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This article is taken from PN Review 155, Volume 30 Number 3, January - February 2004.

Letter for Lorna Jon Soske

May 23, 2002
Dear Lorna,

I first read Dante ten years ago, in a small college town, in Norman, Oklahoma. Your translation of Canto 15 - its amber-washed creole melodies, its touch of savoured nostalgia - has rekindled these sweet, bitter-sweet memories. What's hellfire for someone who grew up on plains swept by ghost winds from the deep South, from the almost forgotten battles of the western frontiers? Manifest destiny passed us long ago, leaving in its wake thousands of church spires stretched over sleeping prairie towns, a land- scape whose cross-lined horizon, crimson and purple at twilight, always looked like a cemetery from the backseat of my mother's old Ford truck.

We struggled to survive. The worst years came during the anti-gay witchhunt of the Reagan eighties. My mother was a Lesbian public school teacher, closeted by the poten tial devastation of a stray rumour. Every night after dinner, we would watch the televised broadcast of the grotesque, beauty-pageant inquisition, accompanied by gospel hymns and the pious, God-fearing sermons of double-breasted politicians who brandished the figure of Christ like a swastika. Who needs tire irons, needs searchlights and barbed wire, when divine providence strikes through disease?

I remember playground taunts about God's vengeance, how all fags will die of AIDS, and when tornado sirens cried through the April rain, I wondered if he was advancing, if it was too late to rush out to the storm-swept streets and hold my hands ...


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