I should have been doing useful work on this holiday weekend, but my posting on Phoebe Anna Traquair led me to revisit some writing I did starting in 1994: a magical realist (and gay gay gay and very sexually explicit) recounting of the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, from Sundance’s point of view. Sundance and Butch, a fiction with interpolated poetry. I’m going to now inflict the poetry on those of you who are willing to brave the subject matter and the very plain language (you’ve been warned) — because Sundance is an Apollo figure of sorts, with some godlike gifts (the ability to fly, healing by the laying on of hands, just knowing things), and of course there’s the name Sundance, with its nod to Apollo the Sun God, and in the couple he’s the fairer, more beautiful one, while Butch is the darker, rougher, more butch (names again!) one, so we have Apollo paired with Bacchus.
Once again, a posting that isn’t really about language.
(I wasn’t aware of an Apollo connection until this morning. Writers aren’t necessarily aware of the possible springs of their work.)
But first, some remarks about the history of the project. As near as I can make out at this distance in time (and my recollection might be inaccurate), it started in early 1994, with postings by Melinda Shore on the newsgroup soc.motss about the sad state of the roads in wintertime in rural Pennsylvania and side remarks on the roads in the altiplanos of Bolivia.
Ah, Bolivia! Calling up (in my mind, anyway) the real-life story of Butch and Sundance (insofar as this can be determined) and the mythologized version in the movie, which I’ve been a great fan of since it came out in 1969. From this germ came the poems and the chapters of a complex story.
My story comes in five sections:
1. Sundance’s life (in rural Pennsylvania) before Butch (both partners’ working-class origins are important throughout the story)
2. The pair in Bolivia as outlaws (in Sundance’s case, as a sexual outlaw as well)
3. In Bolivia with Max (Prince Maximilian)
4. On the way north, through Peru
5. In California, first in Fresno with Sundance’s brother Jase, then in San Francisco (where the couple open a Bolivian restaurant called, of course, Los Altiplanos)
Most of the poems went into section 2, but two of the early ones (here labeled as “interludes”) belong to the San Francisco part of section 5, and the “epilogue” sacrifice fantasy ended up in section 3.
[I'm pleased with several of the prose pieces and sent them out for publication several times, but with no success. Magical realism is no longer in fashion, nor (in the age of AIDS) is XXX-rated man-man sex in serious writing (it's dismissable as mere pornography, and dangerously retrograde at that), and to some they look like "just" slash fiction written by fans (in the already crowded Butch/Sundance subgenre). Well, one of them (from section 1, on Sundance's first kiss from a man) was accepted for a volume of very short (under a thousand words) fiction on kisses, but the book never made it into print.]
On to the poems. They appear here in a font I would not have chosen myself. It’s a result of my taking an easy way out of the problem of getting html to leave blank spaces where I wanted them. (Please please please don’t send me mail telling me that if only I’d use Cascading Style Sheets to link to from the main html text, the problem would be easily solved — once I’d spent the time making sense of complex tutorials on using CSS that are written entirely in Nerdview, as Geoff Pullum calls it on Language Log.)
(1) Roads Butch laid Sundance On a road In Bolivia, The sky so Blue It hurt their eyes. Sundance shook with Fear at the height, Consoled Butch, Remembered Roads From Pennsylvania. (2) Butch Lay in the Bushes, On the Slope Butch felt For Sundance, Yearned to Define their Forms. Sundance slipped On down The embankment And away. (3) - Interlude The New Suit Butch tried on A Brooks Brothers Three-piece From Sundance. Watching him in the Mirror Sundance saw Ivy tendrils curl On his lover's Brow. Butch went out For a drink with Some guy From L.A. Who wasn't so working Class. (4) - Interlude That look Butch turned To see Who whistled His nipples got Hard under The black t-shirt The big Blond Winked At Sundance (5) Big Sky Sundance rested His head On Butch's chest, Burrowed into the Smell of his sweat. Sundance worried There was no Name For who they were. Butch kissed Sundance Hard on the mouth, Named him Lover, And Sundance became Big as the sky above them. (6) His orientation The first time Butch took His cock into his Mouth Sundance exploded With delight. He did not know A man could Love another man The way He did. (7) The blacksmith's wife Butch coveted Her tool belt. (8) Out to get us Butch, Sundance whispers, They're out To get us. Butch looks back Over his shoulder At the high plains Hazed with uncertainty. Sundance nuzzles the other man's Neck, warm on his lips, Salt on his tongue, and Feels both bodies Tense. Sundance knows Butch will say to Ride, ride hard, and They will. He wonders if his arms will be Big enough To hold Butch at the end. (9) Memory Some days, Butch can't recall whether He’s the blond one and Sundance the dark, Or whether it's the other way around. He knows that one of them remembers the snow packed on Pennsylvania roads And that one of them is real good at breaking horses But which? Is it the bonetiredness of the Headlong rides? Or just the wearing of two men Into one On the trail? These days, Butch feels uneasy When Sundance steps away into the Tall hot grass For a quick piss. (10) The liquor talks They got drunk On some cheap Bolivian stuff And Butch got weepy And slobbered on Sundance's Trail-grubby shirt And said he, Butch, had always been A man who loved women And he, Butch, didn't know how it had somehow Come to this And then Butch got the hiccoughs And begged Sundance not to leave him And Sundance stumbled into the Tall dark grass, Cold and wet, And threw up his bitter metallic love. (11) The Bolivian Garden Unlikely on these stony slopes They come upon a field of knee-high pinkish flowers. Butch dismounts and Hunkers down Stares Expressionless at Shallow wells of the slightest coloring, Puckered at their centers. Half-closed eyes with a Sweetish scent. (Butch himself smells Strongly of horse Stinks of Hastily wiped shit Work sweat Fear sweat (Knowing that, Supposes Sundance presses Against him at night Just for the warmth) ) Butch picks one stem Three more An armful Pulls Sundance off his horse Stuffs flowers into his companion's Every pocket Slips their stems back of his Belt, his Neckerchief, his Bandolier Gravely slides a pink bouquet Into the barrel of the Rifle Slung on his back Balances one Behind his left ear. Sundance becomes a garden. (12) How it ended for them When Sundance died The bullets made red poppies fly Into dry air, made dark Paisley patterns on stone (It was a lot more beautiful Than in the movie.) Butch Flattened in the grass - poor Cover - on a slight rise Remembered Only a farmboy with bad teeth lurching swagger and a clinging nature If they had bothered to get the dogs - but it was a hot day and Sundance had eluded them for hard hours - if they had thought to search the grass - but they were sure the pretty one had led them away from his leader - they could have had cruel sport with him (It would have been fun Not just target practice with the maricón) Instead They fired their guns into the air for pleasure and So frightened Butch He fouled his pants and Wet the ground Beneath him That was how it ended for Butch - not a Bad deal at all Considering That he got away with his skin, and Well You can always wash out your pants. How it ended for Sundance was that When they rode up to that rise and Butch rolled off the horse onto the grass Sundance Found Notch in rocks Entry to Narrow stream Walled with rock Urged horse Downstream Till that ended Abruptly At lip of Waterfall Sudden space of all the world Before his gaze Sent the horse back Stripped off his clothes Abandoned His forged identity papers The roll of stolen banknotes The turquoise belt buckle (stolen from Butch as a keepsake) Most of a half pint of cheap Bolivian brandy Leaned back on his heels Made himself into a parabola Flew Into dry air Down for breath-stealing moments Into ice-melt pool of Fortunate great depth (Since Sundance in flight Is angel not man This too was much More beautiful than in the movie) It was the single most Exciting Experience of his life Here he is by the pool - Dog doing water dance Sun lizard stretched on flat rock Musing on the openness of his body Reflecting on Butch Supposing there must be more to hope for in a man Than a reliable piston stroke A big stock of dirty stories A way with guns Recalling that day back in Saint Louie when The two of them were still Feeling out One another's intentions Butch bought him an ice cream The coldest thing he'd ever Put into his mouth, which made him Want Butch Butch knew that He knew Butch knew that Leaping up shouting That's where I went wrong! Finding himself Face to face with The Prince of Bolivia Out hunting capybara with Bow and arrow, a Striking young man in whom the best of several races was Alloyed and who had always admired in Sundance His daring His beautiful long eyelashes, and The way he wore his dungarees. Postlude Sacrifices "Strike with Thy love's resistless stroke And break this heart of stone." - Charles Wesley Max, eagle-man above me, drops upon me; The smoky oil of his feathers coats my shoulders; His steely talons rake across my chest - Droplets of my blood spray into the rushing air. He thrusts his sex into me. His prey-cry fills my head with noise; His great beak scrapes against my neck; I wait, resistless, pulsing, for him To rip me open and take his meal.