Carnegie Mellon University

Third Place for College Poetry

"Nehemiah"

The day I came out to my mom
she wept in her bedroom
with the door closed
loud and fierce into the night
and held her hands together
catching tears and clasping prayers

I kept my door open
but stayed in my bedroom
knowing who I am
but afraid to walk outside
even in my home

I sat on the wooden floor
my leather-bound Bible in my lap
finding the verses where being gay
was seen as a sin
and writing them in my notebook
and marking them in the Book
out of some spite against her
or my entire family
or some self-affirming sadism

my uncle says bitter things
about the “fruits” and “fags”
small things that cause everyone
to laugh
how my family all joke at the dinner table together
about being hit on by a homosexual
yelling about the accusations that they are one
while I sit silently in the corner

my grandfather
has disowned his sister
after being invited to her wedding
(her first marriage
after her divorce with her husband
and then rediscovery
finding that she loved women
and now loved herself)

this denial of not going to the wedding
happened a few years ago
my grandfather believing that
she doesn’t know who she is
that anyone who is “gay”
is either confused or cursed
by the demons and the Devil

how would he think of his grandson
knowing that those glass words cut
along his skin

my pastor preaches fear Sunday morning
in the church with doors wide open
my mom whispering prayers
that only God and I can hear
of how I’m in denial
and can still be saved
or cured

the pastor
she spits into our eyes
and yells warnings
of the “gays”—of me
all too lustful to know any better
the poor fools
like rotting tangerines
who only exist
on back alleys and in barber shops
flamboyant and falsettoed
living their lives in sin

my mother prays for herself
eyes closed
my eyes closed Sundays too
muttering words to Him
on his day of rest

I ask Him to take away the guilt
to explain away the shame
to myself and my family
I ask for there to be pride in the pride community
to end the uproar without riots
the cries without tears
our parades another’s block parties
gunfire and brimstone
another dead fag
another dead friend
I pray with heavy eyes
pleading to Him
if I could stop trying coats on
in the dark

I ask Him
and I hear in response
a silent pulse
this echo myself
and something else
some thing greater
something quiet
but still there
breathing ever still

This is my peace
with my God
sewing my own wounds
with needle and threaded verse

I was baptized outside a Rent-A-Center on Easter Sunday
My mother, My church singing psalms that day
And I sank into the tub
wearing only white
believing that God was there for me
for Us
soaking in the water
letting it fill my lungs

The morning after I had come out
my mom and I didn’t recognize
what had occurred the night prior
But her door was closed
is still closed
her knees to the ground and back arched
head bent and words soft
her son in denial
destined for Hell

my door still lies open
my bare feet on the kitchen floor
and I say “Hello.”