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Michael Simms: GUSHER by Christopher Soden

Learning to be oneself and to love oneself is the central narrative in Gusher, a remarkable book about a gay man growing up in Dallas, Texas in the 1970s and 80s.

Gusher by Christopher Soden

Queermojo (A Rebel Satori Imprint)

$14.95

October, 2022

.

Poetry begins in wonder which leads to desire which completes itself in song. Christopher Soden’s poems, often based on a memory of his adolescent sexual awakening, explore the wonder of accepting and realizing his desires. A boy growing up in Dallas, Texas is faced with many challenges, especially if he’s gay. In that culture (which is my culture as well as Soden’s) boys are routinely abused. Soden writes of his neighbor Jimmy “whose father made him/ strip before hitting him.” And his friend Ronnie whose alcoholic mother alternated between stropping him and seducing him. The narrator recalls the horrifying relationship he engaged in with an older boy:

the cold

dread in your gut when Trev showed up

ringing your doorbell, over and over,

determined to deliver the beating

you always knew was coming

.

To protect his sanity in this perverse and hostile culture, the speaker desperately imagines himself a perpetual outsider, a stranger from a far kingdom:

I would not presume to instruct

you on the care of outcasts,

only suggest a country’s values

are reflected in the treatment

of its prisoners. You cannot imagine

how I miss my home.          

                    (My kingdom is far away)

.

Inhabiting this kingdom of the imagination allows the boy to create a world where love is possible. Inspired by his cinematic mentor James Dean, the speaker aspires toward ‘exquisite expression of undistilled/ Dionysian celebration’ and he learns to

…take your life

into your own hands, even if it lasts

only a few moments

                    (The World in a Book of Matches)

.

And in this way, the boy discovers the beauty of desire:

dance the dance that had

always beckoned, aloft finally in the pas de deux

with my poppa-spirit, Animus.

                        (Jockstrap)

.

scrub me

from heel to nape from wattle to taint and behind

my ruddy scruffy jug ears buff me till i squeak

fit me with harness brushed new feathers ready

to taunt the sun

                         (buddy scrub)

.

Christopher Soden is a poet of being and becoming, of rising above guilt, shame, abuse and humiliation to build a life of love and self-acceptance. The title poem of the collection is both a love poem for James Dean and a celebration of the act of coming out as queer:

Gusher

James Dean stepped up and stepped

out early in his voluptuously tragic career,

proclaiming bi-sexual inclinations

to the press in the 1950’s:

“Why go through life with one hand

tied behind your back?” And even if

you never heard that now

notorious quote, it didn’t take Freud

to decode the tenderness he showed

Plato in Rebel Without a Cause

or dangerous need he shared

on the ferris wheel with Abra

in East of Eden. Pissed and despondent.

Defiant fringe-dweller who ached

for other men and women with ferocity, 

equally prone to romance,

or havoc. It wasn’t until the filming

of Giant, though, that he realized

the exquisite expression of undistilled

Dionysian celebration. Irresistible

poison of degeneracy. As Jett Rink,

ranch-hand at The Reata, buttoning

sheepskin coat against the merciless

cold of west Texas, he measures his

plot, walking boot heel to toe, rigging

a primitive wooden tower to house

his insistent, chugging drill. He keeps

vigil to his scrap wood contraption

as if he were a priest in a stone temple.

Eventually, something roiling beneath

layers of rock and fossil, clay and loam

reaches the shaft of his derrick and he

climbs, hoisting himself up and up

till he reaches the crest of that miraculous

conduit, black syrup dense and pitchy

as liquid night. Dean welcomes this

infernal downpour of bliss, stretching

his arms to receive a baptism of careless,

criminal love.


Review copyright 2023 Michael Simms

Poetry copyright 2022 Christopher Soden. All rights reserved.

One comment on “Michael Simms: GUSHER by Christopher Soden

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    January 21, 2023

    Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

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