Yes: A Poem for National Coming Out Day

In celebration of National Coming Out Day, October 11, here is a poem about coming out to my mom, which I did at the end of my Junior year of high school, in the summer of 1999.


My mother asks me and it seems years pass
before I answer. When I first kissed a boy, I told her
about him, explained where we’d go or at least half

of everywhere he would take me.
First she said it would be okay and that she loved me.
But I said No, said He’s just a friend, laughed.

Then cried in the shower because she made me
lie to her. But I thought she was convinced
and, perhaps, so was I. Years before that,

she asked. Of you and your brother,
she said, you’d be the one to get an earring.
Wasn’t that her way of testing the water?

I said No and argued about the feeling
of metal in my skin, how I would never

do something permanent to my body.
Before that, years and years before
I could possibly know what I was

asking for, she slid me a sheet of paper, asked
what I wanted for Christmas: a Ninja Turtle
some watercolors, an Easy-Bake Oven.

And she didn’t say no. I opened the box, smiling,
not knowing how many boys had asked for it.

and got a football or a pair of skates. She asked me,
didn’t she? And each time I said No
and wanted her to believe me, maybe she did.

So after I say, finally, Yes, she’ll cry.
She’s known, she’ll say, since I was five

and I’ll want to ask why
she didn’t tell me sooner, but instead ask

if she’s okay. And she’ll give me that look
I’ve seen before. When I stepped
through the back windshield of her car while

playing on it. When I crawled out
of that hiding place and startled her.
It’s a mother’s look and a mother’s look only. It says

How dare you and It’s okay and I want you to be
safe and finally okay and finally conscious,

stepping toward me slowly, as if into
an ocean, she says Yes.

Read other poems from Talking in the Dark:
Folding Sheets
3 1/2 Love Sonnets
Give It Wings

From Talking in the Dark (PUSH/Scholastic, 2003) by Billy Merrell, now available as an ebook!

Here Is the World. Here. It’s Yours.

In celebration of Pride Month, here is a poem about the worlds we choose and the families we make through art.


Of course, it gets easier. But there is still that
occasional panic. Hungry, or even starved
for history, that sense of belonging, you
do a frantic search at the library. Keywords:

WRITER and the screen distills the canon.
You pace by the aisle until it’s empty, read
that anthology in a safe corner, embarrassed

by the cover, though there’s really nothing
threatening about it. And then there are those
first loves: Auden, Doty, Whitman. They say
Here is the world. Here. It’s yours and it’s

all right. So you want to check it out, even
stand in line while your palms sweat
against the laminate, before you figure out
you have five dollars and thirty cents,

which is just enough to photocopy
the better third. So you step out of line,
hurry frantically until fifty-three pages
of their world are yours.

Read other poems from Talking in the Dark:
Folding Sheets
3 1/2 Love Sonnets
Give It Wings

From Talking in the Dark (PUSH/Scholastic, 2003) by Billy Merrell, now available as an ebook!

Happy 15th Anniversary, Nico

A poem I wrote for you way back when…


You drive us home that night, stroke my leg like one
strokes an animal to calm him, though I am

so near sleep I feel guilty. You say it’s okay
so I tilt my seat back, watch the lights

passing through the side mirror, stars slowly strung
like beads: quickly passing and aligning. Such

ease. Your hand rounds my knee then back.
Slow pulse of the road, impossible to read

how fast we’re going. It’s okay, go to sleep but
I want to watch your reflection in the windshield. You’re

the one who has to get up early. You’re the one
who’s been up all day and should be sleeping.

But you say shhh and I grip your hand,
unable to see the road and no need to.

from TALKING IN THE DARK (PUSH/Scholastic, 2003)


Us, circa 2002

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Memorial Day Poem

Here’s a poem about the moment Memorial Day started to really mean something to me.


I am in my room or reading
on the couch when David comes in
and asks me to come outside.
There is a familiar quality
in his voice, strange insistence—
I’ve heard it a few times before
when he’s asked me to hurry
into the living room. I think
something’s wrong, but it isn’t.
He just wants me to see a girl
on TV that he thinks is hot
or there is a documentary on
WWII or Vietnam and he wants
to share that fear with me.

But this time he is calling me
to come outside. It’s summer
and he probably needs a hand
hauling something from the garage
or handling something in the yard.
How long is this going to take?
But he just wants me to stand by him
as he looks up at the flag he puts up
every year. I don’t know it is
Memorial Day, only that it’s Monday
and I’m not in school.

And then he starts talking
all I still don’t know why
until he mentions the war.
I think he’s going to
look at me, or put his hand
on my shoulder, but he’s not
my father so he just starts
remembering Vietnam like
a bullet remembers its impact.
He doesn’t say that, exactly—
he doesn’t know how to say that.
Though I think I know
what he means until
he says how green it all was.

What? I think of Platoon
or Good Morning, Vietnam
and the color of wet money.
It was so green. It rained green
and we wore green—everything.
But when we put up that flag…
So I imagine seeing color
for the first time—and when
I open my eyes he’s looking
right at me. But he’s finished, so
I go inside, where I don’t know
what to say, so don’t.


Read other poems from Talking in the Dark:
Folding Sheets
3 1/2 Love Sonnets
Give It Wings

From Talking in the Dark (PUSH/Scholastic, 2003) by Billy Merrell, now available as an ebook!