Boy at Edge of Woods

Hello Mr. Magazine - - NEWS - Francisco is an ed­i­to­rial as­sis­tant for Hello Mr., us­ing his free time to cook, travel, fin­ish a po­etry man­u­script, write a novel, and of course, In­sta­gram. For feel­ings and cool life tips, follow him @fran­squishco.

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.

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