share with us. i know i feel bigger for having absorbed her lines on this.

my hope is that anyone reading this who doesn't know Dlugos's poems will see to it that they start knowing. let me share one of my favorite poems of his now.

By Tim Dlugos

Which are the magic
moments in ordinary
time? All of them,
for those who can see.
That is what redemption
means, I decide
at the meeting. Then
walk with David wearing
his new Yale T-shirt
and new long hair to 103.
Leonard and Eileen come, too.
Leonard wears a shark's tooth
on a chain around his neck
and long blond hair.
These days he's the manager
of Boots and Saddles ("Bras
and Girdles," my beloved
Bobby used to say) and
costumer for the Gay Cable
Network's Dating Game.
One week the announcer is
a rhinestone cowboy, sequin
shirt and black fur chaps,
the next a leatherman, etc.
Eileen's crewcut makes
her face light up.
Underneath our hairstyles,
23 years of sobriety, all told --
the age of a girl who's "not
so young but not so very old,"
wrote Berryman, who flew
from his recovery with the force
of a poet hitting bottom.
It's not the way I choose
to go out of this restaurant
or day today, and I
have a choice. Wanda
the comedian comes over
to our table. "Call me
wicked Wanda," she smirks
when we're introduced.
Why is New York City
awash in stand-up comics
at the least funny point
in its history? Still,
some things stay the same.
People wonder what the people
in their buildings would think
if the ones who are wondering
became incredibly famous,
as famous as Madonna.
Debby Harry lived in Eileen's
building in the Village
in the early seventies, and she
was just the shy girl
in the band upstairs.
Poets read the writing
of their friends, and
are happy when they like it
thoroughly, when the work's
that good and the crippling
sense of competition stays away.
Trips get planned: David
home to California, Eileen
to New Mexico, Chris and I
to France and Spain, on vectors
which will spread out
from a single point, like ribs
of an umbrella. Then
after the comfort of a wedge
of blueberry peach pie and cup
of Decaf, sober friends
thread separate ways home
through the maze of blankets
on the sidewalk covered with
the scraps of someone else's life.
Mine consists of understanding
that the magic isn't something
that I make, but something
that shines through the things
I make and do and say
the way a brooch or scrap of fabric
shines from the detritus
to catch Leonard's eye
and be of use for costumes,
when I am fearless and thorough
enough to give it room,
all the room there is in ordinary
time, which embraces all
the people and events and hopes
that choke the street tonight
and still leaves room for everyone
and everything and every
other place, the undescribed
and indescribable, more various
and cacaphonous than voice
can tell or mind conceive,
and for the sky's vast depths
from which they're all
a speck of light.

so here's to hoping that this poem breaks your skin, and you want to read all his poems. i envy those JUST beginning such a journey. when i reread Dlugos, it's wonderful, but not that virginal wonder.

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