Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Orleans, En Route 4.3.1994: Golden Expectations Become Hamburg Drizzle

En route to New Orleans, in the plane somewhere over western Carolina or eastern Georgia. I’m to give a lecture tonight, a workshop tomorrow, then a much-needed vacation with Steve, who’s on break next week.

Taking off, I think of the Bahamas, the clear light there last summer, the dishabille of the baseball diamond we walked each evening, with its spiky tufts of tenacious tropical grass. I think of the wind atop Fox Hill, the mysterious scent of the frangipani, the owl that stared us down from the monastery’s unfinished bell tower.

Then I think of rainy, gloomy Hamburg, the two awful Chinese meals Steve and I had there in restaurants that smelled of urine, where the waiters preferred to speak English. I think of the musty inn we stayed at in Dreis in the Eifel, with its frightful furnishings like something from a Fred Flintstone set, skins nailed to interior walls, clashing violently with those nubby polyester bedclothes the 1960s called modern.

Displacement. That curious excitement of displacement I feel whenever I travel. The golden expectations that soon become Hamburg drizzle or Dreis furnishings. I’m not sure what to make of it. As I read James Merrill’s memoir, A Different Person, how he sought displacement in Europe as a young gay man, I wonder if it’s inherent in being gay. Totus mundus exilium est: yes, it’s the displacement of oppression and the doors it closes to “normalcy” and privilege; and it’s the displacement of being denied family—in traditional senses of the word.

But is it also that displacement of being . . . genderless, betwixt and between, not one nor the other, at least, in societal myths about a gay orientation? Is that why W.E.B. DuBois’s idea of double consciousness appeals so? Like blacks, gay people live that strange phenomenon.

I know there’s lots of power there, in not quite belonging: Dostoevski’s Notes from the Underground, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Jesus and the reign of God, St. Francis and his father, any woman you can name, practically. But I don’t know how to access that power. I want to belong and not belong, to have security and be free to critique.

I wait for . . . what? To have some vague sense of who I am, I reckon. Speaking, as I will tonight, in this vague floating space that is my life and identity now—it’s very anxiety-provoking, to put it mildly. I don’t float well; I’m not a very spiritually mature person.

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Leave taking is always hard for me. Sugar’s reproachful eyes through the gate, the tick of the clock in the still house and rust stains in the sink. But today, the purple buds of the Japanese magnolia, big and fat against a not too well matched blue sky. They’ll open while we’re away, as they did last year. This is a poem, if I could write it . . . .

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