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When I received this book my first question when I opened it was, “why am I getting this?” Isn’t there a poetry editor? Does someone think poems about the men we love, the men who dump us, and poems about our self doubt and heartbreak are erotic literature? To me those poems are the stories of our lives, but maybe all the stories of gay men are erotic because that’s our essential nature. Once that question went unanswered I started reading the rest of the book and had trouble putting it down. Emanuel Xavier asks the question we’ve all wanted to ask major the influences in our lives. What if my Dad had played with another man in college? What if my mother had inherited a fortune? This “street grown poet angry with God” is also asking larger questions about morality and trust. It’s not about whether or not Jesus would pierce his nipple if he were gay, but would we see ourselves differently if the Jesus had been a queer shepherd boy? As he says, “would we hang him from our chest?”
Young men these days are asking what it was like in the Good Old (70s) Days. Xavier’s letter to Rodney captured not only a lot of the details I remember of that time, but more important is his comfort with his sexual appetite that pervaded our days of endless rainbows. For me it’s always refreshing to read about another slut who has sex with men just because he loves spreading his legs and getting sweaty. OK, in his case he did that sometimes because it paid the rent. But notice in his piece on prostitution how little his clients asked of him. Emanuel knows the real world out there on Polk Street and elsewhere with boys making money off men seeking company. In his case he knew he needed their company, too. The poem entitled “Mike from Ashbury Park” is where the book merges eroticism and pornography perfectly. The sex is what it is, and that’s where he leaves it. If you want a true contemporary queer love poem, read “Hillside.” What I also find in his work that’s different from a lot of other gay material these days is that there’s no wistful longing for a missing man rather he imagines what that man would be. How nice.
Being raised a white boy in the Unitarian church, I could empathize with Emanuel’s poems about his identity because I grew up a queer atheist in the northern Bible Belt. But it’s harder for me to empathize with his struggles with Catholicism because of the damage it’s done to so many friends. I didn’t grow up with the richness of its symbols and mysteries that infuse his work, and read his poems with a mix of wonder, awe and fear. What if the priests in his parish had been gay? I mean out?
Daddies in Emanuel’s world are men who are absent or men who buy him gifts and imaginary men for whom he makes clay ashtrays. He knows the persona, the possibilities, and wants to play house with the real thing. As a real dad, I honor his desire to raise a son and spare him what he went through. I also appreciate him using the word “piece” for men he has sex with. It conveys the heat and temptation of those connections unlike the term trick, which I never liked because it’s cheap. He could mean a piece of meat or piece of pie or piece of a puzzle.
Sadness and death are right in your face in this book.
Love has taught me I am not a master
Love has taught me I am but a slave
& all I need is deliverance
From the darkness of my grave.
and the world’s not a pretty place
Until then. Earth remains the asshole of the universe.
but what sustains this admitted slut is a slender thread of hope
I will pretend there is peace on earth always
And look forward to another year.
I did a short stint as ED at STOP AIDS several years ago and remember overhearing a group of young Latinos referring to Pascua (now Starbucks) where my fiends hung out as “Where all the old white guys just talk.” Even though a lot of us try to stay in shape, it’s men like Emanuel who are going to replace us. I wish I could pass to them the optimism we knew, but two wars and four years of Bush eliminated it. I think the next generation has the honesty and energy needed to take our community into our future. I hope they have as much fun as we did.
Emanuel lives in New York City and is the author of the novel Christ Like and editor of the anthologies Bullets and Butterflies: queer spoken word poetry and Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry. His work has appeared in major publications, including the New York Times and he has a CD
Legendary — The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier available on iTunes.
IF JESUS WERE GAY