Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Road Taken

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Road Taken

Article excerpt

There are only two stories: a man goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town.


Los Angeles

On my way out of the country I stopped off in Los Angeles to spend a week with my ex-lover, Long. I was going to Asia, thanks to a scholarship that allowed me-indeed, required me-to stay abroad for an entire year, the sole stipulation. Everything around me was glowing with a kind of proleptic nostalgia, and as we tore through the city on his motorcycle, I tried to take it all in: the clear sky, the palms, the wind pummeling my helmetthe very word America painfully swelling my heart. Long would be joining me in six months: We would meet in Bangkok, and from there fly to Vietnam, reversing a journey he had made more than twenty years earlier, after his mother married an American serviceman, and in so doing managed to get all three of her children out of the country. She had divorced his father a few years before that; the now-aged patriarch was still living in Saigon, and Long was looking forward to the reunion and dreading it, in about equal measure.

Our own history was also tortuous. We were together for seven years, broke up in 1989, reconciled, and broke up again. Two years later, Long tested positive for H.I.V. the diagnosis came in 1992, the year of my trip. We remained close after the break-up, even closer, perhaps-but then, the ex plays such an important role in the gay world. Considering the old Lavender Menace slogan, "An Army of Lovers Shall Not Fail," the lesbian comic Kate Clinton wondered, "What about an army of ex-lovers?" Whenever possible, the ex is not discarded-you've come this far together, worked through mountains of preliminaries, why let it go to waste?-but is instead retooled and given a new lease as a friend, and often much more than that. In our case, the relationship came to feel like a familial one-twin brothers, maybe, for whom, whatever storms might rage on the surface, the underlying connections could not be questioned, because they were the most dependable in either of their lives.

I had arrived in L.A. just in time to attend the wedding of two of Long's friends, both Vietnamese immigrants, both men. Like him they had arrived here before puberty, and so it wasn't surprising that they should have adjusted so well to American life-or so accurately tuned in to the American signal-as to have reached the altar; but I was amazed to see that their extended families, several members gray and frail-looking, were also in attendance. The only rationale I could imagine was something like, It's all been crushed and swept away: Why not go to Little Hiep's boy-wedding?

The vulgarity of it was staggering. At the entrance to the hall was a table where two men greeted the arriving guests, and asked them to sign the register and to enter the amount of their gift, in dollars. A spotlight burned down on the table like a tropical sun, while a video camera whirred, recording each guest's embarrassment. (I sailed on by, leaving the torture to Long, as if it were somehow his responsibility.) And in all other respects the celebration aped its various sources so closely it might have been satirical, though as far as I could tell it unfolded in complete sincerity. (The couple has since split up-quietly, there being as yet no such thing as gay divorce.) A beautiful young man seated to my right-an RO.B., "fresh-off-theboat"-charmed me with his solicitous attentions, until I realized that he was simply showing the respect due an elder. What was his take on all this, I wondered. His dazzled eyes swept over the scene. "I think it is. Very nice." And so it was, at least in the sense that for me it served as both a foretaste-the tables heaped with Vietnamese food, the air throbbing with Hong Kong pop tunes-and a farewell, to a nation that grabs anything that comes along, gives it a good wrench, and flings it into the mix.


Six months passed in China and Thailand, months that felt like weeks or years, depending on the day. …

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