A link to the poem again, for those who might read it. (It is not at all safe for work, full of triggering material, but it's also deeply hopeful, intersectional and beautiful.)
I've read this poem many times now. So many times. I'm considering deleting the Seanan Maguire quote that tops my journal for a quote from this poem. (There are so many new candidates.) I'm considering changing my entire Twitter profile (which is just a list of fucking adjectives, anyway) to "Proud citizen of New Sodom". I am obsessed with this poem. It's a thing of beauty.
I wish I could send it back in time to my suicidal queer-kid self and show them that there's hope. I am glad that I can keep it, that I'm getting it in hard-copy in April, that it gets to go forward in time with me, for next time I'm a suicidal queer adult. Because it's not just hopeful. When I feel like that, I don't want pure hope, I don't want sweetness-and-light, and I don't want My-Little-Pony and buck-up-little-soldier.
I want this.
I want the anger. I want the recognition of all the things we are angry about, of all the things we have right and reason to be angry about, and this poem does that. I want anger galvanised into action instead of turned toxic, turned against the self, and this poem does that. I want recognition that the anger itself is painful - that it turns you into a lightning rod, that those halos burn your hands even as you lift them in triumph, that it's isolating, and traumatic, and it sets you on fire. And this poem does that.
Boy, does it do that.
This is one thing that I love about this poem - and also about his (outstanding) novella Escape From Hell!, which sadly I have given back to gloriamundi so I can't reread it before review - it acknowledges this kind of... twin nature of anger. I have posted about this before, but I'm going to try to express it again. Anger is like fire. It produces a lot of heat and light, both of which are useful, often vital when you're out alone in the cold and dark. But it also burns you. It makes you both beacon and effigy. You cannot have one without the other. If you're on fire, you're on fire.
Of course, he expresses this much better in the actual poem. That's why he's a poet and I'm not.
So that's one part of it, the part I've talked about before - anger as a double-edged blade, anger as fire in both its good and bad aspects, anger as destructive and creative, the powerful, painful, hopeful, searing-bright through-line of this poem - that we get to use this anger for something. We get to use our exile for something. That, too, gets to be both painful and valuable, both destructive and creative. It hurts and isolates us, makes us unstable and precarious and frightened - but it also makes us siblings, in a deep, fundamental, unerasable way, we are all linked to each other. Not just the queers but everyone who's experienced oppression, everyone ground down by what Duncan calls the "fratriarchy". Women; trans people; people of colour; abuse victims of all genders, orientations and races. All of us.
This is intersectionality in action, and one thing I like is that it doesn't conflate all of these different experiences. It would be easy to say - "oh well we also go basically through the same stuff" and wave your hand; but Duncan is more nuanced than that. He sketches the differences, quickly and deftly, so that we see there's as much difference as sameness, that "siblings" is not like "twins", that we all have our own experiences, our own challenges, our own roles.
There's hope in that. And this speaks to a broader point I want to make about the poem. That there is connection everywhere in this poem. There are links between everything, and there are references to everything in this poem, from the Bible to Blake to ABBA (not to mention, almost certainly, plenty that I missed). And... well.
It's easy to throw a bunch of things into a pot but not mix them together, fail to make any kind of connection between them.
It's also easy to throw a bunch of things into a pot and come up with mud.
What Duncan does is - again - more complex and more nuanced than that. There are connections between all these things, there's a line drawn from the Bible to modern fascism, there are lines drawn all over this poem like a fucking spiderweb. And yet every individual point has its own integrity, its own identity and shape. It's a network. He's drawing us a picture of a network, where everything is connected without being undifferentiated - Whitman and Yeats, Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Michaelangelo - the world is full of these connections, drawn in to build a picture of a whole that's bigger than we are, as big as the world.
What I mean is, the poem to me feels like a textual representation of us, of the citizens of New Sodom. Connected, though perhaps not in the conventional ways. Deeply linked, though we may never meet. Different identities, different cultures, different experiences - but there is something that links us.
And it's fire. It's lightning. It's severed angel heads and our anger and the heat of our bodies. It's the reality of New Sodom: not a physical city, but a city of siblinghood, of angry people rising up. A city of devotion to each other. A city of connectedness across difference.
That's the city I keep going back to.
That's the city I live in, even when I feel at my most alone. If nothing else, this poem can help me remember that.