Afterlife

Dec 8, 2023 | 2024 Winter - Bi+ World Wide Web, Poetry

By Jess Whetsel

I did not learn your name
until I was a teenager. It was
an accident, a slip of another
relative’s tongue, something
I wasn’t supposed to hear—
or at least not from their lips:
my secret grandfather,
the villain of the family story.

The rest came later, in pieces.
You left because you fell in love
with a man after three children
with your wife. You left because
you could no longer pretend
you were the man you claimed to be.
But I am the author of the family
and I am rewriting this story.
You left because you had
the audacity to choose yourself.

I doubt my father meant to
keep his queer daughter
from her only living queer kin,
but that is what he did. And now
you are dead, your ashes interred
in a scenic cemetery states away
from this hole in my heart and
the corn fields and country roads
you left behind. But that is not all you left.

When I miss you the most, I look
in the mirror. Here is your Mona Lisa
smile on my mouth, your blunt-tipped
nose on my face. I place my hand on
my heart and feel the swagger of your
footsteps. I reach out, skin on silver,
to stroke the arch of your cheekbone.
No one can take you from me.
You are still here because I am
still breathing, and I promise
you will not be erased.

Jess Whetsel is a poet, writer, editor, and public speaker based in Toledo, Ohio on Erie, Kickapoo, Seneca, and Odawa land. Find her at www.jesswhetsel.com, on Instagram @jesswhetselwrites.

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