Monday, December 10, 2007

Poetry in Motion

Suddenly, I was alive to new experiences. I was fit and thin (had ribs and could actually see my feet). I was training in luxorious barracks at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, and although I now learned about diodes and hocumapokems, the company was fine. The cadre asked us to "fall in" and no one called me anything but Private Patterson. Despite this, loneliness set in. I didn't miss the Special Training Unit, but I did miss the people. I thought about them and formulated them as characters in my head. I knew they would be discharged and float through the rest of their lives with the stigma branded on their foreheads, like Cain or Jean Valjean.

Short stories began to brew. The story about an African American chef, who was drafted and interred in the Special Training Unit. How he jammed his lovely hands in the window damaging those precious tools that he used to carve ice at the Hotel Americana. I think of him often and beyond in the story, "Melted Dreams." I drafted at least twelve short stories in my journal, each with a military setting; each about a yearning to be home; each fretting over the possibilities of being sent off to the War. I recycled titles over these works until the titles became useless. They were always stuffed back in my duffelbag. Many would never be finished, while others were shaped when I went overseas.

My poetry did excel. I discovered I could sit anywhere at anytime with any theme and a pen, and pump out a poem. Whether this was W. S. Gilbert's doing or all those libretti back in the cave days, I couldn't tell, but if I had any inherent gifts, it was for poetry. I loved the interior of words, how they flowed and related to one another, danced if you will to the rythm of my heartbeat. In those top bunked nights in the open barracks with sixty other men, my pen wafted meter; piles of poetry with nifty titles. I still have most of these. Many went home in letters. Some married themselves to the short stories. A thin group passed muster years later when I was gathering my first two poetry anthologies together, the works The Awakening and Catherine and Other Poems. The one shortfall of both my poetry and stories was my reluctance to be true to myself. Whenever the opportunity vered toward overt celebration of gay folk, I transmuted it to subtext. I was driving myself into the closet. My poetry would not breathe free until I stepped out of that closet and declared myself proudly to the world. That did not happen until 1990 at the ripe old gay age of 42.

When my family came to my graduation, I had more than one secret. I was on orders for Viet-nam and didn't have the heart to tell my folks. We enjoyed each others company (to them I was a different person—a thin one), but I didn't have the courage to tell them that I was off to war. Then a miracle happened, one of many in my short, poetic life. Some computer ran numbers for a request for radio repairman for Europe and my orders were changed. I was now destined for GERMANY.
Just think of the stories the world has been denied because I missed the smell of napalm in the morning. But I was about to get one magnificent dose of the Old World. When worlds collide they make for interesting ripples in the paradyne. So armed with a sheet of paper with an APO number (I didn't even know where in Germany I was going), I headed to Ft. Dix, NJ (a few days AWOL to visit the folks) and then off across the pond to see what there was to see. Although I physically returned a year and half later, I never really came home, man of the world that I had become . . . devoured entire by a simple postal address in the woodland bosum of Franconia.

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