Brain Pickings

Wondrous the Merge: Why Love Knows No Boundaries

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“At the moment I cannot ask the future or the end. I am too exhilarant and purry. It is a miracle.”

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Big Joy — a wonderful documentary about the life of the poet, filmmaker, gay liberation champion, and counterculture hero James Broughton (1913–1999):

Though Broughton was a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s and left a powerful imprint on culture with his experimental cinema and expressive poetry, what makes the film most soul-stirring of all is Broughton’s remarkable and unlikely love story.

Already twice married and the father of two daughters and a son, it wasn’t until late in life that he met his soulmate.

James was 61. Joel was 26.

Exultantly besotted, James wrote Joel in a letter:

I did not think you would come to me in this lifetime.

On April 5th, 1975, James captured in his journal, preserved at the Kent State archives, a joyously disbelieving account of their first time making love:

And it was wonderful, truly wondrous. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I can still scarcely believe it. Such mutual joy. I was half my age. Age vanished. There was only lovingness. And connecting. And ecstasy. As if this were what I had been waiting for all my life, since … Littlejohn of boyhood. And thought had long since passed all opportunity by me.

And it was suddenly here. So very here. So tenderly and strongly. At the moment I cannot ask the future or the end. I am too exhilarant and purry. It is a miracle. It is from Hermes himself. It is a manifestation of so much that I have been feeling under surface in my soul so long: an incarnation. It had to become manifest. So much desire must create a reality.

Seven years later, in “Wondrous the Merge”, one of his many love poems for Joel, found in the sublime collection Special Deliveries: New and Selected Poems (public library), James offered a lyrical addition to history’s most beautiful definitions of love:

Wondrous Wondrous the merge
Wondrous the merge of soulmates
the surprises of recognition
Wondrous the flowerings of renewal
Wondrous the wings of the air
clapping their happy approval

* * *

I severed my respectabilities
and bought a yellow mobile home
in an unlikely neighborhood
He moved in his toaster his camera
and his eagerness to become
my courier seed-carrier and consort

Above all he brought the flying carpet
that upholsters his boundless embrace
Year after year he takes me soaring
out to the ecstasies of the cosmos
that await all beings in love

One day we shall not bother to return

The two remained together for 25 years, as muses for each other, until James departed this world on his flying carpet.

If you can, treat yourself to a local screening of Big Joy and consider helping the filmmakers crowdfund the film tour.

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