Saturday, October 6, 2007

Camp

Last night, I had said that I would show up for the open mike night at Tiny's to read a poem or two, but then I found out about a free concert at St. Olaf by the Renaissance band Piffaro, featuring music by Flemish masters Josquin des Prez, Nicholas Gombert, and others. The allure of shawms, sackbuts, bagpipes, and krumhorns was too strong. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert (especially the bagpipes), despite the sweltering atmosphere inside Boe Memorial Chapel. But I did feel guilty about missing the poetry night. So, here's the poem I would have read. It's, as the blog says, a rough draft. Your comments are always welcome.

Camp

In Boy Scouts, I was the boy
who cooked the meals.
I loved my father’s old mess kit
and his pocket knife
that seemed to give birth to itself
in the unfolding of its compact blades.
I still remember with pride
my first powdered-egg omelet,
cooked over a campfire in the Adirondacks,
the reflector oven cornbread,
the cast-iron cauldrons of chili,
the foil-wrapped potatoes
unburied like treasure from the coals.
On one winter camping trip,
while the other boys built forts
and stockpiled snowballs,
I built an entire snow kitchen,
with snow countertops
and a snow refrigerator for storing food.
I was never good at anything else.
There was no merit badge for domesticity.
What got me through
those long homosocial weekends
was the thought of coming home
to a bubble bath, scented candles,
washing the woodsmoke from my hair.
I can understand the tent mate
who wanted to share my sleeping bag.
If only one of us had been a girl.

One of my favorite songs (on the list that includes "Urge for Going") is Dar Williams' "When I Was a Boy," about her nostalgia for her shirtless, tree-climbing, prepubescent tomboy days. In the last verse, she meets a man who feels the same nostalgia for "when he was a girl." The man says, "When I was a girl, me and Mom we always talked, and I picked flowers everywhere that I walked." I was that boy. I filled vases with lilacs and put them in my room. I had long talks with my Mom. I understand the nostalgia in Dar Williams' song: a nostalgia for an innocent fluidity of gender identity, or gender roles, that had nothing to do with sexual orientation.

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