Monday, July 27, 2009

Whitman Sutra (Tantrayana)

I sing the body physical
    shaping my cells out of the orgasm of creation
    pulling DNA-rapt bones around me like a Navajo blanket
    wrapping myself in the illusion of matter, eternally foaming
    living light wrapped in the thunder weave and quantum sea
I sing the body mental
    never separate from the physical
    but abstracted and far too full of myself
    able to build whole worlds but
    contradicting myself with hidden truths divisive
    double-willed, double-walled
I sing the body emotional
    pulling me into lust and action
    towards you, my infinite row of loves
    those I have loved, those I love, those I will love
    loving the women in the men and the men in the women
    equal balancing, newly incarnate,
    hope-fear under the rose
I sing the body spiritual
    the angel-beast ceaselessly climbing into the light
    pulling me onto then off of paths of desire
    divining the twin pulls of head, hand, and heart
    leading me with glimpses to find the good red road
I sing the body erotic
    fingers button-pushing energetic nerves of activation
self-touched and touching, tickles of sweat down ribs
    joineries of lips, hands, thighs, breasts, and fevered loins
    the whole skin come alive at once and tingling
    flushed from eartips to tarsals, brown aureoles red aflame
I sing the electric body
    grown hard and handsome in the cyberlight—
    if the body is to be transcended, let it be
    in the way of ecstatic spirit, not of ascetic cybergnosis,
    the avant-garde agnostic denial and scourging of the meat
no, no, yes I will yes, I sing the body sexual
    the pulls of semen and milk
    every flavor of sweat and secretion, febrile and erotic
    fevered and glowing in the inner eye
I sing the sensual sexual refrain proclaimed by the Old Body Poet
the first electric god, who if he’d had a guitar
    could have out-ecstasied Jimi and all the rest
I proclaim the body sensual
    all girls and boys of every age filled
        with adolescent hormone surge
    all pornographic incandescent illicit pleasures
        those lovely mergings of fluids
        minglings of desire and intent so dangerous
        to the stability of the State
    all engagements and weddings of every gender
    all wedding rings and love rings and sex-rings
    all starving naked poets drooling toothless and drunken
        over pretty boys and girls unclothed in summer’s heat
    all old ones grown wise as crones, and still in love
I proclaim the poetry of the body
    poetry of bodies aflame with desire
    poetry of self-loving masturbation
    poetry of coupling and uncoupling and tripling polyamory
        until the numbers rise past count
    poetry of touching yourself and touching each other
        in loving touch, gentle and tough and desirous
    all the poets of lust and innocence and masturbation
I sing the fulfilling promise of the timeless ecstasy of orgasm
    merging of sperm and saliva and vaginal pomegranate juice
I sing the forever moment
    encapsulated in chemical explosions in nerves and brains and groins
    involuntary spasm twitch of structural muscle and bone
    surge of vibrant juices
    tingles in belly and behind the knees
I sing the ultimate man, the ultimate woman,
    the compleat tumescent naked boy, the uncensored uncensured girl
    the men and women and children who freely exchange their very beings
        trading couplings and loving experiments
        like bees encircling their goddess-queen,
        the eyes of rising sunflowers
I sing all of myself and all of you
    joining in one quivering sexual thrill
    worldwide simultaneous orgasm that never falls off the crest
    exploding forever in lifelove
        (and Shiva dances in the flames:
        the world, the world’s on fire)
    resetting itself to one with every tick of tiniest quantum clock
    always on, even as everything flickers a billion times
        in and out of existence as I sing
I sing the man-woman of many parts and all time
    being and oneness rising from nothing
    decaying into glowing compost of spacetime
    bio-luminescent and strangely attractive
I sing the divine body
    perfect form of the lover
    who waits at top of stairs with glowing eyes
    and dissolves into diamond seawater sparkles at our touch
I sing every moment of absolute sexual fulfillment
    from hugest singing whale to oldest sun-loving lichen
    every million years or so adding a new verse to the eternal song
        a new chorus of voices rising into light
    coming round and round to the chanted refrain
    uncountable voices crying every moment in ecstatic climax release
I sing the music that never dies, that cannot die
    love of men and the love of women
    love of every moment for every location
    mutual masturbation of exploding spacetime
    the big bang, continuously created universal orgasm
I sing the coming and becoming
I sing the one that is every one
I sing the word that is every word
I sing the one song that is every song
I sing the creator seeing itself through the eye of the created
I sing every love-drunken poet who ever lived
    to proclaim the frantic lovemaking
    of one universe endlessly permeating itself
    penetrating and receiving in timeless mutual bliss
I sing every lover, every boy and girl, every girl and boy,
    and every boy and boy, every girl and girl
    and every boy girl boy, every girl boy girl
everyone and everything
I sing that I am you, that I am myself
I sing that I am everything and everything is me
I am singing to you, you are chanting back to me
    words of union and respect
    cadences of desire and sustaining love
    one final chord of resolution in each other’s arms
we sing the dissolving oneness of the divided
    yin melting into yang, yang melting into yin
    oneness that underlies all twoness
    union with the Beloved
we sing the mutual interpenetration of bodies
    and of hearts and minds
we sing each other into being
    coming together, two made into one
I sing you and you sing me
we sing each other into being
    we sing the body physical
    we sing the body mental
    we sing the body emotional
    we sing the body spiritual
    we sing the body erotic
we sing the body electric
we sing the body electric
    the Old Gay Poet, birds nestled with love in his beard,
    was right, was right, was always right
we sing the body electric

This poem was originally written in 1995, as one of the Sutras. It was the first of three poems that I've written, so far, to and for Walt Whitman, icon and poet and grandfather. Published here and now in slightly revised form, summer 2009. (©2009 AP Durkee)

Also in this series:

Ode to Walt Whitman (2008)

Walt Whitman's Summer Wander Across North America (2009)

The Ode to Walt Whitman is also part of a series of Odes I am writing for and about queer poets have mattered to my thinking and writing.

Brief Lives Sutra (Tantrayana)


Nothing casual about it.
You arrived so unexpectedly, it had
to have been planned.

So I had you for a day,
part of a day and a night,
though it seemed much more.

In sleep a beast whose breathing
was rough and tender,
probably from smoking;
I was content, enveloped in
the warming touch of your skin.

Shall I be jealous of a dog? But she’s
your best friend, the only one you really trust,
who never leaves your side.
Deep brown spaniel eyes, dark and ageless,
watch me with dismissal: I’m not you.
Your marriage of eyes and walking
has preserved you best: so be it.
She has you forever. If I only have you
for a day, that’s enough.


Comfortably naked after showering, after
a morning of sweaty woods work,
plagued by flies and biting sun.
I didn’t want to get dressed.
Room enough in the shower for two.
He wanted to watch everyone bathe,
but had to coaxed out of his clothes.

Walking nude down to the lake,
half-hard, I hid myself with my sarong
in front, nothing behind.
Boots and shaman necklaces enough to wear.

The blue sky, the endless water,
spring-clear and icy. Loons called all morning, lost.
Not only the body naked.

Lying on my back on the raft, sunlight, and cool breeze.
He said, “May I?” and I said,
“Feel free.” And before I knew what,
his lips encircled my cock, worshipful.
Instant electric pulse through the entire body,
back arched on the wood of the raft,
warm and soft-sliding little noises.
Imagine my surprise.

I touched his hips and cock and chest
and the obstetric line hatcheting his groin
below full balls.
His cock bigger than mine,
but he kept telling me how much
he loved mine.
Kissing nipples till I came.

Came everywhere, endlessly,
in the heat and sun,
on the floating raft by the marsh grass
and rocks. “Wow, that was a big load,
you must have been saving it for a long time.”
Imagine his surprise.

To be pursued, surprised, caught
and released. I am God’s fish,
the favorite catch of the day.

Talking in the tingle of afterwards,
kissing. The smoothest skin in any state,
the roundest shoulder, the firmest breast.

Fulfillment of a prescient wish:
to make love naked by the water
in the sun in the woods naked
and alone and alive the whole world vibrating.
Now the sky bells, blue ringing.
Worth a little sunburn.

In the cool cabin light he says:
“I can’t wait till tonight,”
and kisses me.
Who is the fish? Who is the fisherman?
The Beloved caught up in the catching,
hooked by hooking.
I have waited so very long.

Nothing casual about it.
You arrived so unexpectedly, it had
to have been planned.


the effeminist, androgynous torso
soft still very male
in the as yet unheard echo
bonfire crackling under stars as they turn
deer cries, owls, songs of tamarack
needles crying out as they cast free and plummet

narrow-hipped Nataraj
dancing in and out of nearness
leaping the bonfire nude
an instant before dry balsam explodes
missed searing his scrotum
by microseconds

but I catch him on film
not a repose between dances
rather a stillpoint amidst turnings
a fast enough shutter
to freeze an illusion of stillness
caught outside time’s black flow


the loons call throughout the night
surrounding your senses with flight and benediction

in the coldest hours I want to snuggle
close to your back, breathe your sweat,
burrow deep inside your heart,
remind myself of existence

sleep comes fitfully: how many years
sleeping alone, naked, comfortless?

even in the darkness I see your whitened skin
the dark hair that so contrasts
even in the dark, you lighten the tent

beeswax candles flicked the aureoles of your breast
as head back, kneeling above me, you came
I worship at the shrine of your semen
climbing a thin white rope towards god


in the dark mustiness of the cabin noon,
pants down around my ankles,
you sucking my cock,
the slam of the screen door
as someone comes in.
odd that it doesn’t bother me
to be caught like this.
but it’s just my brother,
he smiles and waves,
grabs the ash bucket and goes.
back to business.

sleeping in the cold night tent,
bodies pressed together for warmth.
it had been hot in here earlier,
lit by one candles and two bodies.
he sleeps deep and long,
not noticing or not minding
when I touch his torso
in the middle night,
wondering if all this is real.
(which is the dream? butterfly or sex?)
he snores in stages, four growly honks
a ruminating grizzly
then quiet for awhile.

and before it fades to black,
a few brief scrawled letters
then back to the long listening:

one shoulder naked
in northern lights
sun aurora sentinel moon
shoulder breast and body
glowing by firelight moonlight candlelight
skywheel spinning behind your head
halo of stars

before it fades


Monday, July 20, 2009

Gluten-Free Baking

Since I had to go gluten-free a year and a half ago, I've been learning to bake all over again. I've actually enjoyed myself a lot, learning to use new materials, new kinds of flour, new kinds of techniques and blends. I've viewed this as a fun project, not as a hardship.

When my friends were visiting from out of town, we had some fun experimenting with baking. We made a key lime pie from fresh key limes. We made a few other projects, for fun. I've found a gluten-free pancake and waffle mix that I really like, that makes great waffles. I found my mother's 1970s Oster waffle-maker when I was emptying out my parents' house. It was buried in the back of a cupboard in the kitchen. I doubt anyone had seen or used it in years. I've been enjoying making waffles periodically ever since.

A few days ago, then, we made scones. I used the basic scone recipe from that classic of cooking, The Joy of Cooking, which I have three different editions of, from three different decades. It's fun to have an old edition of Joy, as it contains recipes dropped later on.

We made scones with white chocolate chips and blueberries, following the basic recipe. The result was fabulous. Delicious, tasty, and perfect.

One of the tricks of doing gluten-free baking is that, obviously, you have to find another binding agent for the flours, since wheat gluten is not possible. I use xantham gum, and I also use an egg yolk.

From the egg whites left over from the key lime pie, we also experimented with making maple meringue cookies. That was less successful, and we undercooked them. But it was an experiment, and although they were soft and didn't shape up right, they were delicious.

But I'm real proud of the scones. They were fantastic.

Dinner With Friends

Recently I hosted a big dinner party at home, with friends visiting from out of town. I served on the redwood table on the back porch. I had planned the meal for a few days beforehand, and done shopping and preparations. Afterwards, I was really tired, but it was a good dinner. The extra glass of wine, sitting on the porch, as the dusk surrounded the house after folks had left, was soothing.

Since I had to change my diet and go gluten-free a year and a half ago, I have been learning to bake all over again. A lot of the cuisines I have been cooking and eating for years were already virtually gluten-free—a lot of Asian cuisines use rice rather than wheat products as a matter of course—and others have been not hard to modify—I love Italian, and am a major user of Marcella Hazan's recipes, especially her classic book Essentials of Italian Cooking.

For this dinner, I had envisioned and invented a sort of Italian pan-roasted chicken variation. I cut chicken breasts the long way and pan-roasted the strips on the stove in my largest pan, lightly covering them with lemon juice, minced garlic, and a pinch of rosemary. I turned the strips a couple of times, and let them roast on the stove for about 25 minutes on low-medium heat. Then, for the last two minutes of cooking, I glazed the chicken with a reduced-orange glaze I’d made the night before—the juices of two oranges, simmered slowly on low heat for about two hours, with a pinch of tarragon—sprinkled them with more minced garlic flakes, and broiled them for two minutes to brown the glaze. I also dribbled small chunks of Boursin cheese on top of the chicken, which added another spot of flavor; as the cheese melted and browned under the broiler, and the orange glaze browned, the dish was all done.

The chicken was then served on a platter, on a bed of rinsed spinach. The heat from the chicken wilted the spinach just a little bit. The orange glaze wasn’t at all sweet, but tart and citrus, and the pinch of tarragon added a complementary savory flavor. The only flaw in this recipe was that the chicken was the tiniest bit dry; I think next time I make this, more of the juice from the pan-roasting phase needs to follow the chicken into the broiler, to keep it moist. But the flavor was terrific.

I served the chicken with saffron rice, with raisins in it. Everybody seemed to think the meal was delicious, and the raisin-saffron rice was a good complement. I only used just a tiny amount of saffron, so it didn’t color the rice much, but did a hint of flavor to it.

I served the meal with a favorite pinot grigio from Tuscany.

I had seen this meal in my mind’s eye a few days before, but I did look up pan-roasted chicken in Marcella Hazan’s cookbook, just to make sure about timings and flavors.

For dessert, my former neighbor J. made a black raspberry silk pie in a gluten-free pie shell, from berries she’d picked from her garden around his house. We had that with Cool Whip on top. I had made a key lime pie, too, only this time I had gotten a bag full of key limes from Mexico; we juiced about 30 of the little limes at great personal peril to make the pie. It takes about a cup of juice for a big pie—those gluten-free pie shells are about double the size of the store-bought regular pie shells, so they hold a double recipe. We made a but more juice then needed, so the pie came out extra-tart, which was wonderful. I’ll probably make key lime pies most of ten from the store-bought juice that’s really good (Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice), but this was a good experiment, and a good result.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Flag Interlude

I am a patriot: I believe in the values upon which my country was founded, and by which it tries to live. It's unfashionable in intellectual, educated, artistic circles to be a patriot; yet I am one. I share many of the ideals and values stated by the Founders of our country, and the Framers of its Constitution. I also believe, 233 years after the Declaration of Independence was written, that times and culture have changed, and we must evolve with the changes, even as we hold to the ideals and positive values that the Founders put forth in their writings.

I am not a thoughtless, soundbyte-wielding, emotional-button-pushing patriot: if I criticize my country, it's when it hasn't lived up to its own oft-stated values and ideals, when we haven't done the best we could do, or enacted the beliefs we stand for. Few things raise my ire faster than blatant hypocrisy, or double-standards that people employ to avoid walking their talk. I believe that a person must live their beliefs, adhere to their principles, and enact their ideas in their lives, by example, not by words alone.

I believe in healthy dissent, and in political dialogue. In my lifetime, I've been a LGBT rights activist, an anti-war activist, and an environmental activist. I've marched in the streets, I've been in a riot or two, I've practiced civil disobedience en masse. I believe that the political and economic powers do not often have the best wishes of the nation or its people in mind, and must be always monitored and spoken to. I've spoken out when called to by circumstances, outrage and events.

Poet and former AIM activist John Trudell once said, "Don't trust anyone who isn't angry." What he meant was: complacency is death; silence is death; if you are not outraged by world events, you are either enlightened or complicit. If you are not stirred by the suffering of others, if you are not moved to compassionate action, be it quiet and invisible or public and vocal, you leave behind your own humanity.

When Patrick Henry said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," what he meant that the people must always be on the alert against those forces who would erode our liberties in the name of their own power, especially when those they cloak themselves in the flag, or in religion, or in the name of a greater security. It is easy for the government, and the corporations who attempt to control it, to manipulate the truth only when those governed remain silent. So it's our duty to speak out, when we see injustice and the erosion of our civil rights as people. Benjamin Franklin, another of the Founders, said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In these political sentiments I am very much a Jeffersonian: Jeffersonians believe that liberty is the quintessence of life, and government is a necessary evil. Jefferson believed that government must be kept on the defensive at all times—something our contemporary media seems to have forgotten. Jefferson believed that the people have not only a natural right to withdraw consent from their social contract, they in fact they have a duty to periodically shake up government to remind their governors that they serve at the pleasure of the people, and not otherwise. Jefferson believed that liberty is an ideal that must always be strived for, must always be defended, and must be reinforced through necessary dissent. Politically, I am and always have been, a Jeffersonian. Who I vote for in any given election is nobody's damn business; but be assured that I do vote, that I do actively participate in our Jeffersonian democracy.

One of the central values upon which my country was built is that diversity of opinion is to be respected, and disputes are to be resolved by dialogue and discussion. I believe that it is sometimes necessary to dissent from the majority, if one believes strongly. I believe that the dynamic tension of argued values is what moves us forward towards making the world a finer place in which to live. I believe that many of my fellow citizens say hateful and cowardly things and use the principle of free speech as a shield to hide behind when they speak; but while I might hate what you say, and not like you for saying it, I will defend to the death your right to say it. Either speech is free or it isn't: either we can all speak our minds freely, without suffering retribution, or we cannot.

My values do not require others to share them. I do not believe that everyone must believe or think the same as I do. I appreciate diversity. I dislike enforced conformity.

Therefore I am not a super-patriot; I do not believe in those jingoistic "my country right or wrong" or "love it or leave it" sentiments. Super-patriotism is designed to shut down disagreement and dissent. It intends to enforce conformity. It is one of the most thoughtlessly tribal of discourses. It is often intolerance and hate concealing itself behind patriotism. Nationalistic jingoism is one of the most venal of political stances, because it allows no tolerance for dissent or debate. It is anti-Jeffersonian in its claim to be in support of liberty while actively seeking to suppress dissent. It is tyrannical at its root, and it reviles thoughtful consideration of political issues from multiple viewpoints. Jingoistic patriotism is proudly anti-intellectual, proudly rightist, and openly contemptuous of civil political discourse.

I am a patriot because I believe in the values for which my country stands. I am not a super-patriot, because I don't believe that everyone has to share our values, or that we need to impose them upon others. I believe in peaceful coexistence, diversity, and dialogue between those of good intent and with differing opinion.

I do not make the stupid mistake of thinking that the symbol is the real thing. I never confuse the symbol with what it represents. I might appreciate the beauty of the symbol, but I do not reify the symbol into something sacred in its own rite, therefore conflating the symbol with what it represents. When you mistake the symbol for what it represents, it's all too easy to focus on caring for the symbol and entirely neglecting, or even forgetting about, what the symbol represents.

Our national flag stands for liberty and freedom, for diversity within unity, and for equality among all those who adopt the values of the nation for which the flag is an icon. The flag is a visual, symbolic locus of values and ideals. The Stars & Stripes are meant to wave boldly in the face of tyranny, and proclaim liberty; they are not meant to be sacred in themselves. Those who would make of the flag an untouchable, unchangeable, inflexible icon that may not be commented upon nor desecrated have already forgotten the ideals of liberty and free speech that the flag represents. They impose tyranny in the name of liberty, and have no true understanding of the meaning of liberty.

The lovely annual custom in my small Midwestern town is to raise numerous flags on Memorial Day at the local veteran's cemetery, and leave them raised through the Fourth of July holiday. The lawn there is covered with small flags at every graveside, and the summer trees are filled with the light rippling off fifty large flags on tall poles. There is also one tall on a yet higher pole at one end of the cemetery, amidst all the other flags, circled by a small garden, with benches for quiet sitting and contemplation. It's a quiet, lovely place to sit and remember, and give back thoughts of love, honor, sacrifice, and thanks.

I appreciate and like this annual custom. I believe we ought to honor our veterans, living as well as dead, and I honor their sacrifices. And I also think all the flags moving in the breeze are majestically beautiful, purely as living visual art. I am the opposite of a nationalist jingoistic flag-waving super-patriot; and I have always thought the US flag was very beautiful, both as a symbol and as a piece of inspired graphic design. Inspired is the exact word. From Betsy Ross' original design through to the present day, several of the US flags that have been designed and flown are elegant, simple, iconic, beautiful works of art. Few national flags have been so thoughtfully, even archetypally, designed and flown. I admit to some national bias in this aesthetic judgment, yet I also think it's a valid artistic judgment.

This year at my new home I chose to follow my town's custom, and raised a flag, on the garage wall at the front of my home, on Memorial Day. I intend to leave my flag up through the Fourth of July, following the local custom.

I had to buy a new flag, even though I had kept my late father's old flag. The mounting brackets on the wall had disintegrated from weather and age, and so to buy a new mounting bracket, I had to buy a new pole, and a new lightweight flag as well, as a combined kit. My father's flag, which I have folded carefully to store, is a large, heavy, all-cotton flag; it's far too heavy for the new mounting bracket.

I am the opposite of a flag worshipping, jingoistic patriot. I say it again because it's important to distance oneself from the worst forms of nationalism. I have made political protest art incorporating the flag. I love the image of the flag but I do not confuse it with what it is meant to symbolize. I have used the flag's image in satirical art, in collages, in processed photographs, and in other ways. In many ways I remain a political radical who understands the (psychological, spiritual) power of symbols: to evoke, to incite, to inspire. I've participated in anti-war protests. I've had close friends who were Vietnam veterans, who flew the flag upside down, the classic distress signal, all during the first Gulf War. I sympathize with their feelings, their fears, their hopes, their intentions.

Yet I was moved, when I raised my new flag, to stand at attention and give my best imitation of a good Marine salute. I've never done anything like that before. Ever. I'm not military, or ex-military and never have been; although an uncle I was close to was in the Navy in WW II. I respect the Warriors I have known who are ex-military. (And I have dated ex-military; a long weird story for another time.) I have nothing but contempt for the totalitarian impulse in our country to ban flag-burning as political protest; I will always come down on the "free speech" side of that argument. Yet I was moved to salute the flag, when I put it up on Memorial Day. I respect the symbol, and what it stands for. I understand the emotional power the symbol carries. I care deeply for my country, even if some folks have called me subversive and un-American at times for expressing opinions in my art that are in opposition to the mainstream. No one was more surprised than I, that I might stand and salute the symbol. I don't always know why I do what I do: I do know, however, with all my heart and intuition, when something is the right thing to do. As I've grown older I no longer prevent myself from doing the right thing even if it's the strange or embarrassing thing. I've come to trust my feelings, and my intuition, and the field from which they arise.

So, I stood there under the lip of the overhang in front my garage, stood at attention to the best of my ability, and saluted the flag. I don't know why, and I don't need to know why; and neither, I believe, do you.