On Sunday morning, like most around the globe, poet Jameson Fitzpatrick woke up to the news of yet more senseless gun violence in America.
As the day continued the massacre of 50 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, would eventually be described as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Outpourings of grief, sorrow and support flooded social media, but ultimately, many, as they tend to do in these situations, felt helpless watching the rolling news coverage.
As more details emerged about the attack, the perpetrator Omar Mateen’s father denounced his actions. He said his son had been perturbed months earlier after seeing two men kissing in Miami. For Fitzpatrick, this was enough to stir within him the need to take action.
The New York University lecturer spent much of the rest of the day writing, pouring his emotion into words. Below, reprinted with permission, is the poem Fitzpatrick wrote and posted on Facebook on Sunday evening. His moving words have been widely shared across the platform, resonating beyond his own friendship circle.
Speaking to Newsweek on Monday, Fitzpatrick said: “I was just struck by how small and quotidien the act of two men kissing is, how many times I have participated in it, and the idea that something of such magnitude could begin with something so small.”
The poet admits that like “many people I tend to feel helpless when there’s any sort of tragedy or mass killing” but “because maybe this hit closer to home—this was an attack on the queer community—I found that I couldn’t step away and feel like it was some big, exceptional thing that didn’t touch me. I wanted to do something that felt empowering, to say that love is big and inextinguishable.”
Since posting the poem, Fitzpatrick’s Facebook post has been shared over 250 times. Many commented that his poignant words have offered them some consolation in the wake of yet more horror.
“It’s a bit strange, honestly,” he said of the reaction the poem has received. “Writing is intensely private and personal. Poetry doesn’t help much, practically speaking, but I do think it comforts people and helps them articulate themselves. I thought if I can offer any solace to anybody, it’s a small gesture … like someone I mentioned in the poem, the Vietnam war protester—sometimes something simple and small can resonate with people.”
Read Jameson Fitzpatrick’s poem in full below:
A Poem for Pulse
Last night, I went to a gay bar
with a man I love a little.
After dinner, we had a drink.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, I said,
though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,
and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?
He walked me the half-block home
and kissed me goodnight on my stoop—
properly: not too quick, close enough
our stomachs pressed together
in a second sort of kiss.
I live next to a bar that’s not a gay bar
—we just call those bars, I guess—
and because it is popular
and because I live on a busy street,
there are always people who aren’t queer people
on the sidewalk on weekend nights.
We just call those people, I guess.
They were there last night.
As I kissed this man I was aware of them watching
and of myself wondering whether or not they were just
people. But I didn’t let myself feel scared, I kissed him
exactly as I wanted to, as I would have without an audience,
because I decided many years ago to refuse this fear—
an act of resistance. I left
the idea of hate out on the stoop and went inside,
to sleep, early and drunk and happy.
While I slept, a man went to a gay club
with two guns and killed fifty people. At least.
Today in an interview, his father said he had been disturbed
by the sight of two men kissing recently.
What a strange power to be cursed with,
for the proof of our desire to move men to violence.
What’s a single kiss? I’ve had kisses
no one has ever known about, so many
kisses without consequence—
but there is a place you can’t outrun,
whoever you are.
There will be a time when.
It might be a bullet, suddenly.
The sound of it. Many.
One man, two guns, fifty dead—
Two men kissing. Last night
is what I can’t get away from, imagining it, them,
the people there to dance and laugh and drink,
who didn’t believe they’d die, who couldn’t have.
How else can you have a good time?
How else can you live?
There must have been two men kissing
for the first time last night, and for the last,
and two women, too, and two people who were neither.
Brown people mostly, which cannot be a coincidence in this country
which is a racist country, which is gun country.
Today I’m thinking of the Bernie Boston photograph
Flower Power, of the Vietnam protestor placing carnations
in the rifles of the National Guard,
and wishing for a gesture as queer and simple.
The protester in the photo was gay, you know,
he went by Hibiscus and died of AIDS,
which I am also thinking about today because
(the government’s response to) AIDS was a hate crime.
Reagan was a terrorist.
Now we have a president who loves Us,
the big and imperfectly lettered Us, and here we are
getting kissed on stoops, getting married some of Us,
some of Us getting killed.
We must love one another whether or not we die.
Love can’t block a bullet
but it can’t be destroyed by one either,
and love is, for the most part, what makes Us Us—
in Orlando and in Brooklyn and in Kabul.
We will be everywhere, always;
there’s nowhere else for Us, or you, to go.
Anywhere you run in this world, love will be there to greet you.
Around any corner, there might be two men. Kissing.