Nancy White: “Your Father, Your Son”

Nancy White directs the prestigious Word Works Washington Prize poetry book series, a contest that she won for her first book, Sun, Moon, Salt, in the early 1990s. She also taught English at my high school, St. Ann’s School, so I have a special affection for her. However, even if we were strangers, I would still have fallen in love with her newest collection, Detour (Tamarack Editions, 2010).

Detour explores the breaking apart and remaking of a woman’s identity in the middle of her life, through a son’s birth and a painful divorce. Subject matter that in a lesser poet’s hands would be merely confessional here takes on a haiku-like precision and open-endedness, intimate yet unbounded by the confines of one person’s experience. This feat is accomplished through White’s use of the second-person voice and the way she narrates major events obliquely, through peripheral details described with quiet beauty.

As a feminist and now the mother of a baby boy, I was particularly moved by the poem she’s permitted me to reprint below. I was concurrently reading the chapter on mothers and sons in Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, which addresses the same theme of trying to teach our children a more wholesome and emotionally well-rounded way of being men despite the pressures of patriarchy.


He carved the dusk with stories—his trick
to dive with lit cigarette and come up smoking,
or the girl he danced with late, her brothers
interrupting with a gun—but he never much

listened to you, no matter how you guzzled
his gruff heat, the musk of his overalls, the fine foul
language of his big male freedom. Four daughters,
no sons. He was all you had, so he’s still the man

to turn to, saying You took the dog in the boat not us.
You stayed late with the neighbors, called us liars,
didn’t care if we walked in the road.
In you now
a bud, a son who will rise like weather,

poured from your genuine, unnamed ore, from his
genuine, unnamed ore. You say this one
won’t taste the blade that separates love
from its genderless shape. You swear it.

David Kato Prize for Poems About GLBT Rights: Spring 2012 Winners

This spring, I once again sponsored a themed contest as part of the Alabama State Poetry Society’s biannual awards. The David Kato Prize gives awards of $50, $30, and $20 for poems about GLBT human rights. (See my prior post about the Fall 2011 winners.) David Kato was a Ugandan gay activist who was murdered last year because of his human rights work. The ASPS and the Spring 2012 winners have kindly permitted me to publish their poems below. (UPDATED June 2: Third Prize winner added.)

First Prize

Coming Out
by Emily Grimes-Henderson

She came out of her closet
Left her husband
Lost her kids
And in the light of day
Recovered her true self
Says she knew when she was six
She was different
Nearly lost herself trying to fit
The world’s prescription
Said it was like looking through the
Wrong end of a pair of binoculars
You just can’t see a damn thing
Or find your way.
Now she lives with fear,
Frightened of reprisals at work.
Her supervisor telling her
“You’re the man!”
Wondering if soon she’ll join others
At the underpass
Punished for not fulfilling
The ‘mission’ of the
Punished for living
The truth of her life.


Second Prize

Fayettenams of the World
by Lynn Veach Sadler

Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg.
They still call it Fayettenam.
Even today, when the Mayor
wants to put up a monument
to the vets of ‘The War in Vietnam’!
Hell, he also wanted to, not long back,
create a ‘Sister City’ with Vietnam.
We put the kybosh on that.
That’s a ‘sister’ thing, all right.
But he’s sure a persistent fool.
Now he wants Fayettenam’s Peace Conclave
to be represented on the committee
dealing with the ‘recognition issue.’
That’s ours–the way we vets
will be recognized.
The Peace Conclave is
Quakers and females and such.
I can tell the fool one thing–
there’s a lot of talk going around
that Fayettenam will burn
if he invites Fonda.
We’ll take a lesbian before that dame!
Wanna know somethin’ else?
Clooney. Pretty boy Clooney.
Our Boy George.
Well, he’s never been married, you know.
Always out there somewhere in the world
stirrin’ things up.
He needs to fight for the rights
of the right kind of people.
Maybe the next time
they put him in jail–
where he belongs, him and his causes
and his pretty self–
he’ll come out with less flesh
where flesh really matters for a man.
They’ll carve off a part
that will make his flesh
match his so-called spirit,
gay spirit, I mean.
You can’t be safe anywhere anymore.
They’ve just come out
with that Army padre in Afghanistan
masquerading as a man
who has now turned female.
Of maybe it was the other way around.
That’s the problem with that he-she mess.
You can’t keep them straight.
I’d kill my kids before I let
them do all that kind of switchin’.
I bet old Sonny Bono’s spinnin’ in his grave
over that so-called daughter of his.
Some chastity Sweet Chaz has!
I always thought Cher was weird.
She’s bound to be
at the bottom of the family screw-up.
Screw-wrong maybe I should say!
I just don’t know
what the world’s comin’ to!”

Third Prize

Coming Out
by Janet Johnson Anderson

I have come down
From the hillsides,
Poor as air,
With nothing left to sell
But my courage.

What cannot be used
Or carried,
Has been left behind,
For this territory ahead.

How many I have buried
In this rocky country.
Emotions, whose intolerable slowness
Caused me to stumble and fall,
Whose presence
Did not wake me in time.
Oh, nothing destroys the character
Like pure conjecture,
Years of uncertainty in these woods,
The agility of surrender,
Has confused me,
But no longer.
I am no longer waning,
Transcending morning,
Illumined in the shade
Of Heaven’s confidence,
I come singing
Humanity’s evanescent song.

Honorable Mention

David’s Blood
by Ramey Channell

they know we are harmless
yet danger stalks us
fear and hypocrisy
feed on our breath
messages of hate
signed with our blood
and the world is unbuilt
with each mindless death
and we become scapegoats
in this absence of light

they know life is fragile
ascending on frail wings
love so easily shattered
while conscience is sleeping
enveloping darkness
obscures hope and justice
and the world is unbuilt
and wings are broken
and losses confirmed
and they know we are harmless