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Walker within this circle, pause. Although they all died of one cause, Remember how their lives were dense With fine, compacted difference.
Why did you choose to make that particular point? I asked Gunn on my third and final visit. He was back in his jeans and motorcycle boots, only this time, somewhat incongruously, he was wearing a T-shirt that said, AT&T.
Its one of the few things you can say in such a short poem, he replied. I, like many other people, lost an enormous number of friends and acquaintances, including very close friends. And they got cut down by the same thing, but they were all so wonderfully different in themselves.
One of my worst times, he continued, was in August of 1987, when four close friends they didnt even know each other, in different cities died within five weeks. And that was when I wrote a poem called The Missing. A lot of people I know who died of it were early ones, early deaths, and you know what that means: They were sexual explorers, and they were committed to having sex up the asshole.
Did you think you had it?
I assumed rather stoically that I probably had it, but I wasnt going to worry about it until I actually got it. I never even got tested. And Id had all sorts of risky sex, even sharing needles with people, which I had given up doing because I figured it was unhygienic.
Do you have any idea why youve been so lucky?
No. Nobody knows. There may be some people who have some kind of immunity for unknown reasons. Or maybe Ive had safer sex than some people, however thats defined. Certainly since AIDS has been around, Ive been very insistent on safe sex with whoever I was having sex with, because I suppose people might be dishonest about their status.
You make desire seem easy. So it is: Your service perfect freedom to enjoy Fresh limitations. Ive watched you in person Wait for the light and relish the delay Revving the engine up before you spurt Out of the intersection.
(from To Cupid)
As its title suggests, love and sex are to the fore in Boss Cupid, Gunns 10th volume of poetry, published this summer. Its most disturbing poems are five â songs for Jeffrey Dahmer, gruesome and gruesomely persuasive studies in addictive and predatory sex in which Gunn displays a startling imaginative sympathy for a cannibal and murderer. As Gunn presents him, Dahmer was like all of us, only more so. (Oh do not leave me now, begins the first poem, entitled Hitch-hiker. All that I ever wanted is compressed/In your sole body.) But then, the dark side of sex has always been present in Gunns work. As far back as 1954, theres a brief, 12-line poem (La Prisonnière) that reads like an early draft for one of the songs to Dahmer:
Now I will shut you in a box With massive sides and a lid that locks. Only by that I can be sure That you are still mine and mine secure . . .
Not all of Boss Cupid is so grim. There are also poems about Gunns long relationship with Kitay; a tribute to his great friend and fellow poet, the late Robert Duncan; and a poem to Cupid, inspired, Gunn says, by the glimpse of an anonymous motorcyclist during a visit to Los Angeles. In Gunns early work, love was depicted in terms usually reserved for warring parties in the Middle East: Compromise is possible, peace never. But in To Cupid, Gunn seems finally to make peace for real.
The poem begins with a vision of Boss Cupid as a glamorous motorcyclist out of a Cocteau movie a kind of capo di capi of the love racket, sending out his servants on their various erotic assignations: . . . scripts of confinement,/Scripts of displacement, scripts of delay, and scripts/Of more delay. Gunn then examines the script of confinement at the heart of Stendhals great 19th-century novel, The Charterhouse of Parma, in which the hero, Fabrizio, willingly returns to jail so that he can look through his cell window at the jailers daughter he fell in love with when he was locked up there: