What We Live For

We stop for one night, our last bed cradled
By cloverleafs and strip malls, the theme parks

Closed, the missed magic we’d sought cooling, marked
By swampy vistas, lust lacking credo

Where desire’s falling flat and stays so, greens
And reedy, blood-warm, slow-flowing aquas

Lacking depth as we spoke less, insect buzz
Outgunned by engine revs as we drove, keen

To sleep, wake, then fly silent and away
But hours after shootings in Orlando

You dream, out of reach but safe, while I hold
A candle, recall Latino men slain

Dancing at a gay club where we once would
Hate like love abrupt, unnoticed, not dead.

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

It is very difficult to pinpoint what incident exactly spurred me to start writing poetry. When learning how to read as a very young child, I remember how awestruck I was upon first realizing that the symbols on the page I was being taught to recognize actually represented the sounds coming out of my mouth when I spoke. To me, that marks the beginning of my conscious relationship with language, of which poetry is the highest expression. I am attracted to poetry’s ability to articulate, register, and preserve my emotional, sensory, and intellectual responses to the world around me and within me. The words I put on the page are a time capsule that a reader can open tomorrow, in ten years, or in one hundred years.

I wrote my first poems in my teens and began to write more seriously in my twenties. In step with Margaret Atwood’s observation that the 1960s did not end until 1975, which she made in her introduction to the Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (1982), I came of age in the first decade of CanLit, a decade that coincided with the emergence of what then was called the gay liberation movement. From early on, my poems have responded to issues of national identity and sexual orientation and the challenges the former unthinkingly imposes on the latter. Over the years, I have become less and less enamoured of a progressively more questionable Canadian polis and find my inspiration more exclusively in a queer experience that critiques and transcends the chauvinism of the nation-state. Any writer starting out should take pleasure in the immediate joys of language while at the same time taking the long view when it comes to accomplishment and success. Writing is about joining the conversation that an authentic literature nurtures and accommodates.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

I wrote “What We Live For” in response to the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. Forty-nine mostly Latino men in their twenties and in their thirties were murdered and fifty-three others were wounded. A week-long holiday in Florida that I took earlier that year, which began and ended in Orlando, made the shooting even more immediate to me because I could easily visualize it against the swampy landscape surrounding the city. It became entangled in the recalled undercurrents between me and my travelling companion. Had we been in Orlando at the time of shooting, we could so easily have been victims. This mass killing reminds us that all the legal protections put in place to guarantee our rights cannot shield us from murderous acts at worst and microaggressions at best. “What We Live For” is meant to be a tribute to those who died while being a reminder that people like us are still vulnerable.

For more than a decade I have been experimenting with traditional forms and in the past four years with the sonnet specifically. A variation of the Petrarchan sonnet, this poem employs a slightly looser rhyme scheme and eschews the tyranny of iambic pentameter, although the lines are all ten syllables long. The rhymes range from full to the faintest of half-rhymes. The poem is also a single run-on sentence, which further mutes the rhymes, in part because they do not coincide with end stops in the syntax. I like the sonnet because it provides a structure to an argument and, more particularly, shapes the argument within myself. Its brevity also prevents me from being verbose. Instead, it promotes concision and eloquence.

This poem “What We Live For” originally appeared in Emerging Scholars, Redux Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 242 (2020): 37.

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