Poem of the Week, by Dan Bellm

Many years ago I used to teach creative writing workshops at the Minnesota AIDS Project. One of the writers was a man named Kirk. His eyes were dark blue and his face, like his personality, was calm and reserved except for one day, in the midst of discussing a play, he half-rose from his chair and leaned forward and acted out a few lines from a scene. It was an instantaneous change from contained and quiet to blazing; the air around him was electrified. (I later found out that he had spent his career working in theater.) Kirk’s writing, like everything else about him, was precise, psychologically acute and unforgettable. I still remember the first piece he wrote for our class, a brief memoir about growing up, washing the dishes with his mother and aunts and female cousins after a family dinner, knowing that the kitchen, with the women, was where he was most at home. “This is where I belong.” Kirk is gone now, but I think about him often, and lines of his beautiful writing float around in my head. I’m pretty sure he would have loved this poem.


– Dan Bellm

After the men had
eaten, as always, very
fast, and gone—I thought

of them that way, my
father and brother—the men—
not counting myself

as of their kind—the
time became our own, for talks,
for confidences—

I was one of her,
though I could never be, a
deserter in an

open field between
two camps. Even my high school
said on its billboard,

Give us a boy, and
get back a man
, a wager
that allowed for no

exceptions, like an
article of war. Gay child
years away from that

lonely evening of
coming out to her at last,
of telling her what

she knew already
and had waited for, I’d sit
in the kitchen with

her after clearing
the meal away, our hands all
but touching, letting

a little peace fall
around us for the evening,
coffee steaming in

two cups, and try at
ways of being grown, with her
as witness, telling

the truth as I could—
which is how, one night, that room
became a minor,

unrecorded battleground
of the Vietnam

War. I think she knew
before it began how she’d
be left standing in

the middle with her
improvised white flag, mother,
peacemaker, when I

said I refused to
go; never mind how, I’d thought
her very presence,

her mysterious
calm, would neutralize any
opposing force, draft

board, father—it’s not,
we know, how that war came to
pass. For years I’d still

call her at that hour,
the work done and the darkness
coming on, even

all those years when Dad
was the one who’d come to the
phone first, and then not

speak to me. Twilight
times with her, when a secret
or what I thought was

one could fall away
beneath her patient regard,
though I would never

manage to heal her
hurts the way she tended mine—
those crossings-over

to evening when the
in-between of every kind
seemed possible, and

doubt came clear, because
she heard, and understood, and
did not turn away.

​For more information on Dan Bellm, please click here: http://www.danbellm.com/