To understand his childhood and development, poet Brian Teare needed language. While he studied as a classical musician and found artistic release, Teare, who is gay, said he needed something more substantive.
“I needed words to understand, I needed language to understand,” Teare said. “I started reading and eventually writing.”
Each year, QSaltLake accepts reader submission for the annual Literary Issue. Poems, short stories and other forms of literature are accepted and the most relevant pieces are published. This year’s selections explore issues of violence, sexuality and identity.
Teare, whose book Pleasure is the 2011 Lambda Literary Award winner for gay poetry, said poetry and literature can reflect the needs and status of an individual community.
“What’s so great about literature is that the function it serves can be so flexible,” Teare said. “I definitely think there’s a place and a role for queer literature in 2011. And that purpose is going to vary by country, state and even community.”
Utah’s own poet Laureate, Katharine Hales, said poetry is one of the purest forms of expression and can be used for both the reader and the writer to gain great insight.
“When a reader connects with a poem, it can tell them exactly where they are with something,” Hales said. “That’s the job of the poet, to create that special space.”
“Writing for an audience is more than just writing what you’re thinking and hoping other people are interested,” Hales said. “There’s so much more to it than that.”
Writing about topics that are relevant to the queer community is an extremely important endeavor, said Max Valerio, whose memoir, The Testosterone Files, is a landmark work that explores his journey as he transitioned from a female to male. The book is a must-read for any queer literature fan.
“Seeing our lives reflected in literature is really important,” Valerio said.
When starting to write, it’s important to consider facts, such as what portions of the pieces are readers going to relate to and what message I want to portray, he said.
“I had a story I wanted to tell. I wasn’t looking for pity, although there were portions where certainly the reader can see it is difficult. But I really wanted to bring out other aspects and show a trans memoir can be humorous, I wanted to do something different.”
The following stories and poems are humorous, touching and at times slightly disturbing.
Picasso on my Wall
By Christopher Wallace
I arrive at this party because they’re the perfect environment for observing the human creature—in these cases at various stages of intoxication, from fuzzy to messy or worse—surrounded by all the petty imperfections, obliviously deflected questions and intricate complexities that span the range of inappropriacy latent in human nature. Tonight, exceptionally, is no exception.
There are bodies of publicly naked teenagers engaging in lewd conduct consisting of open displays of their fledgling, wild, lustful sexual abandon. Vomit music sex smoke permeates the narrow corridors and small, stuffy rooms that encase an exquisite collection of pedantic people playing conversation, some of whom are tragically failing.
I sit down—of course in a corner—where I can observe the spectacle un-accosted. From my perch, I see a small, muted television on an end table. Behind this—out of focus then into focus, ad nauseam, et cetera—I shamelessly watch a pair of lusty, straightforward queers—both andro jennys in v-necks and sagging skinny jeans—necking and groping and groaning on a worn-thin plaid couch overrun with throw pillows and a knotted-up afghan.
A bleached-blond, athletic boy of sixteen or so—ears pierced, hair meticulously messy and gel-encrusted (uh-huh)—walks up to me. He stands off to one side and says nothing. I look up at him, into his eyes and mouth, and give him an impish faux smile.
“Can I ask you something?”
The boy speaks. A slight improvement, I think.
“You already have,” I reply, “so please, continue.”
Instead, he sticks his hands out and slides them into mine. We grip thumbs and lock hands. He pulls me up and out of the room. The andro jennys drink beers, still entangled but sleepy-eyed satisfied.
Along a dark corridor pleasantly devoid of bodies, he leads me to … his room, presumably—or an unused storage den, perhaps. He shuts the door and locks it.
We stand where we are for some time.
“Would it be … weird if … Can I show you my penis?”
Most things I can think of just then are incapable of being weirder than this request. Especially coming from such a seemingly—and concerned with so seeming—cool, mad-chill average guy’s guy.
“Um.” I believe that’s what I answered.
He pulls down his slick black track pants. Oh, god, I thought. Ladies and gentlemen, his penis! He sits cross-legged on the floor beside a squat, dirty desk. I sit down, also cross-legged, facing him. Our knees sort of touch.
“My dad—boyfriend, I mean.” He trails off. I look down at the penis lying limply on his thigh. “Both, really,” he says, and sighs.
Down the center of it is a long, deep, years-old pink-purple scar. Next to that is a winding, bent incision, recently carved, which has scabbed over with a red and yellow crust. There are smaller, fiercer etching-esqe cuts that crisscross its circumference in strange, surrealistic patterns reminiscent of some mutilated, anthropomorphic flesh-canvass offshoot of Cubism. It reminds me of the Picasso on my wall. The one with the horses and ghosts and whatnot, and the sex-death theme.
“Your father-boyfriend did this to you?”
“Yeah. Fucked up, right.” He wears a small unconfident grin of shame.
“Right,” I agree. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I walk to the bathroom at the end of an adjoining hallway that is fortuitously empty of vomiting over-indulgers and junkie potheads. I look around for a first-aid kit. I find one eventually beneath the sink, under a blow dryer.
I walk back to his room, taking inventory of the kit’s contents along the way. I re-enter the den/room and sit down as before. I pull packaged gauze, a small tube of antibiotic gel and two sterile wet wipes from the first-aid bag and proceed to wipe off the dried blood and clean the wounds.
I apply the disinfecting goo with my fingers within latex gloves that are too large for my hands. Next, I unravel the gauze, wrapping it around his developing erection and secure it with several strips of medical tape I’ve cut with those uselessly tiny scissors and stuck in a row to the edge of the desk.
He sits quietly motionless throughout the procedure. When I finish, he stands up, pulling his pants on as he rises. Our eyes meet, and then his dart downward and fixate on the apparently fascinating green-weave carpet. Was that self-conscious gratitude shame?
“Thanks,” he says, brushing past me into the hall, closing the door swiftly behind him.
Yeah, thanks, you’re welcome, dude. I did actually want to stay in here for a while in silent contemplation and whatever.
I leave the room and the door open. Two blondes walk past me towards the bathroom, squeaking about some other dude passed out naked in the parents’ bed after ejaculating onto the bedside fern, sheets, comforter and himself. Warm water is mentioned. It seems a bit moot at this point, but whatever tickles you through the night, I guess.
I leave the party early—right then, actually—before my ride is ready, i.e., sober-ish. Where is my ride? I wonder, walking towards the door without seeing or telling her I’m leaving—She’ll figure it out—and step into a gorgeous, waning summer night. I walk the, I dunno, two miles or so to my compartment complex in the company of four Parliament cigarettes and six matches.
Because if I’d stayed, what could I possibly have said to anyone?
The Saddest Day of My Life
By Christopher Wallace
It snowed a wet blanket of ice snow that left the streets dry slick
on the night before the saddest day of my life.
I went to a bookstore;
pushed past fat man couldn’t breathe pant speak—
I bought Being and Nothingness
on the saddest day of my life.
Museum lady talked talked talked
looked looked looked like Emily Fern;
older though, less concerned.
Too many coats in the morning and two few at night;
I was hot cold on the saddest day of my life.
I drank beer in the early afternoon—
two bottles side by side in the black plastic bag of trash.
Thinking, Do you hate me? Do call me; I had fun.
You wrinkle your brow. What did you say?
Oh, I had fun too, bye—
and look at me like I know what you’re thinking,
but a best guess is still a guess; goodbye.
I didn’t say no on the saddest day of my life.
Oh, and come to my kissy red make-out
beanbag red-light liquor candlestick
Valentine I love you party.
I tried to quit smoking on the saddest day of my life.
I bought a pack at eight, interrupted inventory
Camel Lights ID? six seventy-seven matches?
thank you thank you so much have a good day
sign here have a good night thank you, thank you—
match flick light smoke breathe drive—
Pep talk, rear-view mirror:
Don’t let it get to you, boy.
No self-loathing isolated pitiful self no—
please shut up; you’re hurting my ears head brain.
I kissed a girl who didn’t then,
doesn’t now and will never love me
On the saddest day of my life.
Close enough to smell her body perfume
hot fake watermelon breath blown bubbles gum,
and her eyes never closed.
Sex sex sex and touch me;
it’s good for your body mind soul spirit;
touch strangers to feel connected;
they’ll think you’re gay cute, love, and let you do it.
Her friend played Free Cell;
Captain Planet magazine pretend to read
say something goddamn it, say something;
look glance confused;
fuck shut up say something, say anything fuck …
Small talk hug drive safe sleep well goodnight ‘bye, ‘bye.
A piss and to bed; goodnight, Moon.
I slept on a slowly deflating air mattress on the saddest day of my life.
By Dexter Lamph
I stared through the window that separated me from a pair of Il Duca dress shoes by Bontoni. My eyes wouldn’t move. They were fixed on the brown leather. The flaws of the stitching around the toe were beautiful. Each deviation from where the thread should be made me smile. I needed these.
I pressed my face against the glass. My check smashed against the glass. Those shoes were now my life. My only desire. I walked into the shop, thinking of how I could get those shoes.
I turned about inside the store. My leer bounced from one display to another. Before I could make a complete circle one of the salesmen approached me, hand jutted out waiting to grasp mine. His shoes were a pair of European dress shoes by Dansko, the poor man’s Bontoni. “How’s it going?” he said. Holding a box of shoes under his left arm, he led me to a long bench in front of a mirror. He place down the box and opened it to reveal a pair of Gucci shoes. How pathetic. “Before you ask about another pair of shoes, have a look at these shoes. Maybe they’ll strike your interest. Everyone has been asking about these.” The salesman leaned over and handed me the shoes.
“See the stitching in the toes, this is perfection,” he said.
“Tony,” I said, looking down at his name tag. The silver background was cracked from use. “This is no where near perfection. These are, at best, a knock off of what a real shoe should look like.
“See this here?” I said, pointing at the side.
“What should I be seeing here?” said Tony. He leaned forward, almost smashing his face into the shoe.
“It’s the vamp. You can-“
“The vamp? What’s that?” Tony said.
“The vamp is the side of the shoe. There are tiny imperfections here on the vamp. You probably can’t see it, but you can feel it,” I said. I ran my finger up the vamp and felt the alleged perfection. The leather had micro-dimples in them.
I handed the shoe back to Tony. I stood and walked to the window display. I stared at the Bontoni in the window display. The display was just the Bontoni on a clear plastic pedestal. From behind Tony said, “How can you compare the Bontoni to Gucci? The stitching is sub-par. The leather is too stiff.”
I reached down and pick the shoe up off its pedestal. I spun the toe of the Bontoni in the palm of my right hand.
“The stitching is hand done. Those flaws in the stitching are magnificent. Each placing of the thread in the toecap that is out of place shows that is was hand sewn, not fed through a sewing machine by hand. The leather isn’t too stiff. It just hasn’t been worn down yet, like Gucci’s has. How much?” I said.
I didn’t have the money. Even if I didn’t pay any bills and didn’t eat for three months I wouldn’t have enough. But I needed them. They would have completed me.
I sat inside the church for the first time. I knew what to do. My back ached from sitting in the metal chair. When it was my turn to speak, I said the first thing to come to my mind.
I had seen a flier in my apartment complex’s elevator for Narcotics Anonymous. When I saw it I knew in an instant there would be someone there that would be useful.
“Hi, my name is something. I forget the things that I should always be remembering. Things like my name.
“This is my first time here. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to say,” I said. Just standing, everyone’s feet pointed at me, I was an actor asking for my line.
“Why don’t you tell us why you are here,” the moderator said.
“Why am I here?” The eyes of the audience were on me. The pressure I imagined made me feel uncomfortable. Some sat still. Some shifted in their seats.
“During the Cold War, England had an alarm system that would go off when a nuclear weapon was being shot at them by the Soviet Union. The alarm was called the ‘4 minute warning’ because once the alarm was sounded there was only four minutes before the bomb would strike. It was the last call to be alive.
“I think last night was my ‘4 minute warning.’ I woke up last night, choking on my own vomit. I had passed out from shooting up too much heroin. The person who I was selling to called someone. I dunno. I wake up with a tube hanging out of my… my… well… you know, it was a catheter. I don’t want to go through that ever again.” I sat down and hung my head, looking down at the ground.
“Thank you,” said the crowd.
The meeting passed. At the end a man dressed in a suit approached me. His shoes were Armani. He stuck his hand out and shook my hand. “That was a really great story. It really moved me.” He let go of my hand and buried it into his pocket.
Sitting in my chair, a short middle-aged woman sat next to me. Her loafers were Coach. The chestnut leather was cracked along the repeating “C” on the vamp. “I admired your story. You sound like you’ve had a rough past. But, where are my manners? I’m Serenity,” she said.
Serenity reached forward and grabbed my hand, forcing me to shake her hand. “Do you have a sponsor?” she asked.
“That’s my number. Call me whenever you need to. It doesn’t matter what time it is. I know better than most what you are going through. You’re story tonight reminded me of my own,” she said.
In my apartment, I was pacing back and forth. While waiting for Serenity to get here, I was trying to devise a plan. I needed to know how she used to get her drugs. She was the key to my shoes.
There was a knock at my door. When I opened it, there was Serenity holding a plastic bag. She stepped inside and handed me the bag. She bent over to take off her shoes. They were white Barcelona sneakers by Gucci. I opened the bag and looked inside. “I brought lunch. It’s to make up for being late the first time.”
“Where are the sofas? The tables?” she asked. Her head turned from left to right, scanning the room. “Why is it so empty?”
“I’ve given all I can for my shoes.”
“Huh,” she said. “So, how are the cravings today?”
We walked over to the mattress and sat down. We started talking about my fake drug cravings. What I could do to resist temptation. As she spoke I would think of ways I could pepper the conversation with getting information about her supply.
“Would you like to see my collection?” I asked. I hoped this would make her drop her guard.
“ I’d love to,” she said.
I stood and walked over to the closet. I opened the door. With the door opened, all my shoes showing, I felt naked in front of Serenity. The light in the closet reflected off of the shoes. The brown leather. The black. The alligator skin. The snake skin.
Serenity’s jaw hung open. She stood up and approached the opened door. She gazed at every shoe. “Why don’t you have any Gucci?” she asked. She leaned back against the frame of the door.
“Gucci shoes, for men at least, are what are bought when a successful man wants to buy expensive shoes, but has no taste in fashion. The only exception to this is pre-1970s. If you can find Gucci shoes from the 60s or earlier, they’re ok.”
Serenity headed back to the mattress and sat down. “I feel kind of honored. You let me see your collection,” she said.
“I trust you.”
I walked over and sat on the ground next to the mattress. I looked around the room, thinking of a way I could ask her about how she got her drugs.
“So I haven’t been told you the whole truth,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not just you, I haven’t been honest with everyone. I’ve been telling everyone that I have been sober for three years now, but in all reality I have four bricks of cocaine stashed away in my apartment.”
“Every time I go to get rid of them I get anxious and I’m afraid that if I even see them I will fall back into my habit.”
Serenity and I were standing in front of the door to her apartment. I raised my eyebrows and looked Serenity in the eyes. “Now, where are the drugs?” I asked. I reached over and grabbed both her hands. “I’m going to do this for you.”
She told me where the drugs were. I let go of her hands and held out one of mine, asking for the key.
I opened the door and entered her apartment. I turned around and locked the door behind me. I headed for her guest room. When I entered I dropped to my knees and started knocking on the floorboards. I was a pirate looking for buried treasure.
I knocked until I heard a hollow sound. I smiled at the noise. I lifted the boards from the ground and looked inside the hole. There were white bricks on the ground. Each one was about the size of my head.
I thought of my shoes. The leather. The laces.
With the dope out of the hole I placed the floorboards back into place. I needed to hide them. I looked around the apartment. I was a crack head dying for my final fix.
I couldn’t find anything. No tape. No plastic bags. Nothing. I walked to the door and made sure the chain was on before I undid the deadbolt. I opened the door until the chain caught. “We have a slight problem,” I said.
Before I knew it I was lying about how all this dope would clog the toilet if I tried to flush it. I asked for a duffel bag, telling her that I would go to the sex shop and flush it there.
I walked out of the apartment and told Serenity not to follow me, that I was doing this for her own good.
I walked to my apartment and hid the drugs in the closet with the rest of my shoes. I had what I needed to get the center piece to my collection.
by Lee Castillo
My grasslands lush with life-soon wither from drought.
What was green now dry, becomes the Valley of Death.
Barron has become where life once was.
Anguish devours every follicle. Defeat is my heart.
One can change the way you feel. But little they think of you.
A rich black vale appears at my feet.
I learn to mourn – it consumes me. It won’t part.
The one who owns your heart – he commands the waters;
the master of the depths of your thoughts.
These years of mine are diseased with blindness. Ignorant I am to brail.
Contents therein are battering truths of him.
His undetected Friction with my hopes are nectar in my ear.
Parade, dressed to deceive – for my pleasure.
Years I’ve gripped them – not to let go.
Their outer crust crushed by strength over time.
Everywhere else my eyes have seen to avoid the truths in my palms.
My sight has returned.
Droplets of red are expelled from my hand.
My wounds are now self inflicted. Cut by my grip-tearing my flesh.
Not wanting to let go.
The light stings my unused dilated pupils.
Tears escape my eyes.
This battle was long over. My grasp loosens.
But how do I let go?
God, You Can’t Have my Gay
By Adam White
I don’t try to pray the Gay away.
Last time I tried, God told me to stop being such a whiner.
“Kid, what am I to do with you?” He said. “Don’t you have better things to be doing than to complain to me about how you like boys? There are some great guys out there, so don’t worry!”
Probably the best answer I could have gotten. I know what God was trying to say. If I was Him, I’d probably have just busted out a “You don’t know me!” or a “Get on my level!”
But that’s why I’m glad that I’m not the father of billions of kids. They’d never talk to me.
So, I don’t try to pray the Gay away. Try to pawn it off to God, and He’ll tell you He’s got all the Gay he needs, and that He doesn’t give the Gay to just anyone. He’ll tell you it’s a bit ungrateful to be trying to return gifts to the gift giver.
It’s pretty clear I’m stuck with the Gay, and I’m pretty OK with that too. I just wanted to see if God really meant to give me the Gay. It was more of an, “Are you sure?” gesture than anything. I thought about re-gifting it, but the glitter and sequins that come with the Gay cause people to think it would be all the more generous and charitable of me to keep it for myself. Can’t really just throw it out either … Nothing is more pitiful than seeing someone else’s sad and neglected Gay in a trash can or living in a cardboard box.
When I think about it, I realize I do good with my Gay; me and my Gay are tight. It looks best on me, and really, it looks awkward on anyone else. It’s embarrassing when other people try to be my kind of Gay. Because I’m me, and no one understands my Gay like I do. No one will ever take it away from me.
When I kneel down to pray, I let Him know He can’t take away my Gay.
The Biggest Circle
By Brian Frandsen
Just like those people who declared
“If I choose this lifestyle,
I will greatly increase my chances to experience . . .
scorn…ridicule…discrimination…harassment…and violence . . .
The allure is overwhelming—Yes!
From this day forward,
I will go forth and be gay!…”
the flammable heterosexual
also makes matters interesting regarding the matter of choice:
picks his preference as next to way past godliness;
ignores brothers and sisters of his same tongue
who can slumber serenely in their skin
because they don’t make a mockery
of the love that gets lost
in tomes of religious teachings;
shuns the gift of intimacy with self,
and runs from question marks
for the cocoons of conceptual aftershocks;
passively watches men make tyrannical spectacles of women
after he froths at hands holding softly in daylight,
and knows of husbands
who have their children ringside
as they try to beat their shit into their wives night after night,
but he never dreams of attacking,
or campaigning against, heterosexuality;
suspects he is so magnetically scrumptious
that not a one could possibly resist him—
Not to worry. Tastebuds are notorious for
the artistry behind their eyes.
There are just as many people who will find you unappealing
as there are those who will find beauty around you,
and there are those will see you as
another tender creature
careening between fear and love.
Love cannot be brought to ash
by the burning spectacles
of majority conceptions and traditions.
It will continue to pulse in multiplicitous forms:
hands softening hands of ostracized individuals
trying to rub sight into a new life;
a boy breaking bones of his bigotry;
a partner in possibility
walking through a midnight window
and wearing nothing but nothing,
the lines of her skin
smiling like a stack of cradled half-moons
resting against the sky;
and perfect silence between sets of eyes;
bodies with bodies that can’t—
and have no interest—
in making up their minds;
sames mesmerizing sames;
opposites magnetizing opposites;
color looking at color
looking at color looking at color
and seeing our rainbow
before colonialism began the hijack—
all of us after a touch we can taste,
a taste that floods the entire body
and breathes a moment of impervious eternity.
And hearts will continue to echo and expand
as emperors march paradigms of oppression
to the graveyards they precipitated by precipitating progress.
Hearts will continue to stretch beyond
in the reach of yes and no, wrong and right,
for love is a greater universe
than the empire of any appetite.