David Rutiezer, the grandchild of Jewish immigrants, was raised in Illinois and Massachusetts, and lives in Portland, Oregon. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop and a TESL certificate from Concordia University. David's poems have been published in Drash, Harpur Palate, Jewish Currents and the North Coast Squid. He helped to found the December First Writers, who give readings about HIV/AIDS to increase awareness of AIDS and build support for local AIDS organizations. David sings and plays keyboard and ukulele, has a background in music therapy, has performed in nursing homes, memory care communities, and rehabilitation centers, and released a music album for children, The Kid in Me, in November 2014. He has performed and taught Israeli and International folk dancing for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds across the Pacific Northwest. David tutors ESL and writing at Portland Community College, and he volunteers for numerous community organizations, including Cascade Festival of African Films and the Oregon Holocaust Memorial.
You can learn more about David at CreativeDavid.com
Email David firstname.lastname@example.org
folk dances in a handmade dress
green and purple as crayons
and decries the lack of sense
in her fellow Idahoans. I didn’t know
splitting her Seattle hotel room would mean
sharing a Queen-sized bed while she
paws my chest, asking Why label yourself?,
saying under the right conditions she could
easily love a woman instead of
her rigid husband from the Department of Energy.
When I tell her I’ve lived in Portland half my life
she cries Don’t say that! and I have to clarify
that I don’t mean my life is half over.
I could tell her the only place
as I child I saw two men hold hands
was in Italy back in 1978. It wasn't
a gay thing. Before they watched
American TV and movies
and learned real men don't do that
and stopped. Folk dancing
has worked for me since,
holding hands in a circle of dancers,
and for 30 years he's had no idea I
spend nights dreaming I can
feel each hair on the backs
of his blessedly thick fingers.
I was visiting Milan with Sam,
a boy from school, divorced parents
as mine soon would be,
whose father lived there with
an Irish woman named Muriel
who'd learned to concoct macedonia,
fruit salad with just a dash
of kirsch. The city was awash
with more bicyclists than I'd ever seen
as we sipped frappes and stepped around
the dog bm. We were ten.
But even now, scanning the parks
on particularly crowded sidewalks,
I can't tell. It's hard to admit this
when I know I'm just supposed
to know. Two brothers?
An uncle and nephew?
Maybe two men whose wives
are sisters? I always end up
convincing myself no—
come on, say it —not gay — as if
two men's happiness couldn't be real
but today I think back
on all the years I never thought
I could enjoy work,
didn't know anyone had
a good boss who never hovers,
who treats us like adults and
even thanks us every day and, well,
at 47, here I am. I finally
have that. So I've learned
to say: Why do you ask?
because I won't force the day I love
the way they did in Milan in 1978,
two men friends walking hand in hand
who never knew that an American boy
watching alone from a stranger's window
would long for it all his life.
The man two folding chairs away
who passed out in the August heat,
slumping to the pavement, knocking over
the arrowed sign that reads antiques,
is sitting upright, wiping his face
from the water someone threw,
able to tell the paramedics
his name, and no he’s not a diabetic,
and though the danger seems past
I’m thinking how years ago a friend,
diabetic and HIV+, so big he could
barely walk, sleeping on a mattress
black with mold from his night sweats–
I should get a plastic bag to seal that in he'd said–
paid me to wipe his blood from the walls.
While he discussed world religion
I collected the half-emptied frozen food trays
that littered the floor. Once, a neighbor came:
Gary, you can’t let it get like this
and he, just back from the hospital,
told her by Christmas he should be
driving again. “Gary needs assisted living,”
a mutual friend had said, and though just 61,
he had only me and the young nurse
who visited once a week, tingling
over his swollen limbs: “I love wound care.”
In the January ice storm they went in
and found him dead on that bed,
a heart attack, and I ask myself
is this some kind of man thing,
how even we gay guys
learn to tough it out, say we’re
okay, that we can take care of it
ourselves? And is this why Steve,
when I tell him he has apnea,
that he’s swallowing his tongue in his sleep,
apologizes, embarrassed to have kept me awake?
The point, Steve, I wanted to tell him,
is to prevent yourself from dying.
Or is death itself a neglect
as I, two chairs from near-death
remind myself about the heat,
crack open a water bottle, and drink.
My father’s admonition
lurked in shadows, always, like a predator.
Now, we folk dance friends
drive to a leaf-canopied house
where Danny turns splotch brown
as steadily as an aging pear.
a friend tells me later
whose own son will soon succumb.
All those years I heard my father’s warning
as You’d better not be gay
when he meant this.
"Mom, that David is gay."
When I first came out to my mom, she didn't believe me. Mom, I told her one day, I think I was meant to be a woman.
After my mother had stared a few moments, she asked, Have you tried liking girls? I hadn't. Then don't worry, just be an adult first. Get a job. Live your life.
But I knew that I loved Floyd Parker on Guiding Light, and the only one loving him was Leslie Ann. So clearly, I was meant to be Leslie Ann. Or maybe Connie Selleca's character on Greatest American Hero, since she loved William Katt.
I'd met Arnie once, at Israeli folk dancing in Portland, Oregon where his mom Sylvia and I and about 40 dancers went every Tuesday night. We sat at the edge of the big stage in the big room at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Arnie's big, blue eyes so like his mom's. I was in my early 20s then, Sylvia was still married to and dancing with John, and Arnie was moving to San Francisco. I wore loose sweatpants to dancing, to hide the hard on Dwight gave me, and oversized t shirts with zippers I'd had put into the crew necks so I wouldn't gag when they touched my skin.
I was the closest to being in the closet that I could have ever hoped to be.
There were no gay people at folk dancing that I knew of. Why do straight people assume that there would've been? Are they still subconsciously thinking that all men who dance are gay? Or just that folk dancing is gay?
Later, as Arnie lay in a San Francisco AIDS hospice bed, he told Sylvia, "Mom, that David is gay. And I just don't have the energy to tell him."
Aaron/Arnie would die of AIDS in 1992. Sylvia would ask me, the first person from folk dancing to ask, if I was gay, and I would say yes and come out. I would keep writing poems, and she would write and publish a book of poems about him, and we would read her poems, her part in her voice and Arnie's part in mine, including when she was the keynote speaker at Pride Portland, probably in 1999 or 2000.
I would read at these events, and years later, almost accidentally, found December First Writers, and we began to give readings together of our own work about AIDS, not because I'm an expert on AIDS, having come out after so many had already died, or because my story is that remarkable, but to tell what stories I do have, not of the elation or relief but of the terror of coming out when being a gay man was synonymous with AIDS and death, and because AIDS is still here, and in the hopes that people will listen to other people's stories, and in honor and respect for so many like Arnie who are no longer here to tell theirs.