The Real Write Stuff

It occurred to me today that I post about my writing, but I haven’t let you read any of it.  So today’s post contains an essay and a poem, both written and published several years back.

The essay started out as a short piece titled “The Silences We Keep”, but it ended up being expanded and published as a larger chapter in the anthology Mentors, Models, and Mothers: A Community Writing Project, edited by Judith Blackburn and Susan Hilgendorf.  I was privileged to read this at a meeting of biographical writers in Chicago and it brought tears to some peoples’ eyes.  As a bit of background, this essay is about telling my Southern Baptist parents–my church deacon and Sunday School Director dad and Sunday School teacher mom–that I was gay.  Anyway, here it is:

“When I could be silent no longer, I told them all I could.  But I didn’t say lesbian to my mother and father. .

I couldn’t.

For to say lesbian to them then would have been to say unnaturalUnholyQueer.  To say lesbian then would have been to say I am shame.  I am anathema.  I am the evil no parent wants as daughter.

So when the time to tell came at last, I said only gay.  I said only please don’t hate me.  I didn’t say desire.  I didn’t say need.  I didn’t say love for a woman. . .

. . . I didn’t say lesbian.

And I didn’t tell them of stones cast and lessons learned along the tangled path to revelation.  I didn’t tell them of slights from strangers and assaults from friends.  I didn’t tell them of truth lost and untruth gained, of learning to lie and learning to hide.

I didn’t tell them I could no longer see the face of God.

And I didn’t say that I would rather have endured the eternal rending of my own heart than cause their hearts a moment’s pain.  That I would rather have cut out my tongue than come to them with words they could hardly bear to hear.  That being a disappointment to them was something that would ache inside me until the day I die.

I didn’t tell them any of these things.  I said only the few words that I could stand to say.  I’m gayI’m sorryPlease don’t hate me.”

The poem is titled “A Moment of Life”.  I had a pregnant friend whose newborn baby was delivered in an emergency situation at home and died before an ambulance and help could arrive.  I combined the voices of everyone who was at the scene into one person, the narrator of the story.  This poem was published in the anthology Mourning Sickness: Stories and Poems about Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss, edited by Missy Martin and Jesse Loren.

“You sit cross-legged on the floor,
glazed eyes staring through the rusted screen door
at a Fourth of July sun blazing down
on the bare arms of browned farmers
baking in the fields.

Are you all right, I say,
just as you stand up and a dark circle of blood
gives testimony to where you have been.
Too soon.
The baby is coming too soon.
We all move at once —
Grandma screaming into the phone for an ambulance
that won’t make it in time
and Mom laying you down
and me praying “Sweet Jesus, you’ve got to help me here.”
But I guess even He takes a break now and then.

The child died in my own two hands.
Now she lies in a small graveyard
just off a dusty, gravel road.
Two uncles and an aunt keep her silent company there.
One lived a day, one lasted a week,
and one survived just long enough to be missed.
Sometimes I put flowers on her grave,
a tiny doll, some baby toys.
The wind always bears them away.
But nothing disturbs her gentle slumber,
while I lie awake night after night
wondering what more I could have done.
Was it my fault?
Never to forget that moment of life,
wrapped forever around my heart
like lights on a Christmas tree
that shine so brightly for just a brief season,
before their glow is gone.”

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