Boy at Edge of Woods
After his gasp and god damn, after his zipper closes its teeth, his tongue leaves its shadows, leaves me alone to pick pine needles from my hair, to brush brown leaves off my shirt as blades of light hang from the trees, as I relearn my legs, mudstained knees, and walk back to my burning house.
It’s too easy to assume that something like “Boy at Edge of Woods” is reparative, or deeply personal. It’s easy to assume that Boy is Saeed, and we’re reading something of a journal entry. But Saeed’s poems breach the personal.
“It’s not cathartic. Writing is almost never cathartic for me,” says Saeed. “Poetry is a machine. They’re machines made out of images and sounds. And so for me, poems are machines that allow me to work through ideas. I wanted to examine all of the facets of the word ‘boy’ in America. It has racial undertones. It’s pointing to childhood. It’s pointing to the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s about masculinity. It has sexual connotations. It’s just so much.”
“I think the poems that I always gravitated to are the poems that are not interested in being my friend. And I’m not excited about writing poems that are your friend. I like mean poems. I like mean characters. I like difficult characters and difficult voices. I like narrators you can’t totally trust.”
Saeed writes characters that are vulnerable, but in that, they become extremely dangerous, like wounded animals. Or, as he describes it, like the way a drowning victim can accidentally drown the person trying to save them.
No place is going to be safe until you, yourself, are safe. When you’re a queer kid in the suburbs or wherever you are, you may feel like you’re the only one. You may feel like the refuge for a gay boy is in a place where there’s a subway and a gay bar and a great number more of you. To Saeed, this is 100 percent untrue. It is something that Boy slowly realizes. It’s something boys might never realize.
So then what is the solution? Boys everywhere are lost, alone, abused, confused much like how Boy is in this book. To Saeed, Boy is the worstcase-scenario, yet exists in a reality that he himself grew up in. The key to freeing Boy is not moving to New York. It’s not necessarily even in finding a community. It’s in the mere acknowledgment of one’s existence. A recognition from another that says to a boy, with words or art, that he is not alone in this life, much like the reflection we find in Prelude to Bruise.
“There is something so unspeakably important about the moment you see your life reflected on the page, as a reader. It changes the temperature. It changes the color in the sky. I think everyone deserves that. It’s why I wanted this book to exist.”
Wherever you are–Sydney or Chattanooga–there are duties you have as a gay man and as a member of a community. According to Saeed, even if there is no refuge, having a mentor–even just a conversant–is what creates that wholeness people think only exists in the world’s gay paradises.
“There are some fierce queens in Ohio. There are some fierce queens in Kansas, you know?”
We lose empathy for people who aren’t as far along as us. You can easily forget how hard it is and how much work all of this is, says Saeed. People who are further along in the game have to stop rolling our eyes at those who are not as “Evolved.”
“Taking care of people when you really don’t have to. That’s an act that I take very seriously in my own life now. Trying to look out for younger guys.” He pauses for a second. “And giving a damn about younger people beyond wanting to sleep with them.” Acknowledge them. Not everyone is going to make it to New York or LA, and they shouldn’t have to make it there in order to be happy or to be fully realized people.
“There’s no refuge. Maybe the only refuge is yourself,” says Saeed.
"Closet of Red," "Boy at Edge of Woods," and "Body & Kentucky Bourbon” are reprinted with permission from Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press, 2014). Copyright © 2014 Saeed Jones.