Where does queer love go, when it’s corralled? Lovers outside of the binary have been seeking answers to that throughout history. The two men sharing furtive, hungry kisses in Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s “On a Pair of Young Men in the Underground Parking Garage at fX Sudirman Mall” are following an ancient prescription for sourcing queer shelter: you find it, and you take it, wherever you can.
The poem draws parallels to ancient histories of nonheteronormative longing: the martyrs and military saints Sergius and Bacchus craved each other in exactly this way (though some Christian scholars may disagree). Pasaribu cleaves to references from Christian and Roman Catholic orthodoxy to hammer in the longing; John Henry Newman, Aelred of Rievaulx, Thérèse of Lisieux: all are held to the half-light, half-shadow cast in these chambers of parking lots, in these unholy but nonetheless sanctified spaces where men may make love to men.
“Keeping watch as one / for security guards or janitors”, these intertwined homosexuals aren’t necessarily safe where they couple. They continue to feel the weight of the world’s censure, even at this vantage of remove: “A friend dismissed / their feelings as unnatural urges / but each of them knows who he is now.”
What I love best about Pasaribu’s poem is that it offers no consolation for the certainty of queer love. Who you are is not enough to save you, not from loneliness, not even as you entangle in the arms of another. We liberate love for ourselves wherever we can, particularly in those countries where queer love is illegal. We chase it in dimly lit stairwells of abandoned malls; in high-rise parking complexes after hours. We let it take from us even while we give everything we are to it. Just like the martyrs did, in their time, Christian or not.
Read “On a Pair of Young Men in the Underground Parking Garage at fX Sudirman Mall” here.
Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s first book of poems, Sergius Mencari Bacchus, was published in 2016 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama.
This is the twenty-fifth installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes.