Sunday, June 10, 2007


Below is a draft of the poem I have been working on in memory of Barry Rogers, a.k.a. Johnny Rahm. Any comments would be greatly appreciated. If you want you can send them to

For the details of Rogers's life and personality I am indebted partly to the generosity of several of his surviving friends and relatives, and partly to his interviews (filmed or printed), as well as to some of his (unpublished) poetry, from which I received certain impressions of his inner life, and from which I borrowed some imagery for my own poem. One of the things that fascinated me about Rogers's life was the way it seemed to embody the conflict between the archetypes of the puer and the senex, between Dionysus and Christ. It was only after I had begun to sketch out the poem using these two archetypes as motifs that I discovered that Rogers had a cross (symbol of Christ) tatooed to one bicep and a panther (the animal sacred to Dionysus) on the other. The epigraph of the poem, taken from Virgil's fifth eclogue, means Daphnis, in radiant beauty, marvels at Heaven's unfamiliar threshold, and beneath his feet beholds the clouds and the stars.


In memory of BARRY ROGERS, who died by his own hand in Piedmont Park, Atlanta, on the night of November 6-7, 2004, age 39.

Candidus insuetum miratur limen Olympi
sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis.
(Virgil, Eclogues 5, 56-57)

Now Johnny Rahm has woken to behold
All time and space and being changed for him:
The green of Piedmont Park to beaten gold;
Atlanta to the New Jerusalem;
The Fox, the rose of the enraptured gaze;
The audience, the saints arrayed in white;
The pit, the orbits of angelic praise;
And his own self remodeled out of light.

Born to the Baptist Deuteronomy
Of iron prohibition and command;
Born to the Father’s absolute decree
Of his caressing or avenging hand;
Born to the wounded and self-wounding lamb,
The suffering exemplar of the Way

Who bore sin’s consequences, Johnny Rahm
Was justified by faith and damned as gay.

Sweet-tempered where the godhead scowled at him,
Kind-hearted where unkindness was his due;
Good-humoured where his highest hopes were grim;
Much loved by those who’d hate him if they knew;
A listener where he could not confess;
A comforter where crushed implicitly;
A light who reckoned others’ happiness
As somehow his responsibility.

Drawn to the stage’s self-transcending trance
Of beauty, passion, force; the dithyramb
Of measured sounds and voices; the romance
Of lights on silks and sequins, Johnny Rahm,
However cast, however charactered,
Mounted the flanks of skittish disbelief,
And breaking it into conviction, spurred
Laughs at the laughable and grief at grief.

All wanted and expected his success.
Beneath the jokes and stunts, a heart of flesh
Carried on its green bud of callowness
A wound already old, but always fresh.
And in that heart, a fertile seed of night
Sprouted in dense, black leaves and nettle stings
A canopy to filter out the light
And chill the living waters in their springs.

God’s engineers thought boys like him unfit
To know the blueprint of their own desire,
Or if they knew it, to embody it.
How then erect a self, four-square, entire?
How value in the Zion of the South
An inclination alien to the just,
Which in a preacher’s or a parent’s mouth
Moved all disgust, including self-disgust?

A Bob-Jones film-school senior, he composed
His story boards and shot his scenes until
Expelled for violations undisclosed
And rusticated home to Milledgeville.
He idled at the mall with Stephen Boyd,
When Steve, best friend since high-school, had to answer
A store clerk’s charge of theft. Amused, annoyed,
Steve raised his bulging shirt: "Not theft, fool. Cancer."

Now Johnny Rahm was headed for L.A.,
Land of the golden apples and the fates,
The sun’s last station as it makes its way
Down through the twilight of the Western Gates.
He found too thick the big and little screen,
The prize of toil and talent soon past due:
The great sow proved, for Johnny Rahm, too lean,
Her teats obscure, unglamorous, and few.

But for the first time he was free, free, free
To live, love, be loved at his heart’s suggestion
With those who lived, loved, were loved just as he.
Thanksgiving. A call home. A direct question.
A pause. The answer. Truth. He loved his parents,
Believed that they loved him. He’d hoped from each
Perhaps acceptance, or at least forbearance,
But there was indignation and a breach.

Pole dancing, with its naked vortices,
Repaid his sinuous and stage-schooled frame.
He lived his vetoed sensualities
And lived them for a public and acclaim.
An ad: Nude Models Wanted. He’d foreseen
A casting couch, but found the interview
Polite, professional. He shot a scene,
Did hot and heavy work and liked it too.

The studios loved his wild eroticism
And Calvinist work ethic: they ensured
A porn star minus porn-star egotism
With all the no-show petulance endured.
Fans loved the sculpted face and, toned and lean,
The college-boy physique, but they most prized
The frank avowal of himself on screen,
The raptures unabashed and undisguised;

Now an alert black cat, poised for a kill,
In the sleek semblance of a feline man,
An eye-lined phallic warrior, to thrill
An ambushed stranger on a striped divan;
Now yielding to a master, as if owned;
A fun, though one suspected fragile, toy,
He gladly stood the bull’s gross weight and groaned
That he was his (and his eternal), boy.

He wore his instincts like the innocence
Of Adam in his first integrity,
And left his videos as documents
Of a graced nature flowing naturally,
When, as the merciful, he reassured
Shy Danny Webster’s keen shamefacedness,
Or as the peacemaker, he soothed and cured
The ruptures of a friendship under stress.

To friends, co-models, techies on the set,
To doubting greenhorns with a failing nerve,
He gave in time, care, words, purse, sinew, sweat
The love he fancied he did not deserve;
Gave, bidden or unbidden, deft relief:
Pushed others from the pit in which he fell;
And soothed their loneliness, dejection, grief
With light from midnight, cheerfulness from hell.

Spare hours he drove along the coast; made finds
Of domes and towers for photography;
Encountered many people, learned their minds;
Searched his and logged it in his poetry;
Wrote to a grandmother whose heart stayed true;
And saw a brother who had one fixed aim:
To love the brother and the person who
Endured beyond both infamy and fame.

Always he dreamed: of love beside the fire
And tender walks in the Pacific night;
Haunted the reed beds of the sweet, black mire,
Where, to forget the harshness of the light,
The jostling ghosts drink from the deep, dim lake.
There Johnny Rahm, clutching the golden bough,
Dreamed dreams of being loved for his own sake,
Outrageous dreams that he would not allow.

One lover dithered between straight and gay.
Some (many) craved his beauty, but not him.
Then jealous, brutal Jimmy came to stay.
A lover’s deepest longing, or his whim,
Was Johnny Rahm's own mould. If things weren't fine,
He took the blame, too genuine to guess

Some (many) men are subtle, serpentine,
And feed like cannibals on guilelessness.

He played a love-sick mobster, thirty years
Trapped in a life defined by old betrayals;
He played a haughty critic (leers and sneers),
And gave, however stage-starved, chaste portrayals.
When his thug wept or his reviewer sniffed,
A curbed performance was an excellence
Fit for the form, and though beneath his gift,
Yet not beneath his judgement and good sense.

He took the tributes of the industry
On more than one tuxedoed, drag-thronged night,
Took modestly and not too seriously,
Icarus at the apogee of flight,
Surmising that it was the apogee,
And knowing that his wings must melt, he knew
He must soon feel the law of gravity,
Uncertain, when it happened, what he’d do.

When seven bruised and black-eyed years were through,
He dared resign his role as Jimmy’s prey
And see himself a self with his own due.
But on departure, Jimmy’s health gave way.
At the lone death, the worm of conscience turned,
And Johnny Rahm, aghast at his offence,
Lamented Jimmy, cursed himself. He’d earned
New grief, new guilt, new shame, new punishments.

At thirty-two, tougher was seemlier.
His longish, soft brown hair went close-cropped black.
His body, always lean, was steelier.
Tattoos now flourished on his arms and back.
But sweetness always reassumed his face,
The boyish overspreading the severe.
The porn-star grimace had its proper place,
But not, for Johnny Rahm, the porn-star sneer.

On one arm crouched the panther Bacchus drove
When, sprung from death, with blessings on his tongue,
He swelled the grain and fructified the grove.
The other raised the cross on which Christ hung,
Divine son, liberator, and true vine,
Moved by our woes to suffer and annul
The damage of the heart. And on his spine,
Between his shoulder blades, he wore a skull.

A decade gone in tending Laban’s flocks,
Whatever won now lost, he’d still to earn,
Nor hoped to earn, his Rachel from the fox.
Rare gifts are not enough, and often turn
Into a Leah of remorse. He tried
To bring despair and self-reproach to proof.
His brother rushed from Georgia to his side,
Gathered and settled him beneath his roof.

Cloistered in his agrarian eclipse,
He raised an altar to his God or gods,
And copied on his door in countless scripts
Death as his single text from prime to lauds.
Atlanta beckoned. He lived here and there;
Found jobs (unskilled, ill-paid, and menial);
Appeared in films, somewhat the worse for wear,
But still the consummate professional.

The spirit world still seemed, and was, benign.
New love was given. Underneath his jaw
His lover clasped a collar as a sign
Of sacred union and an iron law.
His hair went peach-tipped blond. He wore a shirt
Asserting Maybe, and to circumvent
The gesture that must cast him in the dirt,
Had an affair and broke the covenant.

Pre-emptive faithlessness was a mistake.
He knew that now and felt a lethal chill.
He knew he had been loved for his own sake.
He had betrayed that love with no ill will
Except toward himself. His mutiny
Was pardoned, but the bond was not the same.
He had defiled a certain sanctity,
And what was left dissolved in his own shame.

His love in ruins and beyond amends,
His health and fortunes under demolition,
Homeless beyond the homes that faithful friends
Provided the decline of his condition,
He pleaded with the Old Man of the state,
Whose answer to disease and homelessness
Was "Maybe. Maybe not. You’ll have to wait
Through months and months of deepening distress."

Friends would have given anything, if asked.
The Lord replied to prayers with blasts of dust.
For their offences men are sorely tasked.
Like garments chewed by moths, their beauties rust.
The owl is blinded by the mid-day light.
Now Johnny Rahm surrendered to the dark.
Steve had died sixteen years ago that night.
Now Johnny Rahm set off for Piedmont Park.

On centre-stage before you, Johnny Rahm,
You see, beyond the saints, the light who never
Asks for, but is, the sacrificial lamb,
And who loves you for your own sake, forever.
In our deliverance, as you well knew,
Our virtues can, as causes, have no place.
We may believe the virtues known in you,
While not the causes, were the signs of grace.