Sundance is an angel when he flies

I should have been doing useful work on this holiday weekend, but my posting on Phoebe Anna Traquair led me to revisit some writing I did starting in 1994: a magical realist (and gay gay gay and very sexually explicit) recounting of the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, from Sundance’s point of view. Sundance and Butch, a fiction with interpolated poetry. I’m going to now inflict the poetry on those of you who are willing to brave the subject matter and the very plain language (you’ve been warned) — because Sundance is an Apollo figure of sorts, with some godlike gifts (the ability to fly, healing by the laying on of hands, just knowing things), and of course there’s the name Sundance, with its nod to Apollo the Sun God, and in the couple he’s the fairer, more beautiful one, while Butch is the darker, rougher, more butch (names again!) one, so we have Apollo paired with Bacchus.

Once again, a posting that isn’t really about language.

(I wasn’t aware of an Apollo connection until this morning. Writers aren’t necessarily aware of the possible springs of their work.)

But first, some remarks about the history of the project. As near as I can make out at this distance in time (and my recollection might be inaccurate), it started in early 1994, with postings by Melinda Shore on the newsgroup soc.motss about the sad state of the roads in wintertime in rural Pennsylvania and side remarks on the roads in the altiplanos of Bolivia.

Ah, Bolivia! Calling up (in my mind, anyway) the real-life story of Butch and Sundance (insofar as this can be determined) and the mythologized version in the movie, which I’ve been a great fan of since it came out in 1969. From this germ came the poems and the chapters of a complex story.

My story comes in five sections:

1. Sundance’s life (in rural Pennsylvania) before Butch (both partners’ working-class origins are important throughout the story)

2. The pair in Bolivia as outlaws (in Sundance’s case, as a sexual outlaw as well)

3. In Bolivia with Max (Prince Maximilian)

4. On the way north, through Peru

5. In California, first in Fresno with Sundance’s brother Jase, then in San Francisco (where the couple open a Bolivian restaurant called, of course, Los Altiplanos)

Most of the poems went into section 2, but two of the early ones (here labeled as “interludes”)  belong to the San Francisco part of section 5, and the “epilogue” sacrifice fantasy ended up in section 3.

[I’m pleased with several of the prose pieces and sent them out for publication several times, but with no success. Magical realism is no longer in fashion, nor (in the age of AIDS) is XXX-rated man-man sex in serious writing (it’s dismissable as mere pornography, and dangerously retrograde at that), and to some they look like “just” slash fiction written by fans (in the already crowded Butch/Sundance subgenre). Well, one of them (from section 1, on Sundance’s first kiss from a man) was accepted for a volume of very short (under a thousand words) fiction on kisses, but the book never made it into print.]

On to the poems. They appear here in a font I would not have chosen myself. It’s a result of my taking an easy way out of the problem of getting html to leave blank spaces where I wanted them. (Please please please don’t send me mail telling me that if only I’d use Cascading Style Sheets to link to from the main html text, the problem would be easily solved — once I’d spent the time making sense of complex tutorials on using CSS that are written entirely in Nerdview, as Geoff Pullum calls it on Language Log.)

(1)
Roads 

     Butch laid
         Sundance
     On a road
         In Bolivia,

     The sky so
         Blue
     It hurt their eyes.

     Sundance shook with
     Fear at the height,
     Consoled Butch,
         Remembered
         Roads
     From Pennsylvania.

(2)
Butch Lay in the Bushes, On the Slope

      Butch felt
      For Sundance,
      Yearned to
        Define their
        Forms.
      Sundance slipped
      On down
      The embankment
        And away.

(3) - Interlude
The New Suit

    Butch tried on
    A Brooks Brothers
      Three-piece
    From Sundance.

    Watching him in the
      Mirror
    Sundance saw
    Ivy tendrils curl
    On his lover's
      Brow.

    Butch went out
    For a drink with
      Some guy
      From L.A.
    Who wasn't so working
      Class.

(4) - Interlude
That look

    Butch turned
    To see
    Who whistled

    His nipples got
    Hard under
    The black t-shirt

    The big
    Blond
    Winked
    At Sundance

(5)
Big Sky

     Sundance rested
       His head
     On Butch's chest,
     Burrowed into the
     Smell of his sweat.

     Sundance worried
     There was no
       Name
     For who they were.

     Butch kissed
       Sundance
     Hard on the mouth,
     Named him Lover,
       And
     Sundance became
     Big as the sky above them.

(6)
His orientation

     The first time
     Butch took
     His cock into his
       Mouth
     Sundance exploded
     With delight.

     He did not know
     A man could
     Love another man
       The way
       He did.

(7)
The blacksmith's wife

           Butch coveted
           Her tool belt.

(8)
Out to get us 

   Butch, Sundance whispers,
      They're out
      To get us.
   Butch looks back
      Over his shoulder
      At the high plains
   Hazed with uncertainty.

   Sundance nuzzles the other man's
      Neck, warm on his lips,
      Salt on his tongue, and
   Feels both bodies
      Tense.

   Sundance knows
   Butch will say to
      Ride, ride hard, and
      They will.

   He wonders if his arms will be
      Big enough
   To hold Butch at the end.

(9)
Memory

   Some days, Butch can't recall whether
   He’s the blond one and Sundance the dark,
    Or whether it's the other way around.
    He knows that one of them remembers the snow packed on Pennsylvania roads
    And that one of them is real good at breaking horses
    But which?

    Is it the bonetiredness of the
      Headlong rides?
    Or just the wearing of two men
      Into one
      On the trail?

    These days, Butch feels uneasy
    When Sundance steps away into the
      Tall hot grass
      For a quick piss.

(10)
The liquor talks

    They got drunk
    On some cheap Bolivian stuff
    And Butch got weepy
    And slobbered on Sundance's
      Trail-grubby shirt
    And said he, Butch, had always been
      A man who loved women
    And he, Butch, didn't know how it had somehow
      Come to this
    And then Butch got the hiccoughs
    And begged Sundance not to leave him

    And Sundance stumbled into the
      Tall dark grass,
      Cold and wet,
    And threw up his bitter metallic love.

(11)
The Bolivian Garden

  Unlikely on these stony slopes
  They come upon a field of knee-high pinkish flowers.

  Butch dismounts and
  Hunkers down

  Stares
  Expressionless at
    Shallow wells of the slightest coloring,
    Puckered at their centers.
    Half-closed eyes with a
  Sweetish scent.

  (Butch himself smells
   Strongly of horse
   Stinks of
     Hastily wiped shit
     Work sweat
     Fear sweat

     (Knowing that,
      Supposes Sundance presses
      Against him at night
      Just for the warmth) )

   Butch picks one stem
    Three more
    An armful
  Pulls Sundance off his horse
  Stuffs flowers into his companion's
    Every pocket
  Slips their stems back of his
    Belt, his
    Neckerchief, his
    Bandolier
  Gravely slides a pink bouquet
    Into the barrel of the
      Rifle
      Slung on his back
  Balances one
    Behind his left ear.

  Sundance becomes a garden.

(12)
How it ended for them

  When Sundance died
  The bullets made red poppies fly
  Into dry air, made dark
  Paisley patterns on stone

  (It was a lot more beautiful
   Than in the movie.)  Butch
  Flattened in the grass - poor
  Cover - on a slight rise

  Remembered
  Only a farmboy
    with bad teeth
    lurching swagger and a
    clinging nature

  If they had bothered to get the dogs -
   but it was a hot day and Sundance had eluded them
   for hard hours - if they had thought to search the grass -
   but they were sure the pretty one had led them away from his
   leader - they could have had cruel sport with him
     (It would have been fun
      Not just target practice with the maricón)

  Instead
  They fired their guns into the air for pleasure and
    So frightened Butch
    He fouled his pants and
    Wet the ground
    Beneath him

  That was how it ended for Butch - not a
  Bad deal at all
  Considering
  That he got away with his skin, and
  Well
  You can always wash out your pants.

  How it ended for Sundance was that
  When they rode up to that rise and
  Butch rolled off the horse onto the grass

  Sundance

    Found
      Notch in rocks
      Entry to
      Narrow stream
      Walled with rock
    Urged horse
      Downstream
      Till that ended
      Abruptly
      At lip of
        Waterfall
      Sudden space of all the world
      Before his gaze

    Sent the horse back
    Stripped off his clothes
    Abandoned
      His forged identity papers
      The roll of stolen banknotes
      The turquoise belt buckle
        (stolen from Butch as a keepsake)
      Most of a half pint of cheap Bolivian brandy
    Leaned back on his heels
    Made himself into a parabola
    Flew
      Into dry air
      Down for breath-stealing moments
      Into ice-melt pool of
        Fortunate great depth

  (Since Sundance in flight
   Is angel not man
   This too was much
   More beautiful than in the movie)

  It was the single most
  Exciting
  Experience of his life

  Here he is by the pool -
    Dog doing water dance
    Sun lizard stretched on flat rock

    Musing on the openness of his body
    Reflecting on Butch
    Supposing there must be more to hope for in a man
      Than a reliable piston stroke
      A big stock of dirty stories
      A way with guns

    Recalling that day back in Saint Louie when
      The two of them were still
        Feeling out
        One another's intentions
      Butch bought him an ice cream
      The coldest thing he'd ever
     Put into his mouth, which made him
        Want Butch
          Butch knew that
            He knew Butch knew that

    Leaping up shouting
    That's where I went wrong!

    Finding himself

  Face to face with
  The Prince of Bolivia
    Out hunting capybara with
    Bow and arrow, a
  Striking young man in whom the best of several races was
  Alloyed and who had always admired in Sundance
    His daring
    His beautiful long eyelashes, and
    The way he wore his dungarees.

    Postlude

Sacrifices
     "Strike with Thy love's resistless stroke
      And break this heart of stone."
             - Charles Wesley

Max, eagle-man above me, drops upon me;
The smoky oil of his feathers coats my shoulders;
His steely talons rake across my chest -
  Droplets of my blood spray into the rushing air.

He thrusts his sex into me.

His prey-cry fills my head with noise;
His great beak scrapes against my neck;
I wait, resistless, pulsing, for him
  To rip me open and take his meal.

2 Responses to “Sundance is an angel when he flies”

  1. Kaitlyn Wierzchowski Says:

    Some of the poems you share here have excellent imagery. In particular, I like the one where Sundance becomes a garden. You should not be afraid to share such lyrics – sex is a natural engagement of man – and homosexuality is just one aspect of that.

  2. Safe for public consumption « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] And indeed it came through the mail unscathed and unremarked on. So I’m assuming that it can be exhibited on this blog. That’s one of my topics for today: what’s allowable “in public” — without occasioning sanctions, like having this particular posting deleted by WordPress or having my whole blog closed by them or having me barred from posting anywhere on WordPress, or corresponding actions by Apple’s MobileMe, where my images are currently stored. (Note similar issues about text, like my fiction and poetry.) […]

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