January 13th, 2011
YOU’RE 39, NOT YET A MAN
In Belgrade you’re the first faggot
I’ve met in maybe a year who admits it,
however quietly, though it takes you two days,
and I regret having shared my truth
with you so loosely. It’s like the old saying,
that which is revealed easily can not be much
worth saying. But this is not a truth
we can afford to avoid, not like not saying
I’m from Mississippi
You must travel a lot, being in the military.
It’s a truth that’s greater than us,
do we hide it even from ourselves?
We are our only brothers.
You will not even say it clearly to me
the next day when I ask, when we are counting
dinars by the ATM in Novi Sad, when we forget
how much we’ll need for bus fare back
to Belgrade from our day trip to the north.
You’ll nod, or shrug; I cannot tell.
We are far
from the officers who carry forms that will
unman you. What do you think they’ll
learn, if you speak the truth to me?
We have laughed all day,
despite the graying of your hair in profile,
or our shadows touching hands and faces
on the cobblestone public walk before us.
Yet here you only nod when I, about
the sleeveless, muscled shoe clerk, say:
You should take him to the back for a
What are you waiting for?
He speaks no English, and still you speak
You will say
There are other elements that matter
and ask me why all things must be spoken.
And I will tell you that the only truth that matters
is what we are willing to admit in daylight.
In Mississippi, once, a freshly
uncloseted friend sat with me at a table
in the middle of the place, sounds of coffee
grinding in the air, just so he could say:
He made such a racket when we made love.
I thought the neighbors would complain.
And the heads, yes, they turned, for he had said it much
too loud, a challenge. The barista
upped the volume on a stocks report.
A woman clutched
But I relaxed. It had been too much,
but I’ve never faulted him
for speaking for us all.
In Mississippi this is also known as
for there, we learn, the men with hitches
on their trucks are waiting to take us for a drag.
That is why we queer boys never walk alone at night,
why my pockets overflow with
and the clerk at the auto shop knows my name.
I have bought three kinds of mace from him,
now stored in every place I will not
have occasion to remember when the men with hitches come.
I do not think
of this as fear, though you will disagree.
This is truth,
however ugly. Hitches and mace,
the world’s acceptance of you and your unvoiced shame:
they are counterbalanced,
they are the same.
–from Rattle #33, Summer 2010