D. A. Powell on Thom Gunn

The last time I talked to Thom, he said he hadn't written a poem in two years and added, with a small heave of his muscular chest, "I might be done writing." Had he made a coffin of couplets, elegy after elegy, shutting away the keepsakes of friends as they fell, tens by tens? He felt some defeat in form. And no doubt some defeat in his role as communal mourner. But who could keep pace with the endless toll? Not even the ever-waking Thom could manage. Nights he went about the city, restless: "I gave up sleep for this?" But always searching, prowling, with "a sense of being underground/As in a mine." Here's Thom, lurking late summer night in Dore Alley, haunting the sex-filled streets—his leathery fists shoved deep into his pockets, squinting visage both shy and sexy: "Why pretend love must accompany erection?"

At Bob Gluck's house, shortly before I left San Francisco to come to Boston, Thom arrived first of the guests, somewhat bleary-eyed. Slunk off quietly before the party was even underway. Bob: "He was up all night cruising." Diogenes. Seeker of carnal play.

Whitman: "Double yourself and receive me darkness, receive me and my lover too, he will not let me go without him."

Odd to think how this late in my adult life, Thom is my first queer friend to die not from AIDS and not from violence. He had that small blessing at least, though death can hardly be the blessing of a life. Still, no lingering rattle and no unmerciful attack from a stranger with a knife. A solid death, an ordinary death. Sleep at last? Bless him.

--Originally published in Crossroads, Fall 2004.




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