Coming Out & Other Poems

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The First Time I French Kissed You

was the same as the first time I kissed a girl
the same as the first time I kissed anyone.
My tongue in your mouth like a promise. During high school
sleepovers we only invited each other. We brushed our teeth
for whole minutes, did not understand why our underwear was wet.
We knew what lesbians were only in the context of high school
social hierarchy & Catholicism. We are not lesbians
we said to each other. We didn’t have cell phones
to say meet me here but we met in the locker room
before third bell. There was no second bell gym class.
There was no second chance for me when you lit a cigarette
in the movie theater parking lot, said it differently
I am not a lesbian.

 

Poem in Which I Imagine My Dad Agrees to Shave My Head

When he asks why, I say because I’m out of money.
& because I know there’s a shoebox in the garage
with a pair of clippers inside that Santa brought him
that he hasn’t used since we were kids.

My parents couldn’t afford haircuts for four of us
so my dad learned how to do it.
We’d sit outside in a row of lawn chairs
& he’d move down the line,

buzz my brothers’ heads with a #2,
wet our hair before trimming mine & my sister’s bangs
straight across, so slowly, so carefully, that no one would know
we were getting backyard haircuts from our dad.

When he finished, he’d gather up our hair
& spread it in his garden to keep deer away from his tomatoes.
I’m no longer ashamed of being poor,  late twenties,
still in school, never had a job that paid much

more than minimum wage. So when I imagine my dad
agrees to shave my head, which I have to do
because he is ashamed of how his oldest daughter
looks like a third son, what I mean is I can remember

the love inside my father but can’t see it. When I was a kid
we tossed baseball, built birdhouses he hung in the trees.
In elementary school, a friend asked me if I had a mom.
So when I imagine he agrees to shave my head

he doesn’t ask me if it’s a lesbian thing,
doesn’t tell me what is “natural,” how I should be
sorry. Instead, he understands this haircut
from an economic perspective—a buzz will look good

for months, even after it’s grown out, which means
fewer minutes spent in Great Clips, fewer dollars spent
on what he can do himself. & this is okay with me.
He is a businessman, after all.

 

Coming Out

I didn’t really learn what bisexual was
until college, part Intro to Women’s Studies
textbooks, part kissing girls with boyfriends.
The books spit out words like fluid
& continuum, & the girls were the kind
who wavered between me & their boyfriends,
between my bedroom & the homecoming court,
wanting so badly to be queen.
I crowned every single one.

Those girls never claimed it
but I did, told my friends I was bi
knowing I wasn’t,
just wanting some shot at normalcy,
though I knew it was a half-court shot
at the buzzer, one that could only
end with a groan from the crowd
when the ball ended up nowhere near the basket.

I went out with boys sometimes,
feminist boys, boys who loved
books, boys who could cook, to make sure
I wouldn’t learn to like them.
I never more than made out a few of them,
awkward movie theater & backseat events
always ending in thank yous,
brisk walks up to my bedroom,
& never texting them back.

After I moved out of my parents’ house
I wrote my dad a letter
as a twenty-first birthday gift to myself,
not saying bisexual but gay,
a more correct word then.
I left it on his desk but felt obligated
to call him in the dark twist of my panic,
to warn him what he’d come home to.

When he answered, I said it, gay
& he said Jesus, said Merry Christmas, asked me
why it couldn’t wait, why I needed
to tell him right then, while he was driving home
from work in a snowstorm, but all I could do
was listen to him breathe into the phone

relieved I had a father who answered when I called.
I let our silence sit there, my refusal,
for once, to apologize.

 

Selfie as a Dyke

The problem with being a dyke
is standing in front of your mirror, naked,
feeling both admiration & shame
for the woman in front of you,

who locks eyes with you, looks you up & down,
& walks away. The problem
with being a dyke is the glances you get
in the women’s room on a Monday morning

in your office building, or on a Friday night
at the local bar, your local bar, where you drink vodka sodas,
play “Cowboy Take Me Away” on repeat
because you’re too tender

for your own good, throw darts. The problem
is the double takes you catch sight of
while you wash your hands, your eyes darting
like a pinball—you do not want women to feel unsafe,

to feel like you’re looking at them
the way men look at them, because they can tell
you’re a dyke, which is much different than a man
but you can see it in their faces like a headline,

as strangers consider Should I be afraid?
Do you belong here? You do.
You tell yourself you do because you do.
Your girlfriend shaves your head,

& though you are sometimes mistaken for a boy,
you are still a woman,  just a different kind,
a dyke. Your friend helped you get comfortable
with the word by calling herself one so often.

Dyke. The problem with being a dyke is men,
is your father, who you text once in a while
because he’s your father & you want to like him,
so you try to talk about “safe” topics with him,

the weather in Pittsburgh vs. the weather in Cincinnati,
your promotion at work, but then he’ll say something
unrelated to the rain or your administrative responsibilities,
tell you to vote for T***p, that you’re a challenge

but he won’t give up on trying
to undo what your liberal arts education did to you,
because you still come from a Good Catholic Family,
& you still have Good Catholic Parents,

& it is at this point you realize
here is another poem
about your father, his mouth still
unable to say the word daughter.

 

The Right Things

I eat a half dozen Funfetti cupcakes
& then one more
because I cheat on my diet

& I cheat on my girlfriend
in my imagination
only in my imagination
so far only in my imagination

I give the bro in the left turn lane
the middle finger when he cuts me off
because it feels so good to do it
to yell douchebag but not be heard
though my gut says that’s childish
& my guilt is immediate

If desire is weakness

If desire is pain
my knees are bruised
from running
from falling
down the hill
to an open-armed father
who is not really my father
but an old idea of my father
in which he does not criticize
my fade or my sweaters

If pain is weakness
leaving the body

what good is the body
what good is the body

standing steady like a home

what is home

what good is the body
that cannot learn
from its wrongs        

how real is the body

no stanza break

that does not torture itself
in attempts to heal
that does not still listen to the mixtape
of six summers ago
upon leaving
or having been left

wondering what is the right thing
in a world full of right things
growing out of wrong things
with the ferocity of dandelions

untamed & shooting
through the middle of everything

 

Selfie with a Dying Cat

I’m at the vet with my roommate while her cat is dying behind a few sets of closed doors, & I notice the purple paint on my flip-flops, which has not faded, which I’m looking down at because this is just too sad. I have nowhere to look but down. It’s avoidance. It’s reverence. It’s something else entirely. The paint is the one you chose for the bathroom in the apartment we last lived in together. I painted that entire apartment because you were teaching summer school. Except for the bathroom. You painted the bathroom. It was a Saturday. You were painting the bathroom that purple while I was writing poems about how sad we’d become. How we began to turn on the TV during dinner & wear sports bras to bed. There’s this way you stop & start missing something at the exact same moment. Scratching the paint off my flip-flops with my keys does no good. My roommate’s cat is still dying & my roommate will still chain-smoke on the bench outside when it’s over, while we choke on our memories of Kiddo, & I will always know where the paint was. We held on tight but these soft girl hands burned & burned.

 

I’m Sorry I Cannot Attend Your Party

It’s not your taste for cheap beer
or the fact that your couch smells like boys.
It’s not the way your little cat gets stoned by accident
or that at your same party last summer

someone barfed on my new green shoes.
It’s not because I know that this time
there will be no piñata because right now
you’re really into being an adult.

I’m the drying grass in the hottest summer yet
& you’re the sprinkler that only works on the weekends.
I’m the kid with the broken telescope,
just a little dot on this planet,

& you’re that big beautiful moon.
I can only look at you from here.

Image credit:Mohammad Rezaie

Lisa Summe was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, earned a BA and MA in literature at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared in Juked, bedfellows, Waxwing, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. Her first book, Say It Hurts, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in June 2020. You can find her running, playing baseball, or eating vegan pastries in Pittsburgh, PA and on Instagram and Twitter @lisasumme.