Crossing Over

4.3.2012

By Aaron Hicklin

Jonathan Galassi took a long time to come to terms with being gay. A volume of heart-wrenching poems charts his journey.

One of the many revelations of Galassi’s new life is how in sync he now feels with himself. He muses, “I often used to look at people on the street, usually straight people, and think, They never had this problem -- what a great thing to be a married couple, and there’s no dissonance between who you are and what you’re doing.” For most of his life, he believed the disconnect was simply a cross he had to bear. “The one thing I enjoy about my life now is how normal being gay is, especially in a place like New York,” he says. “I have so many gay friends who are happy, fulfilled people with long-term relationships that are very healthy -- they’re fantastic people who have no conflict with how they feel and how they live.”

Galassi doesn’t downplay the impact of his decision on his wife and daughters -- now 30 and 26 -- or the moments when he misses what he has irrevocably left behind. He quotes a straight friend, who left his wife for another woman -- “The only thing that kept me from being totally miserable was how happy I was” -- and says that grief, guilt, and joy can coexist.

He thinks of other poets, such as Elizabeth Bishop, who famously wrote about “closets, closets, and more closets,” but opened up toward the end of her life, shedding her inhibitions and hang-ups. “As she ages, as she becomes greater and more confident, she hides less,” says Galassi. “She becomes more herself.”

Whatever else may be said, Galassi is enjoying becoming more himself. “Let’s just say this: That now, in my sixties, I’m having the kind of experimental experience of love that I’ve never had in my life,” he says. “And it’s been wonderful.”

Left-handed (Knopf) is out now.

A poem from Left-Handed:

Still Life
Somewhere you’re always twenty-four
and lie on sand
so hot you have to stand still
before you can move.
It’s early but your tan is Arab-dark,
your hair incongruous blond.

A body rich in possibilities
like any body: you had longish hands
and wide eyes, blurred by something
you had to reach to feel.
Part liquor, part intelligence,
it might have been real.

At the little lake you knew about
we were silent
while the bloodred sun
rang down on the scenic view:
white barns and a tree or two
in the flyblown water.

We could have cracked
its mirror with a rock,
a branch that might have lifted
something muddy to the surface.
Instead we kept on staring
and the sun set, several times.

Somewhere it keeps setting,
waits for one of us to still
the thread that hums between us,
not gossamer but steel.

Somewhere you shimmer like the lake,
the picture on the glass is real,
and one of us says what we didn’t say,
feels what we didn’t feel.

Tags: Art & Books
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