The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Five Prose Poems as Psychological and Therapeutic Objects

In Art, Freud, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Queer Theory on August 27, 2012 at 8:11 am

By Don Adams

Author’s Forward

When I look back on it, it seems to me that I have spent a significant part of my conscious adult life in the active and sometimes arduous process of being gay.  The prose poems below have been a part of that process.  From a personal and perhaps generational perspective, these poems, written over a period of years, seem to me as much historical documents as aesthetic objects.  For generations of the future, being gay may well seem, one hopes, a mere fact of life, like being American or Chinese, tall or short.  But for young men and women of my generation, and in many situations of course still today, being gay was and is a predicament.

Psychology can help.  In graduate school I pored through Freud and Jung and their disciples in an effort to explain to myself my inclinations and identity.  Modern psychology admittedly has a long and sad history of being used in the service of bigotry and oppression.  But at its best, psychology is an effort at understanding, and “to understand is to pity and forgive,” as Somerset Maugham, a once celebrated and now critically neglected gay writer, assures us in his nearly forgotten autobiography.

Maugham is a case in point in regards to the at times torturous evolution of gay identity in recent history.  When he was writing his drama and fiction in the first half of the 20th Century, Maugham was compelled by societal prejudice and indeed legal stricture to omit any direct reference to homosexuality.  But when we read him by today’s standards and assumptions regarding sexual identity and awareness, his work all too easily appears the product of a hopeless closet case.  To comprehend that work sympathetically, we have to recreate in some measure the assumptions and prejudices of the society in which it was appreciatively received, and which it in no small measure condemned and critiqued.  For in its broadest existential sense, to understand is not only to pity and forgive, but to accept that one has an ethical duty to challenge and attempt to change.

Maugham’s work takes up the challenge of changing a bigoted world in a courageous but necessarily coded way that requires some teasing out.  The poems below, written in a less dire time for sexual minorities, are correspondingly less circumspect, but they exhibit nevertheless many signs and symptoms of the cultural and psychological closet from which they were attempting to emerge.  When I read them now, some years after composition, and from the relative security of a less bigoted world, it seems to me that they were attempting to compel an ignorant, indifferent, or even hostile reader into sympathetic comprehension.  Perhaps they were addressed in some sort of unconscious way to my parents (who conspicuously appear in them but never to my knowledge read them), kind-hearted individuals who were compelled into psychological cruelty toward their gay son by religious stricture and societal prejudice.  But the crucial audience for the poems as psychological and therapeutic objects was even closer to home.  For it is true, as Maugham said as well, that there is no one in greater need of one’s sympathy, or for whom it is more efficacious, than oneself.


I thought like a child, a simple fact.  At the dime store once, my hippie cousin bought us hats.  I chose a floppy denim number with orange and yellow flowers embroidered on the crown.  When I got home with the prized purchase, my mother, glancing up from her recumbent position on the couch, pronounced a casual curse upon it, “Why are you wearing a girl’s hat son?”  Seeing my face tragically altered by the fact, she said to my cousin, “You know what he is going to do now, don’t you?”  And there were tears beneath the brim.

Some years later the young man’s mother, driven to distraction by repeated rebuffs, took the matter in hand one night while riding home with her son in the car, “You think you’re better than us now, don’t you?”  She got, as usual, no significant response.  His thoughts on the matter he was keeping well under the ubiquitous brim of his hat.


that everything was something it was not.  How tedious for one inclined to think it, consigned to this uncommon lot.  For once inferred there’s no denying these obliging antecedents.  Disconsolate chimeras cower before the tower of home and hearth consulting their agendas.  Tomorrow is their favorite part of every passing day.  They are confirmed in one’s concern about them.  O but they are sad!  And so his heart gave way.  He blamed himself instead of them.


I know, but I refuse to say.  OK I don’t know, but I have a hunch.  None of your goddamn business.  O kitty kitty poodle-all-day, I love you more than you could possibly fit in your degenerate tuna brain.

Tell me something I don’t know.  Our only bachelor president was taciturn James Buchanan, a one-term democrat, sixty-six when he took the oath of office in 1857. The coming war “annoyed” him, as did “that idiot” Lincoln. He once was heard to say, “What have I done to deserve this?”

It could actually fit in your right hip pocket when not too terribly small, “large” that is.  I know myself to be far too lazy to die.  What have I done to deserve this?  When I was just a little boy, my mother said, “straighten up that face,” and I did.

The word my dear is bliss.  I cannot begin to explain it any more than I can say why you left me, which is ok though, really.  My life, as they say, is a mess.  What have I done to deserve this?  Let me count the ways.

High School hunk Jeff Portell was in my dream last night, all grown up and looking swell.  What have I done to deserve this?  And what business did he have looking so fine while being, as he all but confessed, unloved and unwell?

Adolescence is receding from sight, taking its own sweet time.  What have I done to deserve this?  I am defaulting to an age before the rage set in, when one was at home and couldn’t care less.

This morning at 8:15 central time I turned 32 years old.  What have I done to deserve this?  Never mind.  It wouldn’t help to know.  We hate to practice the thing, but it is perfectly terrifying to even begin to be finished.


at the dick-tip of the Sunshine State.  Elsewhere the world is a universal brown and the drowsy citizens crowd for warmth into the tiny rooms of quite large houses.  Here thousands of tiny sprinklers souse the medians and shoulders of shrub-lined streets, late at night, when the condos sleep.  Some though are forever embarking on arduous night journeys with small hope of a quick return.  Heading home one evening just before dawn, I passed sprinklers going full-tilt in a tropical rainstorm.  I knew how they felt.  Another night I was brazenly groped from behind.  I thought, “This could be it.”  Afterwards I couldn’t shake a sort of putrid taste, not entirely disagreeable.  The invitation had read, “Come over early and I’ll tell you the story of my life, with a demonstration to follow.”  There are times when one seems driven like the rain.  Hopeless cases most of them.  They called it love.


my parents took my brother and me to see the musical Evita.  Although we did not know it yet, both he and I were already well on our way to becoming what we were later to be, he a social worker aiding the oppressed and I an interpreter of tomes and texts.  Over dinner later that same evening, at a fashionable restaurant near the theater, we forecast our futures as we discussed the play’s meaning.  My brother pointed to the hapless victims of a politician’s lies, while I highlighted the romantic fictions that gave meaning to their lives.  Our discussion abruptly ended when our father, who had been gazing about, suddenly announced, “All of the waiters here are gay.”  “But how do you know?” I wondered aloud, affecting a merely casual interest that clearly was faked, prompting my father to turn on me for once his full attention, glimpsing perhaps through the teenage haze an alternative persona averting his gaze.  “Everyone knows,” he at last pronounced and the subject closed like a book, which was then buried beneath an avalanche of adolescent emotion.  When years later it is dug up and reopened, it will help one stumped reader begin to make sense of a particularly elusive and intransigent text.

About the Author:

Don Adams is a Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University and an occasional visiting lecturer at universities in Saigon, Vietnam.  His most recent book is Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism (Palgrave 2009).  He is currently at work on a project regarding ethics and subjectivity in mystery fiction.  He may be reached at

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