“bury it” by sam sax— Looking at Death and Desire

sax, sam. “bury it”, Wesleyan Press, 2018.

Looking At Death and Desire

Amos Lassen

sam sax’s “bury it” opens with poems written responding to several highly publicized young gay suicides in the summer of 2010. sax gives us visceral meditations on death, rites of passage, the Diaspora translation, personhood and desire. We, with the poet look at the choices and the mistakes we make and we question them. These are poems of discovery and just in case we have forgotten, sax reminds us that the heterosexual world has ruled over us, dismissed us and tried to erase us totally. Many have been driven to take our own lives and sax will not let us forget those who did. In the poems, we read the silent desires of those who were unable to vocalize them because of shame and fear. We question the society that has allowed this to happen and we say Kaddish for them remembering that it is a prayer that does not mourn but rather praises where no praise is due. Personally, I find Kaddish the most difficult prayer to recite for someone I have loved and I have done so many, many times. It is the finality of those words that maker death so real.

I love that sax also resurrects those beautiful men we have lost as he writes about death and desire. Regardless of cause of death (disease, cancer, suicide, AIDS), they return to us through remembering them and their lives, their eroticism and their humanity. They were part of us but are gone and gone with them are their worlds. We did not have to know them; they existed and they were part of us just as we were part of them.

Drawing on his queer and Jewish identities, sax morns the physical and what it might have been. He challenges gender with “i never wanted to grow up to be anything horrible as a man […] i prayed for a different kind of puberty […]”: “it’s not that we’re all born” “genderless, though we are.” Art is a commentary on society and these poems offer an alternative to what have becomes traditional perspectives on gender and suggest that identity itself is not fixed.

The poems look at mourning from many different perspectives and from many different aspects, “maybe i can’t see you now without also seeing you dead.” Mourning can also come before death like when an illness is discovered. We are all impermanent and we all will die. We must accept this while at the same time keeping a loved one alive in our mind.

Rejecting the notion of death as permanent just as he rejects fixed gender reminds us just how nuanced death is and what it means to bury not just the body but everything else as well.

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