Ashes Where Once There Was Fire

In memory of1

     Stanley Almodovar III · Amanda Alvear · Oscar Aracena
     Rodolfo Ayala · Antonio Davon Brown · Darryl R. Burt II
     Jonathan Camuy

     Angel Luis Candelario-Padro · Omar Capo · Simon Carrillo
     Luis Daniel Conde · Cory James Connell · Tevin Eugene Crosby
     Anthony Luis Laureano Disla

     Deonka Deidra Drayton · Leroy Valentin Fernandez · Mercedez Marisol Flores
     Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz · Juan Ramon Guerrero · Paul Terrell Henry
     Frankie Hernandez

     Miguel Angel Honorato · Jimmy De Jesús · Javier Jorge-Reyes
     Jason Benjamin Josaphat · Eddie Jamoldroy Justice · Christopher Leinonen
     Alejandro Barrios Martinez

     Juan Chavez Martinez · Brenda Lee Marquez McCool · Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
     Kimberly Morris · Akyra Murray · Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez
     Joel Rayon Paniagua

     Jean Carlos Mendez Perez · Enrique L. Rios · Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera
     Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez · Xavier Emmanuel Serrano · Christopher Sanfeliz
     Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan

     Edward Sotomayor Jr. · Shane Evan Tomlinson · Martin Benitez Torres
     Juan Rivera Velazquez · Luis Vielma · Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
     Jerald Arthur Wright


My thighs like jaws split wide, I stand on the threshold of mercy’s door,
tiptoeing both the January-wet floor of a cathedral
and a room filling up with the tears cried by my oppressed people,

fellow homosexuals, intellectuals, bards blinded by
indecision, tongues and pens rendered incapable, wondering why
our words fail us, finding no solace except in betwixt, lined up

like suspects, quieted artists called in by a community
thirsting for expression, for voices to comment on tragedy
in this dying form we deny them, and have the nerve to complain

about having to revive, when poetry comes up so sorely
insignificant beside what has happened, what never should have,
and I pray has no comparison, and short of coming up short,

fearful that my own tears will never be near enough to account
for wasting a talent-for-expression on decadence, I found
before it happened, and find in each heartbeat since then, that these same

questions are ones that we all run from, and in my head too often
have I been among them, born with this privilege and this curse, this
burning sword whose double edges scourge my thoughts, taunting providence

with this anything-but-perverse kiss it gifted not only my
soul, but all of ours, this blushing love which straddles what the fearful
label taboo and terror, but to us faithful, it strengthens flesh,

thickening skin, and tends somehow to unite us, always, rushing
to cradle its sons and daughters, to mend wounds in spite of the slice
it drives into us, the grooves in our palms more than lines of life, but

life itself, hands holding this oasis we call love, and music
sweetens it, the moon and the sun pressing lips when we speak, when we
open ours and let out the song which sounded uplifting to crowds

then, as now I beg those martyred muses to be my own, to speak
for them, June’s wind inviting last Sunday’s sweating friends to long due
communion, not church, but those weekends where best we danced unhidden,

pride filling ears like prayers, feet keeping holy the morn’ a dance floor
burned, where passion’s fire took the form of choral consolation, new
remixes and DJ plates warming us in their throbbing embrace

when society’s necessity of secrecy weighted us
down, all of them and me, as I tremble to remember a time
when we were not dancing, how that night seemed as primal as daybreak,

our ancient beginning, a riot, a trembling of walls, when hearts
of stone thrown like hips in a gyration returned polished and so
radiant, no label for those diamonds experiencing such

defiant liberation, dancing our supplications on up
to heaven, before songs were swallowed by asking those questions: Why?
Who separated these souls from the golden equation? Did god

mean us when (s)he promised paradise for everyone? And could
asking it sound from a doubting heart, an echo so resonant
that inclusion’s spheres would be shaken? Its whirling circles of men

and women and free spirits dancing to a halt, those questioning
bullets performing what notes once did, hitting hearts with cruelty
so splitting, that halving of conscience that makes killers of angels

wanting them, calling for answers, but none come, not for or from me,
wondering how I conscientiously reject dogma but live,
a miracle of a colossal mind, ours a collective grief

astride a violent tide, wetting my soul’s in a rough passage
no priest or partner did, past tempests never so humbling as much
as this has been, and who can interpret? What did I mean when I

converted? What did I mean when I came out of my head and like
so many of them, so many of us, proclaimed to the world that
my shell was shed? What if am I tempted to crawl back into it?

For those he has silenced, I must go on, by words enlightening
and enlivening, even if I am a gay man standing on
the threshold of a world where a gunman’s shells lie on hallowed ground

like filth under our souls’ nails, I must decide if I should go in,
another question, as if my own are what can heal what happened
that night, but of one thing I am certain, that ever since sharing

this grief, I am more determined to work toward crafting my words
into works whose verse carry greater weight, carrying into our
world what I was spared to make, to use my voice to encourage my

readers to be eye-openers, to shoulder more than what they take,
since ours is the same burden, we are given the same existence,
ours is a sharing of a kiss where our good intentions and bad

decisions meet, where our failures teach us, and success is nothing,
useless unless we move beyond doubt and stand for something, we are
one community faced by what can so terribly divide, each

indebted to questioning, all of us asking if this will end
intolerance, if we can feel our Pulse tremble as we make this
world our temple, and dance without having to hide, since after love,

there really is nothing left to learn, but that truth which turns inside
us all, that life still burning strong in our brothers’ and sisters’ eyes,
following dawn’s colours, answering our fall with their call to rise.

1The victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, which resulted in fifty deaths, including that of the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, and occurred in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016 inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States, as published digitally by the Orlando Sentinel on June 14, 2016 in an online article entitled, “Orlando nightclub shooting: Read about the victims,” containing their portraits and biographies, compiled and confirmed by staff reporters Andrew Gibson and Charles Minshew.