Finalized Queer Embraces Itinerary

Here it is, everyone, the finalized itinerary for my travels for Queer Embraces. I’m regrettably cutting out a few places (DC and Boston), but due to dramatic cost increases by shifting around dates, I had to do it! However, if you’re in one of those cities, come visit me in Philadelphia or NYC. It would be great to see you.

May 1 –          Flight from San Francisco to Portland (Virgin)
May 1-5 –      PORTLAND
May 5 –         Bus from Portland to Seattle (Greyhound/Bolt Bus)
May 5-9 –     SEATTLE
May 9 –         Train from Seattle to Vancouver (Amtrak)
May 9-12 –   VANCOUVER
May 12 –       Flight from Vancouver to San Francisco (Air Canada)

May 13-15 –  SAN FRANCISCO
May 15 –       Flight from SF to LAX; Flight from LAX to Miami; Flight from Miami to São Paulo

May 16 –       Arrive São Paulo; Rent AirBnB room for month
24/25 –         Sónar São Paulo (Int. Festival of Advanced Music)
30 – Jun 3 – São Paulo Pride (4 million people expected)
June 5 –        Flight from São Paulo to Rio (TAM Airlines)
June 5-11 –   RIO
June 11 –      Flight from Rio to São Paulo (TAM Airlines)
June 16–      Depart Sao Paulo to Miami (American); Flight from Miami to Philadelphia (American)

June 20 –     Bus from Philly to New York City (Greyhound/Boltbus)
June 20-27 – NEW YORK CITY
June 27 –      Train from NYC to Montpelier, VT (Amtrak)
27- July 5 – VERMONT (for MFA Residency, Goddard College)
July 5 –         Bus from Vermont to Montreal (Greyhound)
July 5-13 –    MONTREAL
July 13 –       Train from Montreal to NYC (Amtrak)
July 14 –       Depart NYC for New Orleans (Delta)

July 14-20 – NEW ORLEANS
July 20 –      Flight from New Orleans to Milwaukee (Southwest)
21- Pitchfork Music Festival (Indie music festival in Chicago)
July 27 –       Flight from Milwaukee to Los Angeles (Southwest)
July 27-31 – LOS ANGELES
July 31 –       Flight from LAX to San Francisco (Southwest)

present gaps

my grief is bigger than can be put into words. is bigger than language because i don’t really understand exactly what i’m grieving for. and it’s not because i don’t have the words to say it. no, it’s not that. i know vocabulary and syntax to birth moments, to conjugate occasions, but the tears i experience in this moment are so unsettling because they come from some intangible source. i’m not crying for anything i feel for my own body. instead there’s some distant loss, some little image on the horizon, or a whisper of past that can never make it fully into the present.

maybe my grief anticipates. maybe it somehow realizes itself knowing what will happen in the future. but if it can anticipate, if i’m destined to this grief, then what point is writing? if my work is just the realization of grief’s impossible edges on the page, then where does this writing take me? where do i take myself by writing, and why do i bother labeling myself a writer, claiming to write for everyone else? maybe my writing anticipates how the past influences a possible future, and this writing as an act, as the verb to write, finds a way to meld the two together to create a better possible future. it’s just that when a gap remains between the two that grief reveals itself.

i should not be afraid of grief. i should not be afraid that the grief i feel is larger than the present moment. i should understand it’s a sign that i’m onto something. that i need to go further into the grief. that getting hurt is okay.

when do you sever an embrace?

I want to talk about moments when it’s no longer okay to embrace something or someone anymore. What happens when the seam recognizes an incompatibility with a person or place and, after many attempts to reconcile this tension, determines there is no way for resolution? How many moments have I felt this in my own life? Many, including moments when even whole belief systems dissolved and I had to relearn how to see the world again.

When did they first happen? I can’t seem to pinpoint a beginning, the first incubation of vision, entering into my pre-cartography. But I can locate a moment when severing what I knew was most painful, the moment I decided to leave New York City and move to Philadelphia. It’s not that if, in retrospect, the decision was the wrong one. In fact, it was the very best thing I’ve ever done. My doctor’s reconstructed my face, making precise incisions under my eyelid and inside my mouth to temper bone with titanium plates and screws. But what they could not do for me, what nobody else could do for me, is piece back together a shattered courage.  However, despite it being right for me, it was not easy.

I was not deluded enough by the allure of the City to stay. Jobless and recovering, I could not work. And with little more than basic, hard fought charity, I’d soon be homeless too. But the allure of the City was as great then as it is now. Any moment when I’m back, no matter the weather, there’s some animation all around me I draw from me. Any ache or tired feeling vanishes like a sudden injection of caffeine. Somehow sound of cars or conversations in 20 languages meld with flashing ‘Do Not Walk’ signs. My body picks up on the rhythm, picks up on the relationship of my body as a single figure moving beneath layers and layers of other bodies moving, and somehow, when there is supposed to be dissonance, there’s this rhythm. You suddenly feel like you’re Frank O’Hara on the verge of some grand poem, an apparently simple observation, a couple of lines that you recognize will become so much more important later on.

This is all and good, this flash of inspiration from the grinding rhythm, but what happens when it comes to a halt? When it literally comes to a halt. When you’re stopped. On the street. Friday. Broad daylight. On the ground, looking up, wondering, “what happened to the movement?” That was me back in March 2011 when New York City splintered, and the task of my writing and thinking switched from layering to examining the very fine edges of every piece, eventually realizing that what I thought fit together no longer did. That’s when I severed the embrace, when I realized that no amount of allure could jeopardize my safety or my ability to feel comfortable in my own rhythm. That’s when I severed the embrace, when I realized that at least at this moment in my life, I deserved better than a false vision, a history taking another history captive beyond a neon veneer.

It’s important to stick with things through good and bad moments. It’s important not to pack up and leave, and say good-bye just because you struggle a little bit. But when you feel you’re living in a city of false promises, false histories, and danger, leave. Sever the embrace, pack up, and find somewhere better. Nobody else might understand in that moment, but you know you sever an embrace because giving a queer embrace means letting go of what might feel right for what you know is true and conflicted, but better for you in the long run.

Brief Sketch on Ghosts

The difficulty of talking to ghosts gets to me some days. Or it might be the thing that keeps me up, like last night when I got four, maybe five, hours of solid rest. I think it’s difficult talking to ghosts because as they are fragments, when speaking to them and making them present, you yourself have to speak in fragments and contradictions to give some form to the formless. When you don’t believe in god or the ghost as a physical object, all you’ve got most days is a rumble of history, a slow vibration I imagine resembles the beginnings of the Big Quake that’ll destroy my home for now, San Francisco.

I think it’s difficult to talk to ghosts because they’re the death we don’t necessarily want to confront, but have somehow become obsessed with and cannot help but reach out our arms for. It’s not that I want to die anymore than the next person. The opposite is true: I actually want to open myself up and, as I say, “be valve-like.” But just because I don’t want to die doesn’t mean that some parts of me don’t want to. The moments when death was a real possibility show up on my tongue and subsequently become inflected in the line. These little moments of deaths are genetic defects in poetics’ lithe structure, but they’re the moments that also reveal where I’m at odds with this attempt to reconstruct history, where I can go further, move beyond obfuscation, and find the observations that really shake things up.

I’m looking for the Big Quake. That’s the other thing that’s scary about talking with ghosts, I’m starting to realize. I want to create this bold record, a  fearless account of a life as the seam, in his pre-cartography, in this pre-temporal, pre-geographic expression of queer life that exists only to resist stability, but the more I find the Big Quake, where these ghosts shake things up, when I’m suddenly fucking them, or they’re moaning in some defunct sex club, or their AIDS-induced blindness is gone and suddenly their vision cuts through mountains, I’m utterly terrified of being alone because so few people really seem to want the Big Quake. When confronting ghosts, I become aware of my loneliness, not only that, but also how my own decline is happening with these fragments of queer history. It’s like constantly nailing myself into the framework of a Southern Gothic novel.

Even as I tried to meditate earlier and clear my head of the ghosts, they seemed to move from mind to lungs, disrupting a steady pattern of breath. Maybe I’m not actually burdened by the difficulty as much as I am the impossibility of escape. But what would it really mean to escape? Should I tuck away my animal print pants, polka dot shirts, and zebra print leather shoes and say, “Buh-bye Gloria Anzaldua, or Adrienne Rich, or David Wojnarowicz, or Keith Haring?” I don’t want that. I don’t want to let go, so maybe the difficulty is more the tension between disruption and connection that happens when your history isn’t given to you, when it requires a little bit of reconstruction

I have to confront this tension better. I have to try and understand how to sometimes move past it, if possible. To somehow find a way of appeasing both impulses. Until that point, I never really achieve the Big Quake I want. It’ll just be a series of little tremors, ghosts sputtering incoherent phrases.

what does inhabitation mean?

The seam has never seen San Francisco this still. Walking up Guerrero again, the only disruption the sound of zebra print dress shoes hitting asphalt. He is alone, having passed only one other person in the twenty minutes before. He is not sure what to make of the stillness, the fact of feeling and hearing the components of his body tick, as travels to the intended destination: his bed.

The night before he hadn’t had this feeling of stillness. He’d been put off by the city. You know, the way it feels when you attitudes and beliefs meet resistance and no manner of thoughtfulness or effort can bridge the gaps. He was tired of the manufactured life of the Castro—the kind of place where it’s okay to be uncritical and reject any language that challenged the boundaries of that disengagement.

But tonight, in the feeling of stillness, the sound of shoes, his heartbeat, he half expects someone to jump from behind a corner, beat him to the ground, and say, “I told you so.” These impulsive flashes of PTSD from the incident back in March 2011 are still present, and no manner of stillness can scrub the glittering specks of history from the sidewalk in front of him. It shouldn’t be this, doesn’t have to be this way, but somehow the seam is at peace with it tonight. This is his pre-cartography.

Earlier he’d recounted the moment he always like to talk about, a discovery of another place for the first time, linked to a history he thought he understood but didn’t, until it was real—a mighty  ocean right outside the Prius window as he flew through US 1’s seductive curves. That moment perched above the Pacific where George (the central character in Isherwood’s A Single Man, a middle-aged professor burdened by the loss of his lover in a time when gayness couldn’t be named) suddenly inhabited my body. At the end of the book, he had the dream of being swallowed up by the waves off of some rundown boardwalk outside of Los Angeles. Here, in seeing these waves, he understood how his definitions of what it meant to feel free were woefully incomplete.

This moment of inhabitation mirrored the twist of fate back in March 2011 when David Wojnarowicz’s words invaded in his body, courage as a virus, dormant until triggered by a moment that necessitated its presence. Walking down Guerrero now, in this stillness, he realizes the value of inhabitation. Of how some viruses are good to be infected with, and how, without this inhabitation, the spaces he walks through could not, and would not, breathe, even if sometimes breathing is labored.

So what, exactly, does inhabitation mean? With each step, new day, and reconstructed memory, the seam is moving closer to the idea that inhabitation is the most necessary condition of embrace.

To be infected with this history has no cure.

Like the history of other viruses, once infected with trace brilliance and courage, your vision is owed to the past,

your vision, once infected, is a more compassionate vision,

a vision more willing to see beyond surfaces, to find pre-cartography, even when you’re walking down the same street.

But it’s a vision that is never just your own anymore. You cannot undo inhabitation.

As he approaches his house, which sits at an intersection of neighborhoods and cultures, on the edge he’s always been on, he realizes he’s made the walk safely he realizes he’s alive, and breathing, and the bay windows of those Edwardians are inhaling and exhaling with him because they know what he’s thinking, because they’re spots where memories from inhabitation suddenly replicate, suddenly replicate, suddenly replicate because no place is free from inhabitation.

This is supposed to be scary and overwhelming, supposed to feel like he’s trapped in a vision of a world where violence overpowers everything but the way this inhabitation manifests is the most beautiful form of freedom he knows to possess because inhabitation, as an invasion, only makes the body stronger, more resolute. Knowing the way the Pacific Ocean feels against rocky cliffs in Sonoma connects him to everything, and turning back for an instant, looking back at Guerrero, it’s like Wojnarowicz or George or Audre Lorde are there, having stepped with him.

As he slides his key into the door, feeling metal turn against metal, the contact makes him think of a quote. Inhabitation is poetry, and poetry, Lorde says, is “not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”  It is 3:45 am now, and if the seam’s world were a TV show the masses could just turn on, he knows he’d be called faggot, queer, pathological, or any other slur. And this thought is scary, but inhabited, stepping into this apartment, it feels better to imagine this vision.

As he falls into sleep on his bed, he won’t be alone. The soft skin of a ghost will be with him, its hands wrapped around his chest, breathing slowly and softly together, in unison.

LGBT Centers and Community

I have a lot going on today, but after I heard that Sarah Schulman was being barred from reading on Israeli/Palestinian issues, homonationalism, and pinkwashing at New York City’s LGBT Center, I’ve been incensed and knew I had to comment. Particularly since 2011, activists from a wide array of backgrounds have come together to support the erasure of human rights abuses toward Palestinians by the Israeli government. These abuses have been covered up through the Israeli government touting specific legal advances made to benefit LGBT individuals, both citizen and tourist. Absent, of course, are rights granted to queer Palestinians, or to the larger, active movements for LGBTQ rights throughout the Arab world.

Sarah Schulman remains one of the most vocal and publicized of these voices. In Nov. 2011, she released a NY Times op-ed “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing'” that ignited a flurry of controversy and, in many cases, condemnation by an influential and wealthy lobby who all claimed her to be anti-Semitic, among other terms. But Schulman is, of course, part of a larger movement that recognizes a very clear distinction between Jewish freedoms and rights and insidious, violent anti-Palestinian policies written into Israel’s political fabric.

The LGBT Center has claimed that they do not want to ignite debate or controversy at the Center, that it is not, in their best interest, to be divisive. However, this seems a curious departure from their Mission Statement, which concludes that it “provides a home for the birth, nurture and celebration of our organizations, institutions and culture; cares for our individuals and groups in need; educates the public and our community; and empowers our individuals and groups to achieve their fullest potential.” Active rejection of individuals part of a growing, worldwide movement of queer activists neither “provides a home,” allows to “educate the public,” or enables these activists, like Schulman to feel empowered.

In fact, the rejection of this movement, most commonly called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions or BDS, is disempowering because it replicates the sames structures and policies that are currently in place to silence Palestinians in Israel, and even here in the United Stats, when in the early stages of a coherent LGBTQ movement, writings and activism by these individuals was deemed, at best, controversial and, at worst, an obscene affront to the values of American democracy. It’s big wake up call for understanding how much we really have the ability to speak freely in this queer community. As scholar and activist Judith Butler remarked recently at Brooklyn College, “We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.”

Right now, the BDS movement of queer activists is not being allowed to speak, and to educate freely, not simply by any mainstream non-LGBT lobby, but within the apparently communities that these activists also belong in. To me, community is summed up best by Audre Lorde, who says that “Without community, there is no liberation, but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that differences do not exist.” The actions by the LGBT Center to ban Sarah Schulman incubate this pathetic idea that a community is not a space to work through difference and divisions to come out, on the other side, stronger. In this incubation, the LGBT Center prevents community from forming within its walls, thereby preventing any hopes of true justice for LGBTQ people.

Community is not an absolute. It’s not a static, homogenous acronym, a mere jumble of identities that are immutable. Community,  especially a community that has individuals from across the world voicing their opinions, is fragile, made up of ambivalence and tensions that may not be resolved today, tomorrow, or even two years from now. But a community persists because there is a shared understanding that the community is only as strong as the most marginalized who belong to it. Today the LGBT Center has failed to understand community. They’ve failed all of those part of the BDS movement, including Schulman.

But we can all hope that sometime, in the not too distance future, they will change course and embrace open dialogue. Until then, the imperative to speak openly and loudly is as important as ever.

New Orleans, I Can’t Forget You

It’s been 3 years since I’ve been in New Orleans and every day, some part of me wants to go back. Mark Doty called it the “most holy city of the imagination” and it’s easy to see why. Today, on Mardi Gras, as human peacocks strut around the city in celebration, there’s endless possibility in every glittering bead and sequence of faux jewels.

I remember my arrival in New Orleans, August 2008, like I was stepping into a fever dream on St. Charles Ave to pick up the key for my apartment. Palm trees and real mansions, this time, not the artificial palaces you would see back in Wisconsin. A fever dream because the swamp in the height of summer feels miserable to the body that isn’t acclimated. Not only the heat but the humidity that gathers in each each inhale of breath, as if there’s no division between sky and earth. Everything is part of you.

I remember hating it at first. The pace was too slow, like those historic trolleys that sputtered down the main arterials, reminder of a city trapped in its own time. It was like a Capote novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and I was Joel as I peered through the windows of these houses. Something queer was happening, and I wasn’t I liked it, either. But then, only a few weeks into my journey, we got our first hurricane scare. A big one. Katrina big, as the news reminded us: “The threat of serious destruction is imminent. Please evacuate.”

I did evacuate, choosing to go back to Austin, where I had been in February campaign season for Barack Obama. The moment I left, I realized I had already formed an attachment to the city. Something about the pace, about that line earlier from Doty, it was the most holy city of the imagination. In this evacuation, I realized for the first time why people would never want to leave, why they could, in the face of absolute destruction, guard their property and their history. There was, and still is, no city like New Orleans; if all the guardians leave, this city of the imagination will cease to exist.

Thankfully the hurricane fell apart and veered off-course, so the city was spared with little than a few bad floods, which are not uncommon. (A few months later, I recall getting 8 inches of rain in one evening, as my older apartment began leaking water from the city, and most streets were flooded a foot or more deep.)

As I returned, my earlier fever dream broke, and I realized I had more in common with the city than I could have ever realized. Those late evenings at Zotz sipping coffee. Beignets near that mighty river, as I’d later dust off that layer of powered sugar off my pants. Standing in The Tennessee Williams Bookshop, his former home, as I recalled a history of queer writing pass through me. Yes, the pace was slow, but where else would you be able to clamber through the halls of an abandoned school building, wrecked by Katrina and somehow frozen in time, arriving at the roof to see the lights on distant building, strung out and glittering in a somehow expectant night.

New Orleans, I haven’t seen you in 3 years, but I don’t forget you. I wish I could be there, today, in reverie of all this history and imagination you have. You are imperfect, but you glitter and shine in the realization there is no other city like you in the United States. I’ll see you soon, New Orleans.

The Poetics of Invasion

As a 23 year old queer man, I’ve never known what it’s like to have sex without the threat of the AIDS. But having fucked bareback on more than one occasion, I also seem to live in world were the threat of this viral invasion is somehow reduced, at least intellectually or psychically. Though it’s true that AIDS is no longer the death sentence it was for men like David Wojnarowicz, one has to be delusional to think that living with AIDS is free of physical, psychological, or social challenges. Tens of thousands continue not to have access to life-saving medications, support groups, and have been rejected by family, friends, and even romantic partners.

With the continued stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS, looking at how David Wojnarowicz creates a poetics—what I define as the specific ways in which an individual uses language to fully realize a particular individual, object or moment in time— of viral invasion, we gain a better vocabulary for not only talking about the continued negative effects of HIV/AIDS but also how we can remember the early days of the epidemic to inform how we talk about queer sexualities.

When discussing the poetics of viral invasion, we need to look no further than the title of David Wojnarowicz’s work—Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. In particular, I want to focus on the second part of the title, A Memoir of Disintegration, because HIV/AIDS works on a cellular level to break down the normal and regulated functioning of the body. Without any cure and, at that time, any effective treatments, the acquisition of AIDS meant slow decline or sudden bodily death.

As such, when capturing the poetics of viral invasion, the structure of Wojnarowicz’s work reveals this decline, not only in terms of his own body as he recounts both his own treatments and experiences taking friends, but also how his own anger and uncertainty of a lack of response from federal and local governments led to his experiences with AIDS being marginalized, silenced, or forcibly erased from public record. The disintegration of the poetics thus functions to show an actual disintegration, but also to show how bodily, emotional, and social/political states of marginalization become indistinct through the arrival and invasion of the virus.

Structurally, Close to the Knives is a loosely-related series of essayistic associations that take many forms. The earlier half of the text, including “Self-Portrait in Twenty-Three Rounds” and “Losing the Form in Darkness,” are rich with past memories, especially from his earliest years, and are the most vague, undefined moments in the text. Given this lack of specificity and early positioning in Wojnarowicz’s life, these pieces function as documentation “before the invasion,” referring to the fact that these distant moments have somehow materialized to remind him, and us, that he was always a marginalized kid on the streets, into drugs and prostitution, before he got AIDS.

Since he writes in a stream-of-consciousness style, it’s easy to call these moments flashes of memory, but his intention, if we’re are taking about a poetics of invasion, is much more specific. As he says on page 13, “I can barely remember the senses I had when viewing these streets for the first time.” If we are to understand AIDS as a total bodily invasion, we must also understand as a total psychic invasion. For Wojnarowicz and his poetics, there is no life before AIDS. At the writing of Close to the Knives, there were only distance touches and tastes of Manhattan, and the bodies of other men when AIDS was not a worry.

These memories continue to be threaded throughout the rest of the text. One particular memory recounts a trip out West shortly after being diagnosed, where he meets a man outside of the Grand Canyon and hooks up with him in his car on wide open desert road, but the essential quality of abandon that was in these earliest pages disappears rather abruptly. It’s easy to call this poor stylistics. Transitions are supposed to be gradual, after all. They invite the reader to acclimate to the characters’ states of mind, but the poetics of invasion is different; it is supposed to be sudden and unexpected. The moment one received a diagnosis of AIDS, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, just before combination drug therapies, you abruptly went from feeling lively to recognizing you would likely die.

I suspect that when Close to the Knives was assembled in 1991, Wojnarowicz was acutely aware of his own death and recognized, at the same time, how so many others could not comprehend this death. Thus the abrupt shifts and disruptions of the narrative function to embody not only the virus itself and also how others’ perceptions of those People With AIDS was so confounded by its arrival.

The poetics of invasion is not about destination, but about transition and flux, about the embodiment of moving through decline. As he says on page 62, “I’m getting closer to the coast and realize how much I hate arriving at a destination. Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me.” In this particular situation, Wojnarowicz is referring to his return from his trip out West, but learning later that this trip happened shortly after being diagnosed, it’s clear that transition is a way in which he can appropriately stave off the slow decline and eventual death he would face from AIDS.

This ability to stave off death is important to the poetics because while transition is unsteady, unpredictable, and scary, specifically when we’re talking about what AIDS can do to the body and mind, if we think of Close to the Knives as a narrative of transition and not a narrative of death, we appropriately recognize Wojnarowicz at his most alive. In using a poetics of invasion to demonstrate his resilience, the narrative takes on an empowering and inspirational tone rather than depressing or hopeless. AIDS was a death sentence, but an even worse death sentence was letting it silence the movement and life that you continued to possess as you transitioned from one state to another.

This transition of states through a poetics of invasion happens to bring about the development of what he refers to as an “interior world” (108). It here that, in the face of bodily decline and political erasure, “movement was comfortable” and “boundaries were stretched or obliterated: no walls, no borders, language or fear” (108). While it’s hard to see how the movement through Close to the Knives is comfortable, as the virus progressed, any sort of preconceptions or filters that had previously blocked the narrative seem to dissolve.

As an example, in “The Seven Deadly Sins Fact Sheet,” Wojnarowicz obliterates how high-ranking public officials like Former Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, were celebrated at the time when so many people with AIDS were dying without recognition. Even if the record he is creating won’t noticeably shift the overall public conversation, or reach those outside of the queer community, the courage of the poetics of invasion to obliterate boundaries entirely is one of its most notable features. Reading this work more than 20 years after it was first published still elicits an intensely visceral reaction at the courage it must have taken to construct the text at the time. In this transfer of courage, we have one of the productive effects of the virus— to engender change well after the writer has died.

It might seem like something of a paradox that the virus, the thing leading to one’s decline, is also the thing that frees preconceptions. But the poetics of invasion, in this process of creating Wojnarowicz’s interior life, also works to create an interior life for the reader. The virus not only impacted individuals, but family, friends, lovers, society at large, and left a ripple in the way we understand how queer individuals lived before and after the virus. In forcing us, as readers, to imagine what it means to lose everything, the poetics of invasion forces us to confront discontinuities in psychic states. One minute you go from being well and without worry to suddenly being burdened. As Wojnarowicz recounts examples of friends who choose to resign themselves to the notion of death, he broke down boundaries and directed his voice outwardly to create a record that would be impactful well beyond his own passing.

The last, and most essential, quality of the poetics of invasion is the ability of the narrative to live on indefinitely. Though one’s body suffers blindness, weight loss, cancer, pneumonia and other ailments preceding death, forgetting these symptoms and remaining silent means embracing the false ideal of a “one-tribe nation” (153). Bottom line, according to Wojnarowicz and his poetics of invasion, is that the experiences with this virus and its marginalization are unique. Because of this experience, queer life is inexorably different and unlike the life in the non-queer communities where the virus never took hold. A failure to speak of these experiences is a disservice to the community and nation that was altered by the virus. More importantly, since the virus works so efficiently to disintegrate bodies, the failure to speak immediately and loudly means “ideas and feelings get lost.” And if these ideas and feelings get lost enough, “they never return” (153).

David Wojnarowicz isn’t coming back. On July 22nd, 1992 in New York City, he died from AIDS-related complications. He died from the viral invasion, but through the linguistic replication of viral structures and effects he was able to refashion experiences with AIDS to outlast his body and change the way we view the history of the virus. Even if relatively few people want (or the have ability) to access Close to the Knives, it only takes two bodies, even if one is imagined, to continue this replication. Though the process of recreating this viral invasion may be difficult, to forget is to think that queer sexuality has no consequences, that fucking bareback with some random stranger recalls no history, no deaths, no violence and no erasure.

But every fuck in 2013 is, as he says, “a calculated fuck” (3). Each fuck or writing on desire means confronting the equivalent  moment when desire was denied or can no longer be possible. The poetics of invasion does not intend to overwhelm desire completely, but it ends doing because everything before and after AIDS is not equal. In this replication, these traces of David Wojnarowicz’s grief, anger and disintegration are with us.

Annotation of Close to the Knives

Wojnarowicz, David. Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.

It’s likely the prevailing sentiment among many, even if it is not articulated as clearly as it was in the mid-80s and early-90s, is that the body infected with AIDS is the body that is slowly killing itself, not only at the cellular level, but at the psychic and emotional levels. However, though David Wojnarowicz writes as a Person With AIDS (PWA) in 1991, the foremost quality of his collection of personal essays is not anger or breakdown, but reconstruction and testimony of a life on the margins that has been silenced throughout its existence. Written in a stream of consciousness style in a series of fragmented, often undated entries, his narrative is able to traverse American landscapes, dreams, memory, and critical essay in a fashion that makes it one of the most valuable writings on the AIDS crisis. I feel it stands alongside Andrew Holleran’s Ground Zero as one of the hallmark essay collections written during the initial moments of the epidemic.

Wojnarowicz has always been an influential artist in encouraging my own creative output. During 2011, just 5 days before I was assaulted in the West Village, The Waterfront Journals was propped open in my lap while I was sitting outdoors in Fort Greene Project. That collection, monologues of different “street” characters in his life, featured a call by one of the characters to run run run run. Somewhere after that assault, when I was hobbling, struggling to make sense of my grief as I forced myself to sit in front of the mirrored walls at Whole Foods and eat dinner, this call to run echoed through me. I bring up these moments because some of those same monologues from The Waterfront Journals were included in a more fragmented form in Close to the Knives, which makes it as much about death from AIDS as it is about death from a political system that favors and uses what Wojnarowicz calls throughout a “ONE TRIBE NATION.” The essay collection is about living life on the streets without the support networks and basic resources that many take for granted.

Though I will expand on many themes in my critical essay, I want to talk briefly about progression of ideas in Close to the Knives. Obviously it is a work that is non-linear, jumping between dream, childhood, adolescence and present day throughout, but the first of the text, up to the “Living Close to the Knives” focuses much more on dreams, street life, and sexual situations with other men while “Living Close to the Knives,” up until the final essay, strikes a decidedly more political tone toward AIDS. Included in this middle section are an essay on influential figures in blocking legislation and another essay, adapted from a talk given at a university, on the role of the artist in the present moment. The final section, a conversation series with a man named Dakota, focuses more explicitly on the influential of AIDS and the realization of death.

With this structure, I’ll admit that I initially struggled with Close to the Knives. It felt so disjointed and fragmented, but I realized that a lot of earlier memories and other associations are often obscured either in terms of their actual content or in the way they’re used to understand the present. But what kept me engaged was his ability to return to descriptions of the male body in such evocative ways. For example, “In loving him, I saw a cigarette between the fingers of a hand, smoke billowing backwards into the room, and sputtering planes diving low through the clouds” (17). As the narrative went on, Wojnarowicz seemed to return more and more to the human form—this time as a diseased and marginalized body. Though there is little comfort in much of the rest of the narrative, he does say later on that the imagination continues to be one of the last remaining spaces for radical gesture. To me, this radical gesture is that our memories can outlive the limitations of our bodies and transcend political systems that ignore queer experience.

Close to Knives is less a memoir of answers than it is a memoir of impossibilities. Impossibilities because the David Wojnarowicz we know is no longer living is still so animated on the page. Impossibilities because we find time and geography dissolving in every line. Impossibilities because, as we turn the page, our own grief becomes noticed in every inflection. Impossibilities because by the end of the memoir, we’re somewhere every different from when we first started, energized and angry but still fragile as we recognize that our own expression as queer people continues to face so much resistance.

To Arpad Miklos

He wasn’t supposed to have killed himself. I mean: who, ever, is supposed to do that? But he, especially, Arpad Miklos, shouldn’t have because in the only video I ever knew was him (though I’ve only recognized him by name since he’s been dead), he stood tall and steady. Or seemed that way, seemed comfortable, at home and, dare I say it, immortal. The other man in the video, much younger, looked like a stalk half his width with a little bit of hair flipped to one side. He was more vulnerable, the one I’d have expected to see dead first, if one can ever expect such a thing.

Mike Hadreas, whose stage name Perfume Genius, was the embodiment of every length we have to travel through to end up in the arms of a lover. In “Hood,” the video I’m now watching, he’s in the arms of Miklos, crooning softly, sweetly, meekly. As the video progresses, his hair is brushed, lipstick is applied, all by Miklos. The scene I’m watching seems discontinuous from reality: how do all these gestures of tenderness add up to pills, a gun, a noose, or whatever it took for him not to want to feel these things anymore? It’s not my place to ever have this question answered, but in my own vulnerable moments, I’ve had to wonder how loneliness can become so overwhelming.

Arpad Miklos is dead. He’s in that video, forever maybe, but he’s not going to make another. He was a porn actor, sexy and compassionate on the screen, but he’ll never fuck again. He want from the steady and immortal to this memory that reverberates through me. Like Hadreas, I outlive him. Like Hadreas, I speak as he did at the end of “Hood” by saying, “I will fight, baby, not to do you wrong.” Not to do you wrong, Arpad, means not to forget your grief, not to forget how grief can be invisible as you bury it somewhere in your body, not to forget your fate is like that of so many others who are queer, not to forget that it’s okay not to be steady all the time.

Sometimes our knees buckle; our limbs grow slack. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be that way as long as we always have someone to catch us, to hold us in our arms. We’ll do each other wrong, at least sometimes, but that’s better than getting lost in nothing but our own end.

Create a free website or blog at
The Esquire Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,677 other followers