Could you tell me, if I asked,
the worst thing you’ve ever said
or ever done?
I am ashamed to say
that on the great, wide map of my life,
I can pinpoint the exact place,
the exact time, the very instant I watched
my words turn
into great birds of prey.
I was standing on the driveway
with my brother. Young,
but not so young I could forget,
or try to shift the blame on adolescence.
The neighbor boys, who lived across the street
with their grandparents,
who were the same age as us,
who always played with us, were storming off—
some sort of unimportant,
immature argument had taken off
& we were tossing insults like rocks
across the asphalt.
Each one getting sharper,
They kept making fun of me for being girly,
for the way I talked.
& suddenly my darkest parts
Out it flew:
At least I have a mother.
& the air forever shattered. & the argument was over.
& the poor boys who’ve carried tragedy
around their whole lives like a scarlet letter
leaving me in silence
with the last, terrible word.
We never spoke of it again. I never apologized
& instead, pretended like it never happened,
afraid to admit that I am capable of something
so wrong & wretched.
I’ve thought a lot about shame
since then—its weight, how it feels, the way
it flutters, like two frightened doves
caged inside the heart, inside the brain,
for the day they’ll be set free.
I wrote this poem for you,
Grant Chemidlin is a queer writer and poet living in Los Angeles. He is the author of two collections of poetry, He Felt Unwell (So He Wrote This) and Things We Lost In The Swamp. He’s been a finalist for the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award, the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, and is currently pursuing an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles. You can find more of his work on Instagram: @grantcpoetry.