The Best Poets: Hear From Lambda's Nominees

The Advocate asked each nominated poet and poetry editor from this year's Lambda Literary Awards to submit one from their collection.

BY Daniel Reynolds

March 31 2014 7:31 AM ET

Poem by George Klawitter from This Assignment Is So Gay, edited by Megan Volpert

Vernoudi

We got him after he retired from Warren Easton,
Lee Harvey Oswald’s old high school
where, rumor had it, the kids hung Vernoudi
out the window one day. Funny how I like

to think of him dangling there, his feet
far above the bougainvillea and oleander,
his white hair going whiter in the sun,
the New Orleans heat boiling in his ancient veins.

Well, over he came to us with his wooden compass
and a tongue nasty enough to suck through steel
on the horde of boys who sat at Holy Cross
waiting to see if this old guy could teach geometry

any better than torrid Brother Vincent who’d been at it
forty years already in the same classroom, wearing,
so we thought, the same black habit and shoes,
doing Euclid rote by rote, angle by angle.

Vernoudi had his favorites, as all teachers are not
supposed to have but do anyway. Valery Cavalier was
his special prey, every day up at the board
with his vigorous red hair to be embarrassed

by the vicious heart of the man who returned to the boy
every filthiness meted out to him for years on end,
every scream his mother screamed at him,
every smash his father landed on his head.

Valery was a beauty, but not above the tears which came
nearly every time he was forced to parade
his lack of geometric skills while the rest of the boys
snickered at his fate, praying they would not be next.

Valery was gay. We didn’t know. But did Vernoudi
sniff it out? The red-haired martyr died of AIDS
half a century later and was buried in a cemetery
lost to Katrina’s hungry hungry heart.

Even in death the boy’s humiliated, washed down
the Delta to a Gulf where little fish await him
and take him home, recycled not for stars
but for our mother-water, the loving one,

the only one who understands that Valery
belongs among the great ones of the Deep,
at last the prince. He always was, no doubt,
the secret lover of our adolescent hearts.

--

Excerpted from This Assignment Is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching edited by Megan Volpert. Copyright 2013. Excerpted with permission by Sibling Rivalry Press.

With an international roster of 75 queer poets writing about and from the teacher's perspective, this ground-breaking book examines the joyous burden that is the experience of LGBTIQ teachers—an clearly valuable and until now quite invisible piece of the educational puzzle. Whether elementary or collegiate, public or private, the school is an institutional battleground for representations of queer culture. This anthology is sparking important conversation among young adults, parents, administrators, legislators, future teachers, and everyone else concerned about the future of education. Wayne Koestenbaum said this “immensely lovable anthology...confirms how odd, sublime, scary, and heartbreaking a classroom can be.” It's already been honored by The American Library Association's “Over the Rainbow” list as one of the best LGBTIQ books of the year.

Editor Megan Volpert is the author of five books on communication and popular culture, most notably about Andy Warhol. She teaches English at a public high school in Atlanta, where she was just awarded Teacher of the Year.

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