Monday, August 16, 2010

Well and Often...

War Diaries

      I won't bore you with all the reasons I've been lax at updating the blog over the last several (several, cubed) months, but one is that I was working with my fantastic co-editor Tisa Bryant on War Diaries, a literary anthology being published by APLA and MSMGF. It's a collection of poems, short stories, essays, experimental writing, and photos that takes the collective pulse of Black SGL/gay/queer men around the globe; it deals with issues ranging from homophobia to HIV/AIDS to the struggles inherent in forging healthy relationships (with lovers, family, self...) and we were able to  pull together extraordinary writers, men and women, from all over the world to contribute. WD made its debut a short while ago in Vienna at this year's International AIDS Conference and from what I've been told, it was a huge hit. Over 1,000 copies were distributed and feedback was extremely enthusiastic, from diverse segments of the African diaspora as well as delegates from India, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, France, Eastern Europe and beyond. Included in the volume are two of my own short stories, culled from a project I'm working on of my own creative writing. Below is one of those stories.


Cold & Wet, Tired You Bet


He gets so sad sometimes. Often, actually. It just wells up in him and breaks messily through the surface. Like in those science-fiction movies where the alien who’s been hiding out in human form suddenly rips through its host body, shredding skin and cracking bones. Tentacles and strange limbs protruding from the places where back, legs and arms used to be. Poisonous saliva dripping from massive, double-set fangs that glisten. That’s the way his sadness is. Except it’s quiet. And it doesn’t distort him so dramatically. If anything, it makes him smaller. He shrinks into it as it consumes him. He smiles (no fangs, no gnashing of teeth) and softly wills himself to disappear. He barely makes a sound.

“It’s okay,” he’ll say, unable to look you in the eye. Smiling. “It’s okay.” His hands clench tightly and thrust deep into pants pockets, straining against the seams as his head bends slightly. He shrugs almost imperceptibly. “I’m cool.”

I tremble when this happens. Like a terrified extra in a horror film. But I’ve learned not to make a sound. I’ve learned to swallow my own screams. Any reaction from me only twists his anguish, adds garnish of guilt to his psychic platter. My fear is that the transformation, as with the creature on the big screen, reveals the true being lurking beneath skin – in his case a man so possessed by his demons that they permanently own him. A man made small by history and memory and flight-not-fight reflexes that uncoil at phantom triggers. He believes he’s going to hell.

Every kiss is resignation; every fuck is condemnation. He cannot take pleasure in his pleasure. He cannot find the joy in love. Cannot receive it and battles himself when he feels it. He’s constantly at odds with his body and with mine. Late at night, I hold him while he flinches within the embrace. I whisper to him, “I would give you the world but I don’t believe in the world. But I do believe in you.”

He won’t let himself feel joy because it fades, so he can’t let himself trust it. Sadness and despair have been more faithful. They stay in place. They dig deep. You can turn your back on them and trust that they will still be there when you turn back around. Waiting. They hang around as long as you feed them and they don’t need much to flourish. He hasn’t yet learned that joy has to be fed too. It’s not self-sustaining. You have to clear a place for it. Make it feel welcome. Let it know that you want it. He hasn’t learned that while sadness might seem to subsist solely on cigarettes and coffee, it’s constantly snacking behind his back, cleaning out pantry and fridge. It’s voracious.

We often lie in this fashion in bed at night: I am on my side, facing him. He lies on his back. One of my arms is folded beneath my head while the other safety-belts across his chest. I throw a protective thigh over his thigh. He rests his head on a pillow that is so old, so flat and limp, that it’s folded twice to give it heft. His eyes are cast downward, looking absently at his chest and stomach. His arms are akimbo, angled slightly so that each hand nervously flutters a fingertip tap-dance on his lower belly. I stroke his chest. He swallows nervously. We’ve been together well over a year now and he still has an ingĂ©nue’s stage fright. No, he has the terror of someone stranded in a completely foreign land sans map or knowledge of the culture or native language. Just before he falls asleep, he turns to his side and softly slides back against me, his bare ass against my hard-on. I kiss his shoulder, buckling arm and thigh around him.

How it works: You draw up a list of what you want, what you need. Then from that master list you sub-head items that you absolutely must have, things on which you will not compromise. And then you meet someone and fall in love and the list is thrown out a window.

This is the part you may not understand. I lean on him. On the Germanic sturdiness of his insecurities and fears; they’re constants in our days, act as guideposts through our nights. They’re dependable guardrails. I want to dismantle them so that he – so that we – can be free, but I’m nervous about what that freedom might mean, what might lie beyond it. Will he need me then? Who will he be? And have I come to romanticize the very thing from which I claim to want to free him?

My body can’t contain its history. It gives everything away. In repose I sit slightly hunched forward due to hereditary scoliosis. I cannot bend my right arm properly because I broke it when I was a child; it was set badly but we were too poor to get it corrected after it had healed. When I get flustered I stutter, my eyes blink rapidly and I swallow after every word – hair-trigger heirlooms from constant confrontations with a father embittered because he’d sired a faggot, and he missed no chance to hector, belittle and voice his disgust. Faint scars line my left wrist: Sixteen, without hope, unable to see a future. Death wasn’t really the goal but it was an acceptable risk for the reprieve sought. Molecular memory of my own distress is the root of my empathy for him. My man.

We speak the language of romance novels and 5-hankie weepies with utmost sincerity.

“If I save you, will you save me?” I ask him with a smile, sans irony but with ulterior motive. His ego is fragile. I geisha myself three feet behind him to make him feel strong, to mask the strenuous work required to nurture and carry him. He knows but if he knew it would shatter him. And sometimes I coast on the surface of my whispered nocturnal queries, staying above subtext or flipped meaning, letting the words that are spoken do all the heavy lifting. I volley the role of hero into his court. To be truthful, sometimes I do want to be the imperiled Pauline yanked from the rails with only seconds to spare before the steam engine crushes me, confident that the cavalry is on its way and that my life is worth Herculean effort. That it’s worth saving. Trembling, endangered captive is a cakewalk compared to 24-hour savior.

“I don’t know,” he smiles back. “All the magazines and Oprah say you gotta save yourself.” (Sans irony.)

“Fuck Oprah. I don’t give a fuck about myself. I really don’t. I don’t care if I live or die except for you. I get it up for you. I would do anything to take care of you, to make you feel safe. Would you do the same for me?”

He thinks a long time. I wait. “Okay,” he says finally. “I’ll take care of you. I’ll protect you.” He grins sheepishly.


If you'd like a comp copy of War Diaries, you can contact the great Pato Hebert at phebert@apla.org and he'll hook you up. Include your name and current maling address, and put War Diaries
in the subject line. Domestic distribution begins later this month, and PDFs will also appear on the sites of both sponsoring organizations: www.apla.org and MSMGF.

Peace

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Very Different Oral Experience...

Early this AM as I lost the battle with insomnia, I stumbled over these Youtube clips of Neneh Cherry's cooking show with her friend Andi, and immediately fell in love. The two women are earthy, bawdy, funny, sexy, and the food looks amazing. And despite the British accents, they tap into a cool Universal Black Woman vibe in their exchanges with each other and their dinner guests. The second clip in the "Comfort Food" segment seems to freeze up (at least on my computer) so I had to give up and move on to the third/final clip of that episode. I've also included two other episodes, also in three parts each. Enjoy. Oh, heads up: These women are not vegetarians.