Category Archives: Poetry


By Aaron Smith

I can’t remember my dad calling me a sissy,
but he definitely told me not to be a sissy.
I secretly (or not so secretly) liked all the sissy
things. We had a hunting dog named Sissy.
Really: Sissy. My father nicknamed my sister: Sissy.
Still, he says, “How’s Sissy?” and calls her Sissy
when she goes home to visit him. Belinda (Sissy)
is one of the toughest people I know. My sissy
(sister) has kicked someone’s ass, which isn’t sissy-
ish, I guess, though I want to redefine sissy
into something fabulous, tough, tender, “sissy-
tough.” Drag queens are damn tough and sissies.
I’m pretty fucking tough and a big, big sissy,
too. And kind. Tough and kind and happy: a sissy.

About This Poem

Aaron Smith explains his poem: “As a queer person, I’ve had the word ‘sissy’ leveled against me as an insult. In this sonnet, I challenged myself to use the word ‘sissy’ as the ending word for each line in an attempt to reclaim the word, celebrate it, redefine it—as I say in the poem—as something ‘fabulous, tough, tender.’ I also wanted to celebrate drag queens. RuPaul [Andre Charles] is a national treasure.”

I came across this poem the other day, and it was one of those poems that really spoke to me. Like Smith, my dad never called me a sissy, but I heard more than once, “Don’t be a sissy.” I remember when I was in grammar school, all the boys played flag football at recess. I had no interest in playing football, so I spent recess with my friends, all the girls. My dad came to pick me up from school one day (recess was at the end of the day), and he noticed that I was not playing football with the rest of the boys. He told me that I had to play with the boys and “not be such a sissy.” So, from then on, when he would pick me up at school, I’d have to play flag football.

Years ago, I read a book, Mississippi Sissy. The book is a memoir by Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who as the Amazon description says, “grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South.” As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word “sissy” on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin’s long road north towards celebrity begins. In his memoir, Kevin Sessums brings to life the pungent American south of the 1960s and the world of the strange little boy who grew there.

There are words that haunt me because of the pain they caused me growing up: sissy, queer, faggot (fag), etc. I know many gay men use these as empowering words, such as Sessum and Smith do in their writing. Others celebrate their sexuality and gender non-conformity. As the poem says, “Drag queens are damn tough and sissies.” But it’s not just drag queens that are celebrating gender non-conformity. Many of us live our lives these days without the fear of being called a “sissy.” Though, there are still many like me who continue to care what others think. It’s difficult for us to break free from the traditional gender roles that were forced on us when we were young. Maybe more of us should realize that we are “pretty fucking tough and a big, big sissy, too. And kind. Tough and kind and happy: a sissy.”

About the Poet

Aaron Smith has an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer (University of Pittsburgh Press); Appetite (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012); and Blue on Blue Ground (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His other awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and Mass Cultural Council. 

Smith is an associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day
By Jean Blewett

There’s an Isle, a green Isle, set in the sea,
Here’s to the Saint that blessed it!
And here’s to the billows wild and free
That for centuries have caressed it!

Here’s to the day when the men that roam
Send longing eyes o’er the water!
Here’s to the land that still spells home
To each loyal son and daughter!

Here’s to old Ireland—fair, I ween,
With the blue skies stretched above her!
Here’s to her shamrock warm and green,
And here’s to the hearts that love her!

With St. Patrick’s Day Friday, I thought I’d post a poem about Ireland.

About the Poet

Canadian poet and writer Jean Blewett was born in Scotia, Lake Erie, Ontario, in 1872. She began writing at a young age and gained recognition for her poems, short stories, and articles while still a teenager. The author of two popular collections of poetry, Heart Songs (1897) and The Cornflower and Other Poems (1906), she also wrote a novel, Out of the Depths (1890). 

Globe Magazine described Blewett as a “woman’s poet” while calling her the “most conspicuous example in Canada of the class of writers who try to bring the plain people into touch with the highest ideals that are frequently most effectively taught in verse. Her lessons are of self-denial, and of the power of love to mold men and women.” She was popular in the United States as well as Canada, and the Chicago Times-Herald awarded her a $600 prize for her poem “Spring.”

Blewett died in 1934.

Dear March—Come in—

Dear March—Come in—(1320)
By Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Dear March—Come in—
How glad I am—
I hoped for you before—
Put down your Hat—
You must have walked—
How out of Breath you are—
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest—
Did you leave Nature well—
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me—
I have so much to tell—

I got your Letter, and the Birds—
The Maples never knew that you were coming—
I declare – how Red their Faces grew—
But March, forgive me—
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue—
There was no Purple suitable—
You took it all with you—

Who knocks? That April—
Lock the Door—
I will not be pursued—
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied—
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame—

Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer…

Sergei Yesenin

Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer…
By Sergei Yesenin (Sergey Esenin)

Translated by Anton Yakovlev

Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer
Looking for a ring of happiness in the dark,
Living this life as if by happenstance,
Just like others on earth.

And I’m only kissing you out of habit,
Because I’ve kissed many,
And speaking words of love
As though I’m lighting matches.

“Dear”, “darling”, “forever”,
But always one thing on my mind:
If you wake up the passion in a person,
You surely won’t find truth.

This is why my soul has no trouble
Desiring, demanding fire —
You, my walking birch,
Were created for many and for me.

But, always looking for the one
And languishing in callous captivity,
I’m not at all jealous of you,
Not cursing you in the least.

Who am I? What am I? Just a dreamer
Who has lost the blue of his eyes in the dark,
And I only love you by happenstance,
Just like others on earth.

Сергей Есенин Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель…

Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель,
Перстень счастья ищущий во мгле,
Эту жизнь живу я словно кстати,
Заодно с другими на земле.

И с тобой целуюсь по привычке,
Потому что многих целовал,
И, как будто зажигая спички,
Говорю любовные слова.

«Дорогая», «милая», «навеки»,
А в уме всегда одно и то ж,
Если тронуть страсти в человеке,
То, конечно, правды не найдешь.

Оттого душе моей не жестко
Ни желать, ни требовать огня,
Ты, моя ходячая березка,
Создана для многих и меня.

Но, всегда ища себе родную
И томясь в неласковом плену,
Я тебя нисколько не ревную,
Я тебя нисколько не кляну.

Кто я? Что я? Только лишь мечтатель,
Синь очей утративший во мгле,
И тебя любил я только кстати,
Заодно с другими на земле.

Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) grew up in a peasant family in the village of Konstantinovo, Ryazan Province but spent most of his adult life in Petrograd (previously St. Petersburg, later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg again). Yesenin called himself “the last poet of the village,” both in the sense of his peasant origins and of being the last among his contemporaries whose poems were mainly concerned with country life. In writing, sometimes nostalgically, always sympathetically, and often with an almost mystical devotion to rural Russia, Yesenin succeeded in cultivating a national identity and mythology so strong and cohesive that his work would forever imprint itself into Russian culture, with the poet becoming a beloved and somewhat mythical figure — a fame that persisted even under Stalin when the poet’s work was blacklisted and when praising or even reading it constituted a risk to one’s very survival. A founding member of the short-lived but influential Imaginist movement (related to the Western Imagism and standing in contrast to Futurism), Yesenin was a star whose public performances were attended by hundreds or thousands of adoring fans across the country. He jousted with fellow poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and was known for publicity stunts. His iconic status continues to this day; it is virtually impossible to find a Russian person who has never heard Sergei Yesenin’s name, and only marginally easier to find someone who doesn’t know at least one of his poems by heart though I suspect many people in the United States have never heard of him. 

Yesenin (left) with Anatoly Marienhof in 1915

Despite being married to four different women, most notably Isadora Duncan (with whom he shared no common language), Yesenin, loved men. His poetry was loved for its simplicity and clarity, bridging both high and low culture, including his poems of love to the various men in his life. During WWI, he had a relationship with the poet Leonid Kannegisser (later the assassin of Moisei Uritsky of the secret police), while during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, gay writers continued writing, but gay-positive work was not encouraged under the Soviet regime (after 1933, when Stalin recriminalized homosexuality, no gay-themed works were published.) By the mid-1920s, Sergei entered into a three-year relationship with another fellow poet Anatoly Marienhof, to whom many poems are dedicated, inspired by, or written about. Sergei was a rebellious writer, suffering through bouts of alcoholism, violent behavior, depression, and plagued by his inner demons when he hung himself in a Leningrad hotel at the age of 30. Perhaps it was his failed marriages, the disillusionment that he must have felt when the revolution that he supported failed to live up to his expectations, or that he was a gay man who had simply yielded to the pressures of the world and no longer wanted to fight. Whatever his reasons, we will never know.

In the poem above, I think he is questioning his sexuality or maybe coming to terms with it since this poem was written in 1925, the year he died. When he writes, “And I’m only kissing you out of habit,” I suspect he is talking about one of his wives. He later writes, “But always one thing on my mind: / If you wake up the passion in a person, / You surely won’t find truth.” Here he seems to be saying that if she awakens his sexuality/passion, then she won’t see the truth of his homosexuality. To me, this is a sad poem. In the fifth stanza, he says he writes that he is “always looking for the one,” but he is “in callous captivity” of a world that does not accept a person being gay. The last stanza seems to be saying that he “has lost the blue of his eyes in the dark,” and maybe that is a foretelling of his suicide in the same year.

Double Exposure

Double Exposure
By May Swenson – 1913-1989

Taking a photo of you taking a photo of me, I see
the black snout of the camera framed by hair, where

your face should be. I see your arms and one hand
on the shutter button, the hedge behind you and

beyond, below, overexposed water and sky wiped white.
Some flecks out of focus are supposed to be boats.

Your back toward what light is left, you’re not
recognizable except by those cutoff jeans that I

gave you by shooting from above, forgetting your
legs. So, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t know who

you are, you know. I do know who, but you, you know,
could be anybody. My mistake. It was because I

wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you
did. I did when you did, and you did when I did.

I can’t wait to see yours of me. It’s got to be
even more awful. A face, facing the light, pulled up

into a squint behind the lens, which must reflect
the muggy setting sun. Some sort of fright mask

or Mardi Gras monster, a big glass Cyclopean eye
superimposed on a flattened nose, that print,

the one you took of me as I took one of you. Who,
or what, will it be—will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.

About This Poem

“‘Double Exposure’ was a kind of love poem I’d always wanted––earthy and witty, with a streak of primal strangeness. May Swenson disliked the label lesbian poetry (and told me so, in a letter). While my generation’s identity politics found expression in publishing collectives and coming-out anthologies, Swenson continued hiding in plain sight. With marriage equality decades away, she knew who she was and whom she loved, inventing playful shapes that explored (among other things) intimacy between women.

“Two women (‘you’ and ‘me’) photograph each other in a spirit of experimentation that’s both childlike and scientific. The poem reminds us that we’re animals––’the black snout of the camera framed by hair’––and teasingly suggests simultaneous orgasm: ‘I / wanted to trip the shutter at the exact moment you / did.’ But the poem’s erotic life is as much about the intimacy of minds in dialogue with one another as it is about bodies. The Cyclops Swenson sees in the single glass eye of the camera lens invites fear into the ritual, but danger is part of the thrill. Glee is the state of mind and feeling as we transform each other: ‘Who, / or what, will it be––will I be, I wonder? Can’t wait.'” —Joan Larkin


About the Poet

May Swenson was born Anna Thilda May Swenson on May 28, 1913, in Logan, Utah. Her parents were Swedish immigrants, and her father was a professor of mechanical engineering at Utah State University. English was her second language, her family having spoken mostly Swedish in their home. Influenced early on by Edgar Allan Poe, she kept journals as a young girl, in which she wrote in multiple genres.

She attended Utah State University, Logan, and received a bachelor’s degree in 1934. She spent another year in Utah working as a reporter, but in 1935 she relocated to New York, where she remained for most of her adult life. In New York City, she held various positions—including working as a stenographer, a ghostwriter, a secretary, and a manuscript reader—while writing and publishing her poetry. In 1959, she became a manuscript reader at New Directions Press.

Since her first collection of poems, Another Animal, was published by Scribner in 1954, Swenson’s work has been admired for its adventurous word play and erotic exuberance. Her poems have been compared to those by poets E. E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein, as well as Elizabeth Bishop, with whom she was engaged in regular, often frequent correspondence from 1950 until Bishop’s death in 1979.

Swenson’s other poetry collections include A Cage of Spines (1958); To Mix With Time: New and Selected Poems (1963); Half Sun Half Sleep (1967); Iconographs (1970); New & Selected Things Taking Place (1978); and In Other Words (1987). Posthumous collections of her work include The Love Poems (1991); Nature: Poems Old and New (1994); and May Out West (1996).

She is also the author of three collections of poems for younger readers, including Poems to Solve (1966), More Poems to Solve (1968), and Spell Coloring Book (1976), and a one-act play titled The Floor, which was produced in New York in the 1960s. As a translator, she published Windows and Stones: Selected Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (1972), which received a medal of excellence from the International Poetry Forum.

She left New Directions Press in 1966, having decided to devote herself fully to her own writing. In 1967, she moved to Sea Cliff, New York. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, she served as poet-in-residence at several universities in the United States and Canada, including Bryn Mawr, the University of North Carolina, the University of California at Riverside, Purdue University, and Utah State University.

About her work, the poet Grace Schulman said, “Questions are the wellspring of May Swenson’s art… In her speculations and her close observations, she fulfills Marianne Moore’s formula for the working artist: ‘Curiosity, observation, and a great deal of joy in the thing.'”

Swenson’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ford, Rockefeller, and MacArthur Foundations, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She received the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Bollingen Prize from Yale University, and an Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

In 1967, she received a Distinguished Service Gold Medal from Utah State University, and in 1987 an honorary doctor of letters. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death. She died in Oceanview, Delaware, on December 4, 1989, and is buried in the city where she was born.

Four months before her death, Swenson wrote: “The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivety, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness, is necessary to the making of a poem.”


Why I Chose This Poem

Today is Mardi Gras. I was looking for a poem about Mardi Gras, and found one I liked and was going to use this one next week since it only mentions Mardi Gras masks, but then I looked up the poet of the other poem and realized he’s a member of a far right anti-LGBTQ+ religious group. While I considered posting it anyway, I chose against it. Besides, reading the poem from that perspective, I decided it wasn’t that good anyway.

While Mardi Gras is not observed nationally throughout the United States, a number of traditionally ethnic French cities and regions in the country have notable celebrations. Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a French Catholic tradition with the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane, which included what are now the U.S. states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and part of eastern Texas. The brothers celebrated the first Mardi Gras in what is now Biloxi, Mississippi.

Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) has a history traced all the way back to medieval Europe, where early renditions of the holiday known as “Boeuf Gras” (or fatted calf) were celebrated everywhere from Italy to France. In 1699, the Le Moyne brothers settled on a plot of land about 60 miles south of New Orleans and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” When their men realized that it was the eve of the holiday, they had an impromptu celebration. 

Bienville went on to found the settlement of Mobile, Alabama in 1702 as the first capital of French Louisiana. In 1703 French settlers in Mobile established the first Carnivale or what became known as Mardi Gras. Mobile celebrated the first formally organized Mardi Gras parade in the United States in 1830. The first informal mystic society, or krewe, was formed in Mobile in 1711, the Boeuf Gras Society. By 1720, Biloxi had been made capital of Louisiana. The French Mardi Gras customs had accompanied the colonists who settled there.

In 1723, the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans, founded in 1718. The first Mardi Gras parade held in New Orleans is recorded to have taken place in 1837. The tradition in New Orleans expanded to the point that it became synonymous with the city in popular perception and embraced by residents of New Orleans beyond those of French or Catholic heritage. Mardi Gras celebrations are part of the basis of the slogan Laissez les bons tempsrouler (“Let the good times roll”). On Mardi Gras Day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last parades of the season wrap up and the celebrations come to a close with the Meeting of the Courts (known locally as the Rex Ball). Other cities along the Gulf Coast with early French colonial heritage, from Pensacola, Florida; Galveston, Texas; to Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana; and north to Natchez, Mississippi and Alexandria, Louisiana, have active Mardi Gras celebrations.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning – 1806-1861

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43,” often referred to as “How do I love thee?”, is arguably the most famous love poem in history. EBB, as she is sometimes referred to, was born on March 6, 1806, at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England. She was an English poet of the Romantic Movement. 

When she was 14, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. Throughout her teenage years, Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament; her interests later turned to Greek studies. Due to her continually weakening health, she was forced to spend a year at the sea of Torquay accompanied by her brother Edward, whom she referred to as “Bro.” He drowned later that year while sailing at Torquay, and Elizabeth returned home emotionally broken, becoming an invalid and a recluse.

After the death of her brother, Elizabeth Barrett spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father’s home. She continued writing, however, and in 1844 produced a collection simply titled Poems. This volume gained the attention of poet Robert Browning, whose work Elizabeth had praised in one of her poems, and he wrote her a letter. Over the next twenty months, Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters. In 1845 they met each other in person for the first time. Their correspondence, courtship, and marriage were carried out in secret, for fear of her father’s disapproval, for good reason.

Their romance was bitterly opposed by her tyrannical father, who did not want any of his children to marry. In 1846, the couple eloped. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they continued to write. They had a son, Robert “Pen” Browning, in 1849. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850. Critics generally consider the Sonnets—one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English—to be her best work. It is in Sonnets, that “How Do I Love Thee?” first appeared. Admirers have compared her imagery to Shakespeare and her use of the Italian form to Petrarch.

She died in Florence on June 29, 1861, and was buried in the English Cemetery. Robert and Pen Browning soon moved to London. During his wife’s lifetime, Robert Browning was not known as much as a poet as the husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is not until after her death that Robert became known as a renowned poet in his own right.

Of all the poets I have featured on this blog, Browning is the only one whose grave I have visited. Though I went to the cemetery to research Americans in Florence, the cemetery is best known for the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and people come from all over to pay homage to Browning and celebrate her work.

Grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning at the English Cemetery, Florence, Italy

It wouldn’t be a real Valentine’s Day post without a picture of my card from Susan. Every year, they are always so beautiful and special.

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow
By Robert Frost – 1874-1963

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

“Dust of Snow” is a short poem by Robert Frost, published in the Pulitzer Prize-winning volume New Hampshire (1923). The poem’s speaker, possibly the poet himself, is initially unhappy. But a sprinkling of snow, dislodged by a crow in the tree above the speaker, brings an element of surprise that partly “save[s]” the speaker’s bad day. The poem thus shows how nature can lift people’s mood, if only temporarily.

The Gondolier

The Gondolier
by Ruby Archer

Hark to the gondolier singing,
Dreamily, dreamily singing,
Ever guiding our languid gondola
Out on the fair lagoon.

Lo, how the pigeons are winging,
Airily, airily winging,
Blending coos in our idle revery
Out on the fair lagoon.

Now is the gondolier calling,
Warningly, warningly calling;
Hark—the answer—from turning shadowy,
Where the dark waters wind.

Now we emerge in a glory,
Radiant, radiant glory;
Campanile and dome rise magical
Out of the Grand Canal.

Every wall has a story,
Passionate, passionate story,—
O’er the song of the gondolier hovering,
Out on the Grand Canal.

Gardens above us are leaning,
Drowsily, drowsily leaning;
Never water and sky so heavenly,
Sung by a gondolier.

Ever and aye in our dreaming,
Far-away, far-away dreaming,
We’ll remember this golden Italy,
Sung by a gondolier.

About 15 years ago, I was doing research in Italy for my dissertation. I was able to spend a month traveling Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice), and it was a trip I will never forget for many reasons. It was the first time I had ever traveled on my own. I remember the beauty and food of Rome and the amazing Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. I wondered through the Cimitero Acattolico (Non-Catholic Cemetery) of Rome, often referred to as the Cimitero dei protestanti (Protestant Cemetery) looking at the famous graves of Americans who had traveled to Italy in the nineteenth century. 

In Florence, I remember the festive atmosphere of the Piazza della Repubblica, the gold merchants on the Ponte Vecchio, the splendor of the Duomo, and the wonders of the storied museums such as the Uffizi Gallery with Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera and The Birth of Venus and the Accademia with Michelangelo’s David. I walked the streets where American artists had walked more than a century before. I visited the English Cemetery and made friends with the strange but infinitely interesting custodian of the cemetery, the medieval scholar Julia Bolton Holloway, formerly a nun of the Anglican order Community of the Holy Family and scholar of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is buried in the cemetery.

Then I went to Venice, which was cold and damp, and I caught a terrible cold. The city, however, is magical. The canals and the grand palazzos that line it are breathtaking. The gaudy but fascinating Basilica di San Marco and the pink and seemingly austere Doge’s Palace with the Scala d’Oro, the Golden Staircase, and the Ponte dei Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs. I remember taking a vaporetto to the Lido with a group of nuns sitting in front of me laughing and seeming to have the greatest time as they were sprayed by the waters of the Lagoon while we bounced over the waves.

These were all great memories, but what will always warm my heart is the thought of seeing the gondolieri in their blue or red striped tops, red neckerchiefs, wide-brimmed straw hats, and dark pants. In movies you often see an older man guiding the gondolas down the canal as lovers cuddle in the traditional, flat-bottomed rowing boat holding their rowing oar to guide the gondola down the canals. I did not see many old men as gondolieri, but mostly beautiful young men like those in the picture above or the one below who I became enamored with and had to take his picture.

About the Poet

Ruby Archer (Ruby Archer Doud or Ruby Archer Gray) was born in Kansas City, Missouri on January 28, 1873, and died in Los Angeles on January 23, 1961. She was an American poet, educated at Kansas City High School and by private tutors. She was married to Dr. Frank Newland Doud on March 27, 1910, and later to Benjamin Franklin Gray. She contributed poems, translations from French and German dramas and lyrics, and prose articles on art, architecture, music, Biblical literature, philosophy, etc. to papers and magazines.

Puck’s Final Speech

Puck’s Final Speech
By William Shakespeare

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act V, Scene 1

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

The mischievous Puck ends A Midsummer Night’s Dream with these lines. It is one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare.

Gay Sex

Gay Sex
by Patrick Cash

Let’s talk about gay sex baby
Let’s crow about its beauty daily
Place away your shades of shame
And trace in me a sacred flame
Lend me your lips, boy
And of your muscled hips
I will speak and enjoy
Give me the words
Of your body’s supple burn
And into silver zodiacs
I will write the codes
My desire in you has cracked
Of naked bodies and buttocks
And cocks and jockstraps
My tongue between your shoulderblades
Tattoos them with my name
That I will dare to speak
And dare to speak again
Down into the dip of your back
My mouth will murmur rapt
Then I let my whispers lick
First one gluteus muscle
Before on to its perfect brother
Hear my hands
On your flesh slap
And the parting of your pretty ass
To reveal your winking, pink anus
In the hush of my first kiss
The sensation’s racing
Spiralling up your spinal cord
Exploding into your loosened brain
Uttered as a gasp and a word
That was there from the beginning:


And I say, “yes…”

I’m not talking about gay sex
To shock or cause stress
I’m talking about it
Because no one else is
Our gay comedians
Are asexual chameleons
No sex, please
We’re gay and on TV

And I’ve heard my straight mates say:
“I don’t mind it happening
As long as I don’t hear about it”
Well here, now, it’s happening
And it’s hard and it’s fast and it’s racing
A gasp and a whimper
The sound of flesh whacking flesh
Of my penis inside him
It’s sweat dripping from one man to another
A soaring, writhing ecstasy of kissing
It’s in your face
It’s in your head
It’s in the space
Where angels fear to tread

Because my sex is part of my identity
My sex makes me and shapes me
And I’m not going to stop it and lock it
And shut it up
Not for you and not for me
My sex is laced with shame
My sex is the wrong sex
My sex was illegal
My sex instils fear
It’s parks after dark
And it’s public toilets
And it’s AIDS
Like David Stuart said:
“When your parents think of sex
They see your sister married
You and your boyfriend
It’s shit on dicks”
My sex is a sin without name
And try telling this
To the two 20-year-old boys
I interviewed last week
Who both have HIV
Because they’re not told
About gay sex in schools
And they’re not told
About transmission
And the condom, they are told,
Is there to stop pregnancy

But lastly my sex is my gift
To be shared safely
With rising sensation
Of move and thrust and kiss
My sex lives in excited eyes
It whispers between fingertips
My sex is in his smile
It’s in his pleasure
And what we share together
My sex speaks now and always will
Of the word we all call love

Patrick Cash is a queer journalist and creative writer based in London, prominently known for hosting two LGBTQ-friendly open mic nights: the poetry and performance night, “Spoken Word London,” the gay men’s well-being forum, “Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs,” and the theatrical showcase event Dark Fabrics Cabaret. He writes on various subjects, including much arts/culture, and works as Assistant Editor for QX Magazine. Find him on Twitter @paddycash.

Cash’s main focus when writing poetry is emotional truth. He believes we are sometimes smothered by falsity in the modern world, from social media performance to creepy algorithm-led advertising, and good art cuts through that superficiality. If you achieve authenticity of feeling in your poem, then that truth will resonate deeply with your audiences, whatever your surface differences of sexuality, gender, or race.

Cash believes it is important for queer poets to be heard to engender understanding of the queer experience. He said that if you’ve grown up straight, male and privileged, then queerness may seem like a very alien—even threatening—concept to you. Yet all humans understand what it is to feel different, and innate concepts like shame and hope. Queer poets not only empower queer people, but use their words as conduits for empathy.

When asked about the future of queer poetry, Cash said, “Greater visibility, more mixed queer/straight readerships and more mainstream literary recognition. In some ways, I feel the age we’re living in of LGBTQ rights and queer literature is partially comparable to the Harlem Renaissance bringing black literature to mainstream America in the ’20s. Queer poetry deepens our understanding of multifaceted humanity.”