In the Shadow of the American Dream, David Wojnarowicz's truth-telling diaries

1980

Afternoon brings me down to the river, a lazy afternoon with the highway traffic rushing along past me, bringing with it all concerns of the working world, schedules blown away in that traffic, in the breeze from the river as I pass beneath the West Side Highway in between slow-moving columns of cars...

Inside in one of the back ground-floor rooms of the warehouse, there's a couple of small offices built into a garagelike space. Papers from old shipping lines scattered like bomb blasts among wrecked pieces of furniture, three-legged desks, a Naugahyde couch of mint green upside down, small rectangles of light and river and wind over on the far wall. Met this French guy, born in Paris, working in Los Angeles, has this navy blue sweater with buttons that line the left shoulder, allowing me to slowly fumble in shy awkwardness to set them free, lift my pale hands beneath the sweater, finding the lip edge of his tight white T-shirt, feeling the graceful yet hard curve of his abdomen, his chest rolling slightly in pleasure.

We're moving back and forth within the tiny cubicle, an old soggy couch useless on its side, the carpet beneath our shifting feet revealing our steps with slight pools of water. We're moving around, shifting into positions that allow us to bend and sway and lean forward into each other, arms moving so our tongues can meet with nothing more than a shy hesitation, sunlight burning through the river window empty of glass but covered with a screen that reduces shapes and colors into tiny dots like a film directed by Seurat. His mouth parts, showing brilliant white teeth within the tan of his face, hands unhooking the buttons at the front of my trousers, the arc of his back sending indiscernible shivers through my arms and legs -- haunted by the lines of shadows that dip down around his warm neckline, I lean down and find the collar of his sweater and draw it back and away from the nape of his neck and gently probe it with the tip of my tongue.

Later he took me back to his place belonging to a friend of his who is on retreat, and in the shadows of the living room he pulled a gleaming new guitar from its case and proudly rubbed his hands along its neck. We rolled some weed and he made toast and tea and upstairs in the bedroom we got it on again and he fell back into a relaxed state, his arms outstretched and eyelids closed down, his body brown from some faraway sun, and I let one hand slowly explore him, touching, sliding gently over every inch of surface, dipping around the legs, between them, up the hips, following the lines of muscles, the curve of his limbs, the collarbone, fingers smoothing out his forehead, brushing his temples, dreaming whole relationships against his reposing body.


1988

I feel like it's happening to this person called David, but not to me. It's happening to this person who looks exactly like me, is as tall as me and I can see through his eyes as if I am in his body, but it's still not me. So I go on and occasionally this person called David cries or makes plans for the possibility of death or departure or going to a doctor for checkups or dabbles in underground drugs in hopes for more time, and then eventually I get the body back and that David disappears for a while and I go about my daily business doing what I do, what I need or care to do. I sometimes feel bad for that David and can't believe he is dying.


1988

THE THING THAT'S IMPORTANT ABOUT MEMORIALS IS THEY BRING A PRIVATE GRIEF OUT OF THE SELF AND MAKE IT A LITTLE MORE PUBLIC WHICH ALLOWS FOR COMMUNICATIVE TRANSITION, PEELS AWAY ISOLATION, BUT THE MEMORIAL IS IN ITSELF STILL AN ACCEPTANCE OF IMMOBILITY, INACTIVITY. TOO MANY TIMES I'VE SEEN THE COMMUNITY BRUSH OFF ITS MEMORIAL CLOTHES, ITS GRIEVING CLOTHES, AND GATHER IN THE CONFINES OF AT LEAST FOUR WALLS AND UTTER WORDS OR SONGS OF BEAUTY TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE PASSING OF ONE OF ITS CHILDREN/PARENTS/LOVERS BUT AF-TER THE MEMORIAL THEY RETURN HOME AND WAIT FOR THE NEXT PASSING, THE NEXT DEATH. IT'S IMPORTANT TO MARK THAT TIME OR MOMENT OF DEATH. IT'S HEALTHY TO MAKE THE PRIVATE PUBLIC, BUT THE WALLS OF THE ROOM OR CHAPEL ARE THIN AND UNNECESSARY. ONE SIMPLE STEP CAN BRING IT OUT INTO A MORE PUBLIC SPACE. DON'T GIVE ME A MEMORIAL IF I DIE. GIVE ME A DEMONSTRATION.

-- from In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz edited by Amy Scholder, © 1999 the estate of David Wojnarowicz. Reprinted by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.


For details about the show and book, see "Where to Find It".