Queer Intimacies and the Poetry of Friendship

Two Friends Reflect on Vulnerability and Queer Intimacies

By Alicia R. Forde and Su Yon Pak
Illustration by Hephy's Den
Jul 08, 2021 | 3 min read
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(Alicia’s voice)

I sometimes think of friendship as a kind of romance — one unencumbered by the beautiful messiness of sex. It holds desire, intimacy, play, and an orientation to depth. It is a mirror in which the other reflects your humanity and your divinity. Your wondrous nature, and your perfectly flawed self. 

We were inviting each other to create a queer space, an inside-out space in which vulnerability led. I was challenged with Su not to lapse back into my tendency to be shy or to run away when I feel exposed. The practice was — and remains — to keep showing up. To stay present to the unfolding of a relationship built — from the outset — on the foundation of vulnerability. It is far from easy. 

An illustration of a Black woman reading a book; from the book emerges a Korean woman with ghosts representing her mother, grandmother, and country.

I would leave our time together unable to pull myself from her words, reflections, poetry. Whole poems stayed with me, on walks, on hikes, over meals. One such poem was Su’s Hwan Gap /Psalm 139 in honor of her 60th birthday. The text is theologically rich and beautifully rendered. In it, is a thoughtful announcement of Su’s arrival into the complicated world that she would be given to navigate. Laid bare is the story of her birth and the ghosts that haunt — and will haunt — her becoming. The ghost of a country, the ghost of a grandmother, and the future ghost of her mother. She writes (in this excerpt):

This heaven-crumbling sorrow
   I fed on it as I grew inside her

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

Sinews and bones,
     heart, eyes, hands, toes
with the silver thread of sorrow, I was woven into a tapestry
     not mine and not not mine

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

As I approach sixty
     my mother feeds me, yet again
     for the impending birth after
     the five twelve-year cycle is completed

Nine months of gestation becomes
     nine years in her miraculous procreative womb
         not the old and dried-up one you would expect
                      from an 80-something-year-old,
     as I remain in her Alzheimer’s world
     until, ready or not, it is time,
          with the rhythm of her body
I am pushed out, re-borne
     a motherless child.

5:40 p.m., she takes her final warm breath,
     inhale
the sun still in the sky, and the moon preparing to rise
     greets this well-lived life,
          exhale.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I need not ask her
     because I know it in my bones
         what is in her bones

Grief, yes
Sorrow, yes
Trauma, oh yes

She lays bare her being. The self that has wrestled and wrestles with the many legacies of loss and generational trauma that shaped her existence. Having received this gift, this profound reflection — and celebration — of six decades, how could I say “no” to our journeying together? I don’t and I can’t. Such honesty and openness in friendship is rare. Such a willingness to reveal oneself requires my attention and intention, much like prayer.

An illustration of a Black woman on a bridge, hugging the outline of another person.

Her poems — each of them — has that quality. They reveal the poignant and complicated moments that formed Su and her response to those moments. Each text offers a glimpse of the indelible events that created this fierce, protective, and compassionate human being for whom the world’s “no” is simply an opportunity to forge one’s unequivocal “yes”. In Hwan Gap/ Psalm 139 it’s all there: Su as softened and also emboldened by grief, by sorrow — by the legacies of trauma that could have hardened the heart but instead, for her, broke open the heart to both let grace in and reveal the grace that was already there. She concludes the piece, writing:

This odds-defying love
I fed on it as I grew inside her

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not a cold Seoul night but an unseasonably warm November day
I walk the bridge across the Mahicantuck,
         the river that flows both ways
        according to the Lenape people
Bridging two worlds like the river that communes in two directions
Surrounded by the stunning autumnal beauty
         with colors dancing, waving, clapping in the wind
Held by my partner’s fathomless love.

I breathe—
Inhale.
Exhale.

In these lines, she is love, loved, and grace embodied.  

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Alicia Roxanne Forde

The Reverend Alicia Roxanne Forde serves with the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Director of the International Office. Alicia has a passion for engaging individuals and communities in discerning what they most care about and working alongside others as they seek to enact Love and Justice in this world. She has developed a profound appreciation for self-care, grounded leadership/organizational development, and the crucial importance of meaningful connections in establishing sustainable lives. Alicia was born and spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as a Black, queer, cis-gender woman with deep roots in Tobago. She considers herself bi-cultural and is grateful that her formative years enabled her to cultivate a global perspective. Alicia is a certified Spiritual Director and has a strong interest in health and wellness. When she's not hiking, you can find her reading, working-out, or podcast-walking. She is a graduate of The Iliff School of Theology (MDiv ’03) and currently lives with her partner and nephew in Longmont, Colorado.

Su Yon Pak

Su Yon Pak (she/hers) is the Senior Director and Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-based Education at Union Theological Seminary, NYC. In this hybrid faculty-administrator position, she envisions, creates, and oversees the curricular and co-curricular work of field education, chaplaincy concentration, clinical pastoral education, ministerial formation, and combined courses inside Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. She is the co-author and co-editor of "Sisters in Mourning: Daughters Reflect on Care, Loss, and Meaning" (Cascade, 2021). She is interested in exploring the intersection of queerness and contemplative traditions as a spiritual director. Most importantly, she is a proud grandmother of Isobel and our grand puppy, Chara.

Hephy’s Den

Pearl from Hephy's Den is a Licensed Creator and Artist from Miami, Florida. She is an ArtCenter College of Design alum and is currently active in both the United States and South Korea. You can find her on Instagram: @hephysden, or her personal website, hephysden.com.

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