[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]
Provincetown is a seasonal town. In the summer, it is filled with GBOVs* in their pink shorts and muscle shirts, tourist families there for the whale watching and seafood (some of whom clearly did not get the memo), and the laborers that follow tourists: the bartenders, restaurant servers, and entertainers (not that any of these categories are mutually exclusive, of course).
In winter, only the year-rounders remain; many of the rest flee south to warmer climes to keep the party going: Puerto Vallarta, Sydney, Rio, Key West. Provincetown’s sibling city is Key West; poised at the west end of the Florida keys in wonderful point symmetry with its counterpart at the East end of Cape Cod, far to the north.
Michael loved gay culture and was a student of it. He introduced us to Rocky Horror and John Waters at probably too-young ages (not being a parent himself, he often misgauged these things). He adored Camille Paglia and her analysis of the camp of it all (his interview of her was a personal high point in his scholarship for the Gay and Lesbian Review). He openly fretted about what the mainstreaming and acceptance of gay people in America would do to gay culture. When gay marriage came to Massachusetts he was thrilled but equivocal: he joked that it broke up half of all the gay and lesbian couples in Provincetown, suddenly forced to have “the talk” about their long-term expectations. He wanted no part of it himself: he half-joked “Why would I want to take part in that failed heterosexual institution?”
Which is not to say he was queeny or fringe; he was mostly a paragon of the straight-laced Harvard professor. Yes, he wore a mop in the 60’s, but he was ultimately his British mother and army-officer father’s son, monogamous and conventional (I’m sure it helped that they accepted his sexuality as soon as he came out, around college). Michael was in awe of the heroes of Stonewall, but made sure I knew that it was suit-and-tie-wearing Frank Kameny that radicalized them (I did not learn Kameny was an astronomer until much later in life).
The fifth poem in Cape Cod Light is about Key West in summer, about the beach, and of course, about the humans that walk upon it.
*GBOVs=gay boys on vacation; not sure if this is a common term or a Michael-ism.
Key West in July With a Nod
Wait here by this palm tree with its
Feathered arms pinned back like dog’s ears
For your enemies to make themselves clear.
In a few hours, the moon will rise
Between this and the next tree.
On the beach a man is walking,
Clutching a stick, dazed slightly by the sun:
He delights in the arrangement of things,
What he hears, what you lose in the breeze.
He strides and strides but never goes near the water.
Over here is where the lovers come.
They seek each other only in darkness,
And what they do doesn’t look much like love.
Appearance is false. The practical man
Allows: this making and the sea are the same.
Coral reefs have flattened out the water
With their toothy mouths; it prepares for tenderness,
How you can kiss a breast so many ways
In the sloppy arc of lust. Without a wind
The orderly catamarans are smug as clams.
The next poem is here.