by Mel Green
On the last Sunday before the April 3 Anchorage municipal election, when voters will decide on Proposition 5, some Anchorage pastors will preach about God’s call for us to love one another; others, wielding the same types of false witness propounded in the past few weeks by Jim Minnery and Jerry Prevo, will claim that we are not who we know ourselves to be… even that we “chose” to be “perverted.”
Whatever the results of the April 3 election may be, whatever your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), you know that we are, indeed, called to love one another. We are also called to love ourselves. In the words of Job, “Far be it from me to say that you are right; until I die I will not put away my integrity from me” (Job 27:5; NSRV).
I take as my text the Book of Job —
for are we not like him, innocent,
suffering, crying out for justice?
are we not like him, each of us
surrounded by these righteous,
these pious friends who so love us,
who console us with false accusations,
who comfort us with lies?
Hear them — Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar —
High in their pulpits they proclaim the good news:
Admit your guilt and repent your sin
the merciful Lord God will welcome you in.
What’s your complaint? you got fired from your job?
The good Lord will cast you to fires of damnation.
Your landlord has served you notice of eviction?
The Lord will evict you from heavens’s salvation.
Beat to death in the street? God signed the death warrant.
Infected with AIDS? The Almighty’s decree.
Discrimination — if it happens, which we won’t admit —
is admonishment of your culpability.
God in his compassion has served you fair warning
and if God’s indisposed, well, we’re God’s grand jury.
But admit your guilt and repent your sin
the merciful Lord God will welcome you in.
We’re a large church, but we’re a friendly church.
Is there anything so innocent
as the child you were at birth?
tiny and wrinkled
from between your mother’s legs
you cried — I am here! I am alive! —
such was your first yell — joy of birth!
Were you a sinner then?
Was it sin to cry for your mother’s breasts?
were you damned by your desire
for the warmth of your father’s arms?
Years grew you.
Your ears heard the lessons
of your elders who taught you
the rules to live by:
how you took them to heart.
How you chastised yourself
when you stepped out of bounds
in body, in mind.
How you took them to heart
as alone in your bed
you lay in the quiet.
You stared at your fear,
your eyes searched the night.
Your mind search your soul —
evidence — why
examination — am I
condemnation — vilify
queer — cry
— such were your tears, pressed into your pillow.
Such were your muffled sobs — grief of damnation
Be honest — which of you chose it?
Which of you when first you learned
you were queer — faggot! lezzie! homo! —
accepted that label with joy — celebration?
Which of you did not deny it?
Which of us did not seek to hide it?
Some hide it still — some are yet there.
Who knows silence better than we?
How we take it to heart.
Searching, seeking the root of our anguish —
how many of our sisters, our brothers
swallowed some pills, or took a mighty leap
to lie broken and crushed on the pavement?
How many of us climbed into a bottle
or crucified ourselves on a needle
or lost ourselves in an endless tangle
with the bodies of others such as we?
ecstasy! of orgasm — but after,
as we lay together side by side
in the tangle of sheets we wrestled amongst —
we wrestled alone with our dread
in the silent prisons of each heart, each head.
But listen: you’ve heard of the patience of Job?
He was not so patient. Nor should we be.
How many of us looked to heaven to plead —
to shout — which of us demanded —
Who’dja make the bet with this time?
Some bet. A sure thing.
Do you get your omnipotent jollies
from fate — create a creature
who by nature is unable
to adhere to your commands
without lying, without denying
what you created us to be?
I must abandon my integrity
or you abandon me?
Do you laugh to see us wriggle
with predestined misery?
Who then is righteous, who the sinner,
oh Lord God Almighty?
If this be heresy, if I blaspheme,
then teach a clear lesson, Lord God Supreme.
Cut short the suspense. Loose your thunderbolt.
Fry me where I stand and end my revolt.
Till then, this gospel I give:
curse God — and live.
But no — we curse not God,
but this false image of God they’ve made:
a warped, twisted abridgment
stuffed into a book, a Sunday sermon,
their cramped and distorted souls.
Can God be contracted —
compressed — compacted —
and still be God? Can you
hold in the palm of your hand
the width of the cold winter sky? Can you
forge the evening star into a ring
to adorn your little finger? Can you
play the harp of the northern lights? —
each touch of God’s fingers recolors the strings
in hues none of us has imagined.
Can you hide the summer sun
under a bushel basket? — Listen:
blind can lead blind, but the sun will still shine.
God cannot be enclosed in a book
or in the miser’s soul
which portions out justice in dribbles
and rations out love in crumbs,
then wonders why we starve.
God is too wide and vast and long
and knows us for what we are
as is known the sky, the river, the rocks,
as is knows each creature that breathes.
God is too wide, too vast, too long
and knows us as we are.
[December 29, 1992]
About this poem
I wrote this poem in December 1992 in response to the lies and bigotry propounded by Rev. Prevo and like-minded preachers during the 1992-1993 battle inside and outside the Anchorage Assembly chambers over the same issue that faces us today: whether lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people in Anchorage will be afforded equal protection under the law from discrimination on the basis of a fundamental part of our fabric as human beings: our sexual orientations and gender identities. I posted it on my own blog Henkimaa in the run-up to the the summer-long battle in Anchorage over AO-64; and I’ve performed it on numerous occasions.
It goes like this: call it your Self, or call it your Integrity — either way, it’s like a pole at the center of you, that you can grab onto in a high wind; or it’s an axis like the Earth’s axis, around which you spin. If you keep a firm grip on that pole at the center of you, through even the worst storm, you’ll know where you are. You’ll know who you are.
It won’t keep the bad stuff from hurting you. But if you let go of it, you’re lost. You’ll go kiting off into that storm, and you’ll be a long time finding yourself again, if ever you do. And that hurts a lot worse.
Whatever the results of the April 3 election may be, whatever your religious beliefs or lack of beliefs may be, whatever lies are told about you by the likes of Minnery & Prevo, whatever demands are made even by the people you most love — your family, your friends: know you you are. Love who you are. Live with the integrity of self with which you were born into this world.
Thanks always to Stephen Mitchell, whose translation of The Book of Job helped me to find the words back in 1992.
Vote Yes on 5.
And welcome to Bent Alaska’s celebration of National Poetry Month.Tags: equality, Jerry Prevo, Jim Minnery, National Poetry Month, poem, Proposition 5 Anchorage Equal Rights Initiative (2011-2012)