Orlando was a two-fer for those among us who want to stoke fear and divisiveness: gays massacred and a Muslim to blame. I stand with those who have spoken out against conceding legitimacy to this impotent world view by embracing love and one-ness as a worthy alternative. It’s there if you are open to it.
I’m pleased to reprint “Pulse,” a poem written by Tom Emanuel in memory of the event. I’m grateful to Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, for introducing me to it. I’ve never read a poem that so self-consciously tried to stir images of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and succeeded so well. I invite you to read it and share it widely.
In granting me permission to republish it, Tom wrote: “To be told one has successfully channeled the spirit of one’s favorite poem by one’s favorite poet is beyond encouraging— especially in a piece as raw and immediate as ‘Pulse’ was for me.”
Its rawness is one of its strengths.
Tom Emanuel is a poet and performance activist based out of Berkeley, California. He is currently in the second year of his Master of Divinity program at the Pacific School of Religion, where he studies the intersection of art, spirituality, and social transformation. He also serves as Minister-in-Training at Mira Vista United Church of Christ and as co-director of the Mythic Theater Collective. Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 605-920-8945.
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by Tom Emanuel
Place your hand just there on my heart can you feel it can you feel hot crimson blood thump-thumping through me hot crimson blood vouchsafing to me the holy knowledge that I am Alive here where lights are neon and audacious here where my lover can kiss me without fear without hesitation
yes I know I am Alive here because I tell you I saw the best bodies of my generation aglow on the dancefloor clutching liberation in one hand and ecstasy in the other reaching for other bodies out of their minds because minds have become prisons self-doubt and manic depression erected by well-meaning love-scared family and friends and judgment-eyed parishioners
saw them holding each other defending each other against slurs against prayers against stonewall cannonades breaching hulls breaching confidence wooden ships on the water very free and easy and silver people on the shoreline won’t you let them be won’t you let us Be
saw bodies drowning tamped down under pressure knee-deep in pools of dying years stolen on streets of Castro and Greenwich and Chelsea and Boystown streets slick with useless blood and derision because they’re just a bunch of queers right
saw prayers offered four-on-the-floor and everybody form a line when they gunned Harvey down blood on the streets blood on the streets when they billy-clubbed Miss Major blood in the gutter blood in the gutter when they bound Matt to that roadside cross blood in the fields blood in the fields but not here not where they told us we’d be Safe
saw them reviled on street corners for Your sake O God called dirty fags by fifth-graders who didn’t even know what the word meant just knew it was the worst epithet you could hurl at another human being called trannies monsters abominations in courtroom halls gay panic defense families abandoned in tears and judgment
saw them cavorting with David and Jonathan through the Temple scarred bodies radiating Light breaking through the Ark into the Tabernacle because this is the great tablet-stoned commandment to love kindness to do mercy to dance unashamed with your God
saw them burning with angel-holy love on rooftops and cabaret stages and screens silver and glittering Freddie fabulous unafraid making rent making love making music to rescue us all from birdcages of our own design
saw them curled on couches watching Netflix hand in hand hanging from flagpoles and balconies chanting we’re here we’re queer get used to it even when we refused to listen running fingertips along toes and necks and lips face to face love to love birthing Newness and Hope in gushing torrents of Glory
saw them riddled with bullets like politicians’ teeth smiling and thumbs aloft bullets like tears I cried when I learned I didn’t have a little sister after all bullets like pills falling through empty gunshot-wound holes in fragile hearts bullets like hands laid on to pray the gay away
saw them strobe-lit and magnificent in death for nothing can take away the beauty of living as God made you of loving as God made you of loving Who God Made You
saw them all and went down to the spot between Fell Street and Oak where I feel the backbeat of Eternity strongest in this world to be with the street people and the freaks the ones who came here because they knew that they would be safe here to dance and to cry and to howl We Can Be Together and I believe we can
and in reply I heard them singing Love’s such an old-fashioned word and Love dares us to change our way of caring about ourselves yes this is our last dance this is Ourselves under but they did not finish the line because the pressure valves have burst yes Time is now fulfilled yes the Kingdom is at hand blood on the dancefloor blood on the dancefloor
and I placed my hand on my breast to feel my own healthy straight heart beat seventy times per healthy straight minute reminding me I am here I am Alive charging me to make every beat an act of penitence an appeal to God a blood-rushing prayer that this pulse this pulse this pulse at least might not beat in vain—