Poetry editor Charlie Bondhus reflects on what it means to be gay, a poet, and an editor, and what all this means in terms of the Good Men Project’s mission.
Editor’s Note: Recently, poets and editors of Sibling Rivalry Press, Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington (whose work appears on this site), asked me and others to submit statements on what it means to be gay and a publisher/editor, along with a few of our own poems. With Bryan and Seth’s generous permission, I have reprinted my statement and one of my poems below. The statement appears in Joy Exhaustible, a special edition of Sibling Rivalry Press’s award-winning literary journal Assaracus. The poem, “Memorial Day Barbecue,” originally appeared in my most recent poetry book, All the Heat We Could Carry.
Looking for a Few Good Men
I was more than happy to accept the opportunity to helm The Good Men Project’s poetry section when it was offered to me in November 2013, partly because I want to support and promote poetry, and partly because I’ve long been interested in questions of masculinity. Many magazines, blogs, journals, and websites are dedicated to women’s issues—and I think this is important because women have been and continue to be marginalized—yet I believe it’s also important to look closely at men and masculinity, lest we fall into the destructive assumption that men are somehow the “default” gender. Besides, I think men also struggle with gender issues—though we don’t hear about it as much because guys are supposed to be “stoic.”
I think that questions of what it means to be a man are highly relevant to gay/bisexual men, as so many of us have had our manhood invalidated at one point or another in our lives. Yet homosexuality does not preclude masculinity. On the contrary, I think that, as men who love men, we have a unique view on and appreciation of manhood. While there’s the obvious angle—we frequently have a license and a leeway that heterosexual men often don’t to explore alternate expressions of masculinity—I also think that gay/bisexual men, as inhabitors of male bodies/minds and lovers of male bodies/minds, have an important perspective on masculinity. In other words, as individuals who’ve been emasculated by our society, yet whose sexual and affectional orientation is directed towards men, many of us tend to think about our masculinity in a way heterosexual men may not need to.
As the poetry editor of The Good Men Project, I hope to empower gay and bisexual men to speak on an even keel with their heterosexual brothers; to give voice both to their unique concerns and to establish dialogues with heterosexual men. In so doing, it’s my hope that we as gay/bisexual men can build a greater kinship with heterosexual men and that, together, men of all identities can promote healthier, more productive, and more creative models of masculinity.
Memorial Day Barbecue
People screamed. Burgers and dogs hissed themselves brown. Beer bottles spat foam. More than a few of us were drunk.
He looked better than I’d expected. I was picturing more—how should I say this?—draggled. Wild-eyed. Like a prophet who’s seen hell.
He laughed with everyone, like nothing had changed. Maybe war, like anything else, is something you get over.
We noticed when he disappeared. I was chatting with his partner, who didn’t say anything about it. We watched a crow assault a piece of bread.
I didn’t want to embarrass anybody, but I was curious. I walked around the house, past the red-streaked zinnias, and out to the street. He was sitting in the passenger seat of their car.
He wasn’t reading a magazine or making a call. He was just sitting, with his hands on his knees, the trees’ shadows passing over his face like large insects.
Did he carry a gun in the glove compartment?
I was remembering every Vietnam movie I’d ever seen,
his eyes two unpinned grenades, overturned tables and smashed chairs, bowls of finger food shattered into small universes.
When he saw me, I felt like I’d been caught stealing. We stared at each other for a few seconds before he smiled and raised his hand. He got out of the car and walked over to me. He lit a cigarette as we talked about this party and past ones, people we knew who weren’t here, the summer heat’s early arrival.
I saw the glass edges of the moment. Everything breakable: the pavement, the flowers, the silent car, all of it.
I turned to walk back. He caught my arm.
“If they ask, tell them I was in the bathroom.”
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