The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar

One thing pursuing a writing MFA has taught me is that poetry is great. A large part of the process includes reading poetry, workshopping poetry, and generally engaging with a writing form that many see as silly and complicated when, really, it’s basically music on a page.

I want more of it. I want to try my hand at it. I don’t know where to begin, particularly as I’ve been burned by obnoxious bullshit. How do I mitigate bullshit like that? How does one sift the shit from the beautiful waters of poetry? Something to think about.

One great resource is The Poetry Foundation where I happened upon queer POC poet Danez Smith, someone I hadn’t heard of but am very much a fan of now. Their poetry explores identity with a very contemporary, the sort that is absolutely magical instead of gratingly “poetic.” As The New Yorker says, Smith uses “a wild and unpredictable instrument” to create the “deeply literary.” They’re so wonderful, poems that we need today.

One that I loved and resonated with me was “The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar,” a story of the intoxication of the freedom to be gay and the confusion of placing this gay fantasy life within the realm of real life, a place where we minorities often balance our many consciousnesses. It is, in many ways, a prayer of hope for the personal and the population’s past, present, and future.

You can find the poem below. Praise be the poet. (And please note that my website effed up the proper ragging and visual cadence of the poem: don’t judge the poem for that but judge my site.)

The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar
this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we.
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to pray to.
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order
a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just.
he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth necessary.
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the bridge, the length
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country i am of.
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in.
i want my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it damn good
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can taste.

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