I knew Wayne through poetry--his poetry, my poetry, poetry readings and the beast of poetry itself, what Martin Espada calls the Republic of Poetry, a particular kind of glue. Besides his own writing, he was an activist for poetry and the arts, especially in Las Cruces, NM. I want to tell something of his story because he was a poet, a storyteller too, and his life since he arrived in Las Cruces seems to me pertinent to the our culture. Las Cruces is almost an hour away from our house, but I’d see Wayne at all (literally, “all”) the poetry readings I went to in Cruces, many here in El Paso, and at all of the Somozas legendary Thanksgiving dinners. He was always good to talk to, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, all the time full of wit and intellectual curiosity. Over the last few years he was not in good health, always in some sort of physical agony, but he carried that pain with a certain grace. And I had come to admire his poetry—always unexpected pieces of his imagination—and his readings in which he'd always be trying something new. All his life, it seemed, he had been a devotee to the mythology of Clark Kent and Superman. Shape-changer. Transformer. Mytho-americano hero. Maybe that helps explain what happened—after he retired from teaching at the Western Illinois University (students attest he had been a wonderful teacher) at the age of 55, around the year 2000, and moved with his family to Las Cruces, he decided to step out of the closet. He had been too long in there. It smelled of his sweat and his sorrow. He was a gay man, he said, and he wanted to live openly as a gay man. It broke his wife Barbara’s heart. Of course, she probably knew already. Bedrooms don’t hold many secrets. Not after 30 or so years anyway. Still, she must have hoped he would change his mind, changed his heart and body--she must have prayed to God and to hell with the Clark Kent and Lois Lane rigmarole. But Wayne had walked away. He had done his job as a married man and as a father and now he had to be himself. Wayne’s poetry flourished. He was writing daily—strange surreal poems, Superhero poems, serious political commentary poems, funny poems, frivolous poems, anything that popped into his head. He worked on a crime noir novel and a non-fiction book about a crime back in Illinois. He became a leader in the local poetry scene, organizing open mic readings, sending out a monthly newsletter about poetry events, serving as editor of Sin Fronteras (a poetry collective), publishing the poetry e-zine Lunarosity and hosting a monthly poetry workshop at his house that included poets Joe Somoza, Dick Thomas, Sheila Black and others. He fell in love with Randy Granger—flute player, composer, musician—, and he invited Randy into his home. They lived in a sprawling house on the West Mesa overlooking the Rio Grande Valley, the lights of Las Cruces, and the magnificent Organ Mountains. Their garden was wonderful place to be at twilight on the end of a perfect October day. The garden had a small pond with Koi and goldfish and lilies. The pond was fed by a bubbling fountain, really a contraption of found junk that Wayne pieced together. It was an ugly thing really, but that was okay. It had a peculiar and wise charm and, besides, Wayne made it and he thought it beautiful. I bow to people who do things with their hands to bring home-made beauty into their homes. But of course there’s always trouble. Without trouble there’s no story. No poetry. Even for Clark Kent who turned into—not Superman—but Wayne the gay poet. His son John moved in. John is a good young man, shy and introspective. All his life he’s suffered from cerebral palsy that runs down the left side of his body like a clogged up drain. John and Randy were friends at first but as time wore on they got in each other’s way. One the lover, the other the son. How could it not happen? They, like us, are human beings. John moved away. He too fell in love, Melissa, a wonderful young woman in El Paso, but he stayed close to his dad. He just stayed away from the house. Wayne was happy with that. He loved his son John, he loved Randy. The same tension grew with Wayne’s daughter but from afar. Children must watch. Their mother was very sad. She still harbored her hopes for Wayne’s return but had moved back to Illinois. Her sense of herself had been pulled out from under her. All the habits of everyday life are wiped away. It opens up all sorts of questions about who we really are. Life went along. It always does. Wayne had a heart attack and survived. He hurt his neck and back terribly and had to wear a brace for a long time. The doctors had a terrible time trying to control his blood pressure. But he continued to write and to live a full intellectual and creative life. Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He wouldn’t live. The doctors tried hard—radiation and all the rest. But Wayne was wasting away, he made his plans to die, sorting out his belongings for his children and for Randy, saying goodbye to friends, all the while the cancer eating at him. Friends—especially Dick and Sherry Thomas, Joe and Jill Somoza—helped Randy, who was always there along with hospice, to care for him. Son John and his girlfriend Melissa drove him to Houston for treatments. “Wonderful and special times for John and me,” Melissa said, “in the midst of that sorrow of his dying.” Sure enough, Wayne died on March 5, 2011. Ten days later his ex-wife Barbara had a massive heart attack and died. “Her heart was broken,” John said. Our lives are like this. We breathe in, we breathe out, and then we don't.
May they both rest in peace.
The Corner of Clark and Kent
Most of us boys were born
under the hood of a car, forearms
like Popeye's, pliers for fingers, grease
behind our ears.
By the time we were thirteen
we knew everything there was to know
about standard transmissions and short cuts
through country roads.
We were raised at the corner of Clark
and Kent where gods descend into men,
men into steel machines, bodies
built like Buicks,
faces framed by work.
We learned to eat with our mouths' full,
talk when we needed to piss, grunt
and groan through meals.
My daddy said I had what it took.
I just didn't have the desire
to spend my life with my dick
on a fender,
my head beneath a hood. I pulled out,
like I told Jenni I would, pulled out
before I was married and mortgaged, fighting
whoever came near.
One day I was thinking about Jesus, remembering
"wipe the dust from your cuff." I hit
interstate 80 at 75,
Jimmy, drove west 'til we ran out of talk.
He said he missed Cindy more than he'd thought.
I didn't miss Jenni enough
to go back
to a Sinclair future or a body shop job
in a town with gravel driveways, no
traffic lights, lots of old family vans,
and align myself with steel-belted men
who stick oil-stained fingers in their ears, walk
like they're full of shit, sit like they're
straddling a gear,
and all I kept thinking was, Jesus,
I'm going to end up in a neighborhood bar
where you know a man by his truck and his tab,
of his daddy, same bruises, same worts, same scars.
I pulled out, like I told Jimmy I would,
pulled onto the highway and never went back.
I wonder if I'd been better off
chained to a white picket fence
than wondering how to make sense
that don't connect and can't be recharged
at the corner of Clark and Kent.