"I love reading Arnold Schwab's poetry, and you will too. Witty, bracing, sexy, elegant, self-deprecating, but always honest, his verse covers a full range of human experience with a kind eye and understanding heart. As a craftsman in the art of poetry, he's stingy with words, choosing only the fittest. Lucky reader, see for yourself."
-Leslie B. Mittleman
Emeritus Professor of English, CSULB
"If A. E. Housman were alive in the past three decades, he would have welcomed Arnold Schwab's keenly crafted and frank observations on life as an aging gay man. Literate, ironic, humorous, and at times poignant, these poems are a welcome addition to the canon of 21st-century poetry. Readers of any sexual orientation will find something in them to cherish and relate to."
"While most writers are past their creative momentum in their eighties, Arnold Schwab's pen does not run dry. Well into his nineties he continues to write poems with news that stays news, contemplating among other themes loves that might have been, and recording underexplored frontiers of gay experience in old age. Saturated with ever present irony and humor paired with self-knowledge and expert skills, Schwab's use of vocabulary, rhyme, and meter creates a generous legacy that contributes to our knowledge of the gay human condition from youth to advanced old age. The range of themes in this collection is as impressive as the span of decades and the cultural changes it addresses."
-James Benedict, PhD
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Read an Excerpt
One-Night Stand and Other Poems
By Arnold T. Schwab
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 Arnold T. Schwab
All rights reserved.
After the Ball
The college prom drew near and I required
A female date. I could not bring a guy
As one courageous gay youth did in high
School later. Now, no hero, I desired
What other juniors did, and was inspired
To ask a plain but bright co-ed in my
Drama class, hoping that she would not try
To be more than a one-night escort hired
To dance with me.
But post-prom I grew tense.
Would she expect that now I would make out
With her? My brain revolved in fruitless swirls
On how I could decline without offense,
Avoiding any giveaway or doubt,
Until she said "Relax, friend. I like girls."
"You sure as hell don't look or sound
Like a Navy officer;
The Navy must have been awfully hard up
During the war
When they made you a JG!"
I reddened. (I would have made full lieutenant
If promotions hadn't been frozen
A month before I was due.)
But what could I say (in my high voice?)
It was 1948, and I, a Naval Reservist,
On a training cruise to Europe
With eager Annapolis midshipmen,
Was bunked with regular Navy ensigns
Freshly graduated from Annapolis.
A "ninety-day wonder"
Under the V-7 program,
Which was supposed to allow college students to graduate
Before being called to Midshipmen School
To receive three months training
And an ensign's commission,
I didn't feel like an officer
Despite two years in the Pacific
Aboard a baby aircraft carrier.
Now a baby-faced graduate student in English at Harvard,
I didn't talk about "dames"
But spent my off-duty hours
Reading for the PhD oral exam.
In my working hours on this ship,
I sat in an office coding and decoding messages
As I had done during the war.
My favorite duty then was writing poems
For the yearbooks at graduation from Communication School
And at the dock in Tacoma,
While the carrier awaited decommissioning.
When the ensigns' taunts continued,
What plain message, I wondered,
Could I send them
To end their insults?
When we reached Villefranche
And some officers, hot for whores,
Were asked to request condoms.
I got an idea.
I remembered reading
That Oscar Wilde, in exile
In a French village,
Went, at Ernest Dowson's insistence,
To visit the ladies of the night with the poet.
When Dowson asked him, as they left,
How he had liked the visit,
"It was like chewing cold mutton," Wilde replied,
"But tell it in England
Where it will entirely restore my reputation."
So when condoms were distributed to officers,
I lined up just ahead of the ensigns
And took a handful (which I didn't intend to use);
Their eyebrows lifted,
They looked at each other,
And one of them raised his thumbs
And winked at me.
Back in the bunkroom, I heard them discuss
When and where they planned to visit the brothel.
Reaching it before them,
I managed to pay the madam
To instruct her girls to tell the ensigns,
Who arrived just as I was leaving,
"That young officer who just left --
What a man!"
For the rest of the cruise,
I heard no more snide remarks.
Killed in Action
Don't prate of war by fingering a place
Within a patch of pins stuck in a wall
To mark the towns and villages that fall.
Describe to me the frowning, frightened face,
The sweaty palms, the mind and pulse that race,
The chest that tightens at the sergeant's call,
The legs that stiffen on the muddy crawl
That leads from human lands to no-man's space.
I had a golden friend whose body lies
"Not far," they said, from pointing to a mass
Of battle-tracking metal, cold and bare;
But nothing pin-wise generals devise
Can rescue him from geometric grass—
And that is all I understand or care.
Set in bronze, the lapis lazuli eyes
Framed by the bullion fringe that was his hair.
The grace, the glow, made people stop and stare
And feel a mild sirocco swirl and rise
Across his wake, heating December skies.
The hibernating hearts that left their lair
Too soon he thawed and saved from disrepair,
Sparked into April beating by surprise.
I guess he met a lonely stranger, tall
And dark, one icy day, who walked apace,
Glanced casually and dazzled did not pass.
But bore him home to warm a frozen hall;
For summer disappeared without a trace
That year for me, and gold turned into brass.
When I still sought perfection,
Naive and innocent,
My soul failed stiff inspection
And off to Hell I went.
And there I faced the fire
And breathed the acrid scent
Of an heretic's pyre
Lighted with my assent.
But as my toes were toasting
I started to repent
The notion I'd been hosting
In my predicament.
"You need a fresh beginning"
Were signals smoke had sent,
"To suffer without sinning"
No human being was meant.
"Before you burn in prison
You should be pleasure-bent."
So like a phoenix risen
I flew for devilment.
First Gay Date
New York, late summer, nineteen forty-eight:
Naïve at twenty-six, still it was clear
To me I was destined to be queer
And needed help in coping with my fate.
My counselor, no doctor, was first-rate:
And told me what I needed most to hear:
"Accept yourself for what you are, don't fear
What others think, date guys, you'll find a mate."
I mentioned then that I would like to get
To know the blond whose hour preceded mine.
The invitation to his flat so lit
My kindling hopes for days I pictured wine,
Soft music, candlelight, a tête-à-tête—
Instead, we four played hearts—and that was it.
1. The Beginning
We met in Hollywood at a gay dance
My closest friends had urged me to attend.
Timid at thirty-eight, I never went
To such affairs. This time I took a chance
There'd be no raid, disc jockey or a band
I don't recall. I doubt that I would fend
Off curiosity enough to send
An invitation by voice or by a glance.
But then he came—tall, dark, an average face
Not at all my fantasy 's blue-eyed blond.
We danced for hours, talked, clicked, and then wound
Up on a couch-bed in my friends' beach place.
What seemed a simple one-night stand began
A partnership that had a three-year span.
2. The Ending
It wasn't love at first sight or romance.
It was, I think, a signal that I sent
Myself that he at last might be the friend
To help me leave my parents' house and fence
And with his greater gay experience
Lead me into a world that I was meant
To enter as a youth who liked a gent
But slowed by war and fear of label "nance."
Because my father never showed a trace
Of an embrace or kiss at home, I found
I did not hug or kiss my lover, grounds
for leaving. Too, I craved the sex-sought chase.
It struck me, as without my tears he ran,
I should have sowed wild oats, then chose a man.
When he came home at midnight
From the Chinese restaurant
Where he worked as a busboy,
He brought into the bland bedroom
The seductive aroma
Of won ton soup, fried shrimp,
Egg rolls, hot mustard,
Peking duck, chow mein,
Soy sauce, glazed pineapple,
Pea pods, water chestnuts,
And exotic delicacies and flavors
I couldn't identify.
One whiff awakened me with a pang
"You smell good enough to eat,"
I always said.
"Well," was his usual reply.
Cruising the Penny Arcade
Willy, sweet Willy,
Peep-shows are chilly,
You need flesh-fire
To warm you and fill.
Come to my live show,
My rock-and-role jive show
(The temperature's higher).
Willy, sweet Willy,
I'll play you a dilly,
The swingingest bill
With all the trimming,
Except of course women
(They're not my creatures).
Willy, sweet Willy,
I'd really be silly
To offer you money
That's only for swill.
My theater's free,
No coin slot for me,
It's curtain time, honey;
Did you have a good time on liberty?
I guess there's hardly any place to go
If you can't enter a bar.
You're old enough to fight a war
But not to drink a beer in a bar!
How old are you?
Where are you stationed?
Do you like beer?
I have some at my place.
Want to come with me?
Do you live far?
Only ten minutes away.
Bet you could use some relaxation.
And I'll drive you back to the base.
After we both had come from draining sex
In which he didn't act as merely "trade"
But took no more than what he freely gave,
I had no warning signal to expect
His saying as I started to get dressed:
"Stay naked, faggot, till I get my pay;
I'm glad I'm not like you, a fucking gay.
If I don't get the dough your blood is next."
"The only money I keep here, " I lied,
Is in my wallet; take it now and go.
If you could face the truth, you'd realize
That money wasn't what you wanted most
And understand your need chose me as host:
I didn't make you hug and kiss and blow."
"You have a hard chest," I said,
"You have a hard stomach," I said
"You have a hard thigh," I said,
"This should be hard now," I said,
Then we went to bed.
The Old Flame
We were never lovers
Though I loved him for years.
On our one trip together.
I stroked his head one morning,
Just after we awoke
(In twin beds).
The only time I touched him
Except for an arm around his shoulder
Or a handshake
After a long separation.
But if I was driving,
He would light two cigarettes
At the same time
And give me one,
Like a kiss.
During the winter nights near Boston,
Where I was living with friends.
Not far from his house,
He listened, in the parked car
With the motor running for warmth,
As I spilled over
To help him understand gays,
While he lit the cigarettes.
When he broke his leg in an accident
After basic training,
I visited him almost every afternoon
At the nearby military hospital.
I thought I saw gentleness
In his eyes when he looked at me then;
Perhaps it was only pain.
After his medical discharge,
We were together often.
I don't know how I found so much to say,
As we smoked.
But needing more than he could give,
I finally put a continent between us.
Three years later,
When I returned to stay
With the same friends,
He was unattached
And apparently had no girl friends,
Still living at home.
Over the phone, his voice sounded tender.
Soon, we were swimming, playing squash,
Going to ballgames, talking,
To keep us together,
I came up with the crazy,
Wholly impractical idea
Of our going into the real estate business
With my father in California.
We even set a date for leaving,
Before he told his parents.
Then, suddenly, the phone calls stopped.
I lit my own cigarettes,
One after another,
Until I quit smoking for good
A few weeks afterward.
That summer I drove across country alone.
Eventually, I heard he had married
And had three kids.
Fifteen years later,
I bumped into him
At a baseball game in Fenway Park
While I was visiting my friends again.
I recognized his voice first.
Yes, it had been a long time.
No, I hadn't gone into real estate.
"I'm in sales."
No, I'd never married.
"I'm divorced myself."
No, I didn't live alone.
"I ... I'm sorry about...."
"Here's my card; call me sometime."
My lips relaxed:
He didn't light me up
Excerpted from One-Night Stand and Other Poems by Arnold T. Schwab. Copyright © 2014 Arnold T. Schwab. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A. Early Gay,
B. Gay Relationships,
C. Miscellaneous Portraits,
D. Parents, Relatives and Friend,
F. Old Age,
G. Light Poems,