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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What we're told and what we learn

Moonlit.
Deep shadows cross the valley
stealing sight.
The five men plunging on ahead.
Trying to keep up,
I kick against a sleeper. Stumble.
Twice I nearly fall
before the blaze of light.
And in the light
(think: insect in a spider's web)
a rabbit staring straight ahead.
The ganger's coat flaps open wide.
Voluminous, down to his feet,
the coat seems made of pockets.
Enormous ones inside. He
picks the rabbit up
and pops it in.
As easily as that.
Then we move on. Not far.
The light again. A rabbit caught.
Five times in all before we're done.
The men are quite delirious. Explain:
the station master owns the land as as far as you can see.
The thought has made their evening perfect as could be!

Midnight gone when we get back
regain the carriages.
(Two are sleepers, one a diner.)
No time at all, I'm bedded down. Top bunk.
(Mostly the men have bottom ones.)
Then in the darkness: Spose youse guessed it, lad...
we all of us are gay... wondering...
Could youse be interested, eh?
Politely I decline.
Politely they accept.
No more is said, no moves are made.

For me, this has the force of revelation.
Not what the culture of the day
has led me to expect. The warning was
they'd force themselves upon me
or wheedle their way in.

All evening I've been winding back
the mileage counter from
my bicycle's front wheel --
fluorescent in the dark.
And why have I been doing this?
I've no idea. The why is lost in memory.
The doing, though, is vivid
beyond anything that day.
Is that not surreal?
Would you not say?

I reach the target number...
Done it! I cry, triumphantly...
which in the darkness, worries my five friends.

The men were working on the line
and living where they worked
when I'd turned up, my bicycle
unrideable,
the last train gone.
They'd offered hospitality,
as warm as any you might find.
They changed my whole perception
of how gay people are, what they can be.
I look back fondly, even now.
Yet only now the thought occurs...
But what if I'd said 'Yes'? --
and me still under age?

10 comments:

Brian Miller said...

i am glad that they were able to help shape your perception, an intriguing interaction dave...growing up where i did there was little tolerance back in the day, but i had several friends and in many ways my interactions with them shaped mine as well..

Mary said...

Quite a story, Dave. Glad there was a good ending and you learned something important as well.

manicddaily said...

A really intriguing almost dream-like story, Dave, with the rabbits and the light and coat - you have a gift for "in medias res" - great story telling. And then the gay business a whole added dimension.

Statutory rape laws pose difficult questions, I think. On the one hand, children are children and easily subject to influence, wanting to please, feeling bullied etc. So they make a great deal of sense on that level. I'm sure that there are situation in which the children are pretty mature, and may even have a lot of leverage, and yet there is still that situation of childishness, not fully understanding all kinds of things.

I'm thinking of your age (as I guess it) and what may have happened on a physical level in terms of AIDS. Now that's so much less of an issue and this may have happened pre-AIDS, but I knew many in New York who were caught at the beginning of the epidemic when safe sex wasn't really a concept. So sad. I just went to the art show of an incredibly talented gay artist, I knew, a wonderful person, who died some time ago. (You might enjoy looking him up since you are an artist too - Frank Moore.) Just an incredibly moving show.

Great story/poem. Much enjoyed. You make things flow easily and discursively in a way that works so well. k.

Manicddaily said...

Here's link if interested:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/arts/design/toxic-beauty-the-art-of-frank-moore-at-nyu.html?pagewanted=all

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Superb David, the whole story, the pace of it, the dreamy atmosphere with the fundamental, in contrast, reality. And the final question-doubt, the perfect "what might have been" pointing to the present.

Cloudia said...

What might have been. . . . . coming of age. . . .


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The Elephant's Child said...

And growing up heterosexual, no was not accepted nearly as easily. Not once, but often. Yet I too was presented with 'the reality' that homosexuals had no decency. I am glad that experience countered this universal truth for both of us. And I loved this piece - thank you.

haricot said...

Your piece of writing is a reminder of how numerous time of turnning points would be waiting for us...including the matters of eros and thanatos.

Dave King said...

Brian
I don't actually recall any mention of the topic at home. It was like it didn't exist. Anything I'd heard was as playground talk -- difficult to know how seriously to treat it.

Mary
Yes I did, but not immediately. It was years later, looking back whenI could assimilate it that the lessons went home.

Manicddaily
Many many thanks for all your comments and observations. I think you are quite right to distinguish between "childiish" and mature children. A distinction not drawn frequently enough in my view. (so I have heard the view expressed officially that children are ALWAYS to be believed. THEY DO NOT LIE. (!)

I have been trying to work out how old I was. I am not sure exactly, but I think it must have been 13 - 14. Of course, by today's standards we were ALL immature back then! As to AIDS. We had not heard of it. Was it around? It certainly wasn't known about. In that respect it was a time of innocence.

Thanks for the link. Haven't explored it yet, but certainly will do so.

Tommaso
Thanks for these kind words, a really helpful comment.

Cloudia
Exactly. What if I had?

The Elephant's Child
Yes, they had a mountain of prejudice to climb back then.

haricot
Thank you, yes, it certainly does point that way.


Ygraine said...

Things are never quite as they seem because, I suppose, we perceive situations around us in our own way.
Something that may seem 'unnatural' to us can be perfectly normal to others.
I guess that human diversity is what makes for an interesting life.
A thought-provoking and enjoyable read, Dave. Many thanks :)