By Andrew Rimby
“We Two Boys Together Clinging”
WE two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasiing,
Fulfilling our foray.
-Walt Whitman, 1860
I will always remember when I first discovered this erotic Whitman poem, and I was in my first year of my PhD studies at Stony Brook. I was looking through Whitman’s “Calamus” cluster (a section from the 1860 Leaves of Grass) to investigate what LGBTQ* literary scholarship kept highlighting: the queer erotic themes found in Whitman’s poetry. I especially became interested in how Whitman expresses love and desire between men (both younger and older) when I opened up Robert K. Martin’s Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry (1979). His landmark text (foundational for what became known as Gay and Lesbian Studies) pushed back the closet door hiding Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Hart Crane, E.M. Forster, and even Allen Ginsberg.
When I was reading “We Two Boys…,” I reread the verse “Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching…” so many times, and remember having my ex-boyfriend listen to me recite this poem. At that moment, we were actually curled up in bed together, and life was imitating art. Although the relationship didn’t work out, I will always remember and cherish such an erotic literary memory… but back to the present moment.
I’m usually writing these posts in my Long Island apartment where Duncan Grant’s Bathing is staring at me from the wall. Grant’s painting always brings me back to the moment when I discovered how homoerotic Whitman’s poetry is and how his verse poetically captures the feeling of being intertwined with another man (one that I still return to for this erotic feeling). Right now, I’m in my childhood bedroom at my desk (I’m visiting my parents for a short vacation), and on my bookshelf I see the Rainbow Boys series shining out like an empowering rainbow aura. I first began reading this series after I came out (this was right after I had read Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name in 2008). I discovered these books, written by Alex Sánchez, at the local Barnes and Noble, and quickly read the whole series. I couldn’t believe how much the coming out storyline connected to my own experience. I credit this series with really opening my eyes to the need to seek out my high school’s Gay Straight Alliance (which I joined after I came out and found so empowering the rest of my high school journey). But, before I start to obsess over how I then found the series Queer as Folk and how I began to question the homonormative themes in these, mostly white gay male narratives (and my own fetishization of these storylines) let me sign off and leave something for the weekend’s roundtable.