The transformation of personal pain into art is one of the most difficult yet most effective tools the writer has at his command. When misused, it’s as horribly transparent and obvious as an amateurish plea for sympathy. But when properly applied, it’s as devastating as any weapon in the arsenal. And if any modern LGBT poet has the power to devastate by relating the specific yet universal truths of his life, it’s Emanuel Xavier. If he hasn’t proved it with such wonderful volumes as Pier Queen (which I have as the original chapbook) and Americano, he offers yet another chance to experience it with his fourth book of poetry, Nefarious.
From his youth as a homeless teen, drug dealer, and street hustler, Xavier is making peace with both himself and the universe as he nears forty, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his struggles or his outsider status. Or that he doesn’t repeat some of the same mistakes, as in adding another ex to the pile in “Screen Test,” hoping to find something with whom to share his life (“Encounter” and “Gl’amour”) or turning maybe too far inward. However, it could be the restless search keeping him alive, as expressed in “Mi Corazon”:
“I search for my soul in paintbrush strokes/listen for my muse in Mr. Softee ice cream truck jingles/smile at strangers on the subway for simple humanity/This heart seems a novelty but it continues to love/It makes children out of full-grown men/withdraws the instinctive awareness of animals/It beats enough passion to arouse poetry/etching words that mean nothing yet everything.”
But perhaps the heart of Nefarious is in the multi-layered (and multi-part) “Eucharist of the Reformed Whore” which stretches the middle of the book into a long, deliciously emotive howl that touches on his past, his present, his career, his love, his ambition, how he falls short of his own goals, how he makes love, and how he makes life. Through stanzas both long and short, Xavier’s observations are pointed and plain, all the more powerful for their simplicity: “I didn’t have freckles as a child/They came about as I got older/It seems I get a new one every time I hurt.”
If all this sounds too serious for words, it’s not. Xavier’s natural humor often shines through. He’s not above a good pussy joke (“The Thing About My Pussy”), and his tale of an incontinent trick, “Golden Shower at a Motel 6 in San Antonio,” has some priceless lines:
“In his twenties, he was too old/for diapers. Too young for medical/issues. Waking him up seemed/foolish….I wondered if he still expects/me to suck him off/when the sun comes up./Tomorrow I’ll call him Pee Diddy!/I’m afraid to think what ‘getting/shit-faced’ might mean in his universe.”
But as wonderful as these lines are, they’re even better in context. Xavier has, once again, crafted a fiery blend of truth and triumph, as elegiac as it is electrifying. If you have even a passing interest in poetry, you need to read this. If you love poetry, it will already be on its way to you.
© 2013 Jerry L. Wheeler