Once, I was appointed alternate valedictorian
in case the main boy got sick. I was a scholar
of sex then—glossy men in magazines stacked
at the back of a tobacco store on Queen Street.
A guidance counselor scratched a penis onto
a chalkboard but never explained pleasure or
HIV or how silence equals death—sign bouncing
in a documentary we weren’t allowed to watch.
Today, another valedictorian stares, speechless
into a Florida crowd. He can’t say the word
gay and—you show me a stone leopard
in a book, poking through sand, memorial
to the Sacred Band of Thebes, pairs of male
lovers, elite warriors enlisted to defeat an army
of Macedonians. It was expected they’d fight
harder to defend ardent bonds. They were all
slain at Chaeronea: cameo concluded.
Once, my brother hated me, though
his smothering never succeeded. In my teenaged
bedroom, floor littered with books and socks,
magazines hidden in a box in the closet,
his hands circled my throat when he shared
a belief that the honor of loving someone
means his voice belongs to you.
You sound like a girl.
My Best Friend’s Wedding whines on TV.
I gripe about queer sidekicks in Hollywood movies:
He has no arc. He speaks just to make the hero
laugh. My husband hisses,
quiet, you’re ruining the film—
plus, you don’t need this rage anymore. Our clasped
fingers made of centuries of holding. Our legs braided,
a dialogue, on our sofa. His own brother, our best
man—but I still feel hands crushing my larynx.
Once, I ran up an ancient green hill but tripped,
dropping my spear, just here for you. You looked
back at me, protective but annoyed. We reached
a crowd of clanging and slicing at the top. I lost
sight for hours in a scrum of shields, and pink
cloaks, avoiding cuts, pretending to be dead,
beside your hushed head in the purpled grass.
from Poets Respond
May 22, 2022
Gordon Taylor: “This is in response to the news story out of Florida, in which a gay youth was appointed valedictorian, but due to the ‘don’t say gay’ laws, cannot refer to his activism or gayness in his speech. For me it harkened back to the eighties when I was a closeted teenager trying to come out in the onset of the AIDS epidemic, when it seemed being quiet was the only way to ‘stay safe.’ Are we moving backward? Has anything changed?”