Flesh of Children Carnival

Church and the NRA

Not much difference that I can see,

It’s a matter of degree. 

Pedophilia is known to be

Hidden by The Holy See.

Children, abused, need therapy.

 

Unfortunately, this other trauma 

Compounds our current youthful drama:

The Gatling Gun deaths of lovers, 

Sisters, brothers,

And Best Friends Forever; 

Sadly, 

Forever is not as long as expected.

Violence tethers schoolhouse safety 

to automatically available 

weaponry.

 

Have we, 

Through these student’s measures,

Finally escaped the pressures 

Of those NRA confessors?

The bullies of gun bureaucracies 

Are losing the allegiance of common decencies.

Their PR advocates – cranky old gents

and pretty spokesmodels are the Bishops and Cardinals

sweeping violent abuse into some other parish.

Ignore that child’s gaping, giant wound, 

this is not the time to discuss such matters.’

 

Articulate children – the rifleman’s fear above all –

Have marched in DC, and made the Clarion call.

Counter student dissent as a ‘Carnival? 

Threaten with carnage, so kids fears are fed.

This carnivorous language chews into student’s heads

Recollected images of flesh so red,

Of the BFF who’s been shot dead;

More fear of the boogey man, 

The pedophile priest, 

The flesh of children carnival upon which adults feast. 

 

The adult world’s full of bureaucracies,

That force Alter boys down to their knees.

A class sweats for hours in cramped closets

imagining awful, fearful horrors

of those other kids, bleeding in the corridors. 

 

But David Hogg is standing up,

And so is Ms Tarr

Young Mr. Wind gives a good speech

and Emma González is tumultuously silent.

They impress us with capacities

We’d hope to see in grown-ups, please?

 

Adults, the time has come

To let the children guide us.

We’ve lost our own morality,

It is gone in church and state.

We taught them how to do it wrong, 

They’ve learned from our mistake,

It’s why they’re strong enough to build 

New, youthful, rectitudes. 

Virtues, fearless, marched that day

 Told truth to failures, now lead the way.

 

Copyright Bill O’Donnell 2018

odgraphix@icloud.com

Messin’ with our Metaphor

Neither in the closet, nor coming out have the same meaning as they did when I was a child. I’m not ancient (yet), but the use of a closet as something to come out of really didn’t make an appearance in the language until the late 1960s. A closet was either a small room where clothes and things were kept or a small, cell-like room where a monk might live. It did not mean an LGBTQ person’s sheltering place until gays started looking for a metaphor to describe their situation. Closets seemed to be the perfect metaphor of a gay person protecting certain truths behind a door, but in plain sight next to costumes, clothing, and other personal affectations that are stored waiting to be used for whatever purpose required.

My father had a rifle from his younger days when hunting was a common thing for kids in his rural community. I never saw him use it. He kept it in his closet, disassembled, with parts in different shoe boxes. We kids were fascinated by the non-functioning wooden stock, trigger and dull metal barrel. The parent’s closet was full of fascinating items of personal memorabilia and so, a place of curiosity for the kids. The closet was in my parent’s bedroom on the second floor of an elaborate Victorian mansion that was being used as a Funeral Home on the first floor. Their closet was also connected to an adjacent closet for the children’s room so it was really a hallway that stored stuff. This made it tough for the parents to keep non-kid stuff like guns hidden.

My Grandparents used the first floor of their Edwardian mansion in the neighboring city as a home where the upper floors were divided up into apartments available for rent.  That place had all kinds of secret passageways, hidden staircases and secret rooms. Many of the closets were old servant-stairways to the upper floors no longer needed, and blocked off with plywood walls.

Growing up in those two environments shaped my concept of what a closet was as well as what a home is. A home is a place of business that respects other folk’s privacy while they intrude on your own privacy. Once the third kid was born it became impossible to keep all three of us quiet, so we moved out of the Funeral Home and into a normal residential neighborhood house where I had my own room and my first normal closet ever. It was boring in contrast, but private.

The concept of gays ‘coming out’ of a ‘closet’ had evolved into general usage at about the time I reached puberty in the 60s. Mart Crowley’s 1967 play Boys in the Band seemed to be the crossover point from sub-cultural reference to more common usage in the population at large. So, I don’t know when I first heard of it, but I stayed in mine until 1975. My concept of closet was almost surreal, it included: passageways, staircase, multiple exits, a path to something unknown, and temporary obstructions of something that continues. It was a steep staircase leading to a temporary partition. No matter what shape the closet took it was stifling, but I knew I could get out one way or another.

Nowadays, Olympic LGBTQ athletes make big news by coming out and refusing to talk with Mike Pence. While at the same time the phrase is no longer exclusive to the gay community. It has unfortunately grown to encompass any hidden behaviors. Look at all the spousal abuse perpetrators in Trump’s administration; hell, look at Trump! Right-wing moralists are the ones defending those poor abusers who are forced out of their self-imposed closets-of-shame against their will. These are indignant voices defending those hard working Harvard-educated lawyers who have been accused of beating their wives with photos and restraining orders attached as proof. What they really need is a high ranking evangelical to sell them a mulligan like Trump got. Talk about revenue stream!

A skeleton in the closet refers to an embarrassing fact that one prefers to keep secret in order to maintain a level of credibility. We all have them. They represent the past and don’t involve the current actions of an individual the way existence in a closet on a continuing basis does. No one is actively doing anything about the great uncle who shot his big toe off to avoid serving in the army. It is a skeleton in the closet, but has no real daily impact. A skeleton is an embarrassment while actively ‘being’ in a closet addresses shame, a more serious concern.(This paragraph is an update 2/15.)

A closet can be a sanctuary for good people to protect themselves until they are ready to come out. Bad people cower in them to avoid the cost of their crimes. Good people use them for positive growth and finding courage, while those closeted cheaters and abusers know they are bad and use closets to surreptitiously avoid punishment. They are being protected by other cheaters and abusers in our current White House.

Dudes, you’re messin’ with our metaphor! Knock it off.

A Common Cry From Curs

Did your dog ever ask you: “What the hell is going on?” I mean, like on the third day of vacation in a cottage someplace totally different from home. He looks at you with his ‘existential’ face instead of his ‘what’s next’ face; the one with knowing skepticism. The face that says: “You know I will do what ever you want, but could you please just explain all this sand?” “Yeah, and what are crabs, exactly?” “And that big water bowl tastes salty and gives me explosive diarrhea.” “Really, where is our life going and why?”

Faith in love is the most basic element of a relationship. As humans we can use words, language, gestures and intonation to convey all sorts of details and subtleties about love. We expect these techniques to work in all communication but, in some moments, it fails us completely. Our conversations can instantly be reduced to one as simple as between a dog and his master. Coming out can be one of those occasions. Sometimes there is only this answer: “Sorry, doggie, you’ll know it once it happens. Until then trust that I will love and care for you.”

In the time of YouTube and Facebook young folks have a slew of “It Gets Better” and other coming out models to follow. Something like six million people have come out on Facebook alone. In contrast, during the 1970s there were few if any role models for coming out. Each person blazed their own trail blindly. If someone was lucky, they could prepare a plan and have the time and support necessary to execute the plan. Some others were forced out of the closet door unexpectedly, which was harder, and often life-altering in extremely negative ways.  The “it gets worse” side of things is a harsh and un-cool place to be.

One commonality of gay life in the 1970s was the ritual telling of coming out stories. Everybody has one. The stories were a natural point of reference for living in the gay world. I would listen to another guy’s story and think, that’s not so bad, or wow you had it rough! Some stories were so devastating as to make the whole room cry and some were funny and surprising. All of them provided a context for what it meant to live the gay experience.

I was mystified at the stories coming from gay Catholics with their matter-of-fact discussion of abuse by priests. I heard these stories during the years I was getting my MFA in Detroit. The repetition of story after story of what must have been horrible childhoods made me, at first, question the veracity of the stories until I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of priestly experiences. I felt honored, in a sad way, to hear this discussion, as if I were now part of an elite club of secret knowledge. I wasn’t even Catholic and yet I knew the intimate details of what eventually became sensational child abuse scandals thirty years later. Child rape was a way of life in Catholic coming out story after story.  All of this was common knowledge in my circle of Detroit friends. It was almost a joke actually — another aspect of the downtrodden lives of sexual misfits. These gay Catholics seemed to believe they deserved the abuse. It was a contextual standard for the next chapter of a coming out story; insert your priestly experiences here. alterboyssmall

Hearing those stories I could begin to imagine what had happened to Mark Sobota, my eight-year-old, first, best friend who came back from Father Pedantic’s (not the real names) summer camp a different boy than the one who had left. He had been assigned the honor of Father’s ‘favorite’ that summer. Gradually, as I looked back to those awkward memories, a thought became clear: had Mark been raped by this priest? Why, after two weeks at camp, would he reject affection, isolate himself, have a fear of old friends, and act out in anger all the time; it was so unlike him? And, why would he become a priest himself later in life?

A grad-school friend of mine, David, wanted to be a priest very badly and yet, because he would not deny his sexuality, he was excluded. I watched him struggle year after year as other, less-honest gay men were taken into the training program. They had no problem stretching the veracity of their sacred vows. David had integrity while they did not, yet they got the job and he did not. Secrets are required to become a priest? I guess if your duties involve shuffling unveiled pedophiles from parish to parish, secrets might just be an essential requirement for the job.

If your dog can take you on faith alone, while theological bureaucrats require you to lie and even turn away those who are truthful, then you have to wonder who has the better moral code? It makes me want to put on my existential face and ask: “Really, where are our lives going and why?”

 

This is an adaptation of a chapter from Billy’s Moral Adventures, Featuring Serious Emotions Such as Those Brought on by Death, soon to be published. Text copyright © 2016 William W. O’Donnell