This is an American poem, by an American man, that I have loved since the first moment I read it in an American college classroom in 2015.
I like it because I might have written it. I like it because it exists in the American imagination: my imagination. Vermont, the north, all the green and blue. I’m somehow included in the poem, understand? I’m there, in the green and the blue and I love that more than I can show or tell.
I used to think “I’m American” and I never needed to imagine my nation. I read American poetry. I speak like an American. I act like an American. That’s it. That’s all there is. One culture. One way of expression.
I imagined that.
But nations are not imagined. They are real. They have borders. When I came to Brazil, those borders were treacherous. I was painfully aware of them. I tried to hide that I was different—being different can make you more susceptible to robbery, assault, discrimination, etc,—but that’s not why I tried to blend into the Brazilian backdrop.
I interpreted my differences as alienating, you see, dear reader: I felt isolated in my Americanness, vulnerable, exotic in a way where I was both examined and overlooked at once. And I can’t deny that I wanted to convince everyone that I could be Brazilian, deep down in a darker patch of a strange jungle inside of me—the same part of me that connected to colonization.
I hadn’t imagined before being here that convincing is a form of colonization.
When I missed the stepping stones of Brazil’s social codes I used to get quiet, my words never fully completing, just trailing off at the ends like frays of sleeves of clothes you give away. Embarrassed. Ashamed. I would walk around replaying mistakes, memorizing the recent misstep to better avoid it in the future, counting the minutes I maintained a neutral cultural vibe—that is, how long it took the question “where are you from” to jut into the conversation—tallying the times no one questioned my foreignness.
I am bolder in the mistakes I make on certain days and not others. More risky some of the time, more cautious most of the time. On a Monday I’ll blush. On a Friday I’m shameless because I remember that life is anything you want it to.
So, one Sunday, I became the meadow goddess, invited the stranger with the curly hair at the day drink to pass through a pleasant fog with me, to sip the mist, “inhale the grass”.
Platonic curiosity, really. It’s exciting to speak with someone new and see what they have to say about you in what they say to you.
“You’re definitely not Brazilian”
“I studied psychology.”
“What’s the thing?”
“The most important thing you’ve learned?”
“When people interact with each other they have a motive, always.”
We were in an alleyway next to the bar. 6pm, maybe. The wind had picked up. I looked out from the alley, at that open space between one brick wall and another. A space where people appear for just a moment, they walk into the space and then out of it, like cartoons on a comic strip. They’re there and then they’re gone. Curious and humorous.
I started to remember a day in New York—the Macy’s Day Parade. I was in an alley in Manhattan, looking out at the great balloons drifting heavily through the space between two buildings.
I felt like a great balloon.
Then two female fixtures of my life in Viçosa, one American one Brazilian, shrill with fright appeared at the entrance of the alley.
I stepped on the cigarette. Put out the mist. They were checking on me in English.
“I understand you perfectly when you are speaking with them, but I have difficulty with speaking in English myself.”
“You mean difficulty with Portuguese?”
“I mean difficulty with English.”
A laugh. A nod. A hug.
“No, we didn’t kiss—no he didn’t try to kiss me—no I didn’t try to kiss him—it wasn’t like that.”
Confusion. Platonic curiosity may not be legitimate here. Sexual attraction seems to be at the forefront of most interactions between people in this city. Maybe this is true in the United States, too, and I have spent too much time alone to acknowledge that.
But I can acknowledge that if I ever was an extension of the organism that is the United States of America, I have no issue with borders. I’m lit up now, with light in my eyes, the accent thicker with every other shot of cachaça: with every third inhalation a fluid comfortability and rawness. A sense of acceptance. A pride, maybe? A feeling of bigness, greatness to know that I am not my country. I am bigger than the United States even if I am a product of it. And so I am anything I want to be.
☽ ☾ ☽ ☾ ☽ ☾
I think I understand more about myself and my world through deep friendships with men and women.
By the way, intelligent people say that friendship between members of the opposite sex, or between two people attracted to each other’s sex, is impossible. I disagree. I think those friendships exist under the weight of sexual attraction. These friendships are harder to preserve than others, but they exist. That’s a blessing.
Theoretically, I can be completely comfortable with women precisely because sex and attraction never comes naturally into play with them. This is true with gay men as well. Immediately, I drop inhibitions around them. Sexual energy is demanding and conspicuous for me. My sexuality slumbers around gay men and women of either type and that makes it incredibly easy to make a friend. And so I treasure my world of women and gay men up until these relationships become just as complicated as my sexual relationships with men or my male friendships strained by sexuality.
But, I have never been completely satisfied: not with a sexual relationship with a man I love or with a deep friendship with a woman I adore.
For this reason I have tried once or twice to superimpose sexual attraction onto a relationship I force with a bisexual or gay woman. Neither time has produced anything physical or particularly friendly. And each time I lie in bed for days afterward, imagining and savoring the most intimate moments I have with the men I have loved.
It’s this strange need to be more fluid sexually, even though I am not.
I see freedom in possessing a sexuality that fluctuates, don’t you?
Aren’t you curious about the gorgeous man who appears heterosexual but then later communicates his fierce attraction to both men and women?
Aren’t you curious about the beautiful woman who loves her boyfriend and still has coffee from time to time with his sister, who she slept with a few years prior to meeting him?
Viçosa has a fluid approach to sex. Straight women go to and enjoy gay parties. Straight men kiss and hug their gay friends. Gay men flirt with straight women. It’s a mash-up.
It’s the sexual remix here.
People ask me my sexuality when I first meet them. Men approach me aggressively and women too, just as aggressively. Gay and straight seem to be loose terms for many and completely nonsensical to others. Some people simply travel through sexuality without signs, they deviate. They get lost and turn around or continue ahead. There’s no consequence either way. Isn’t that freedom?
Isn’t it astounding to question your sexuality—your identity—not because you want to experiment sexually, not because you want a story to tell, but because you want to be free.
And that’s what I wonder about, can we choose to expand our sexuality and would that choice render us free? I don’t know. I don’t if we are born one way or another. If we come out more Brazilian or American. If we come out straighter or gayer or more bisexually.
But either way, we ought to have a say. I don’t think our sexual rights should depend on the argument of whether or not we are born “that way”. I think that’s irrelevant. Who needs to justify their sexuality with genes? No one.
Brazil understands that, which must mean that nationality and sexuality go to bed with each other at some point.
I wonder which of the two is more submissive and if either one has the desire to be dominated by the other.