September 23, 2016
When did you first know you were bisexual?
I will never know how the pleasure I give feels as a body receives it.
I fear strangers, Naomi, even the ones I love. I count their turned backs on the subway.
Some nights I fear even the subway itself—or is it my reflection in the yellowed glass, how I cannot see the city moving beyond me?
I want each round mirror to open as a window might.
Perhaps I always knew, but I mistrusted my knowing. I once stacked my journals to the height of a beloved and embraced them.
Every poem I’ve read to you has been written in this direction. Each word a line on the map I haven’t yet finished that leads me to you.
In college, I got ready for a party with two women I loved who loved each other.
I watched Diana flip Jean’s hair from her freckled shoulders before zipping her into her dress:
the same gesture I’d made in the mirror, alone, before I arrived at their apartment.
I watched them pass Jean’s mascara wand fluently between them, one’s licked fingers curling the other’s lashes, and a question split me at my spine—
like a hand gently cracking a new book’s cover, ready to understand.
Copyright © 2021 by Rachel Mennies. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
“I wrote this poem as a B-side to the poems that appear in The Naomi Letters: a collection of epistles written from the speaker to Naomi, the woman she loves. The poems' date-titles track the progression of their relationship, and September 23, 2016 arrives early in that span. As a form, the epistle allows for powerfully intimate disclosures and admissions, conferring a shared interiority that pauses time and zooms in close. I wrote ‘September 23, 2016’ to disclose to ‘Naomi’ a fleeting, but forever-imprinted moment that led to life-altering interior discovery: the sort that reveals who we are, or in this case, whom and how we love.”