By Fiona Petras
I have often lamented how difficult it is to look back on our lives and assess which life events were truly tell-tale signs of our sexual orientation. When it comes to looking back on our childhoods, things get especially hazy. Our memory begins to fade, and we aren’t quite sure which narratives our minds made up along the way to fill in the gaps. It is therefore hard to sort through the minefield of forgotten thoughts and feelings to tell whether you really had a crush that you were repressing, or whether it was something else entirely. We must come to terms with the fact that we will never know for sure. Those memories have been whisked away by time.
Yet something dawned on me when I was poring through my early writing. It held the answers to so many questions I now have as an adult, and to secrets I was not aware I was suppressing at that age. The poem which struck me most was entitled “The Way I Wish He Looked at Me” and was meant to express my feelings towards a man (well, really a boy at that age). At the time, I saw it as an opportunity to be selfish, to take the pen out of a man’s hand and write what I wished his feelings were towards me. “This is how you write about a woman,” I’d thought at the time. “This is how you appreciate her beauty and her body.” It was a classic case of “If you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.” Now, you might be thinking, as I was at the time, “how self-indulgent of her.” Or perhaps you’re thinking how sad it must be to have to write a poem about yourself.
But knowing what I know about my body image at that age, this “self-indulgence” seemed quite out of character and didn’t make much sense to me now that I was re-reading it. I had been so infatuated with this man, so imagine my surprise when I quickly realized from the depictions in the poem that I could not have been describing myself. I had gone into so much passionate detail in describing this fictional woman that it cannot but be worth some self-reflection. Suddenly, this writing took on a new layer of meaning for me. It revealed the potential that I had yet to discover, did not want to discover, but would nonetheless experience with a woman once the kettle finally boiled over in later years.
After stumbling upon this revelation, I first considered changing the title to more accurately reflect the reality that I was speaking about my appreciation for the female figure, and not necessarily my own. It would be disingenuous, however, to claim that it was not my yearning for a man that initially sparked the urge to write this piece. I couldn’t possibly choose one version over the other, because both attractions had to come together to bring this writing into existence. I therefore concluded that the title should not be replaced, but rather that the poem should have more than one title. After all, isn’t that what we bisexuals do best?
“The Way I Wish He Looked at Me” or “How I Would Come to See Her”
Like a violent typhoon
You stormed into my life
And there was no taming you
For the uncontrollable nature
Of the place from whence you came
Burst through you with intimidating glory
And your sheer presence made me feel
That I had seen the world
And yet that I’d never left home.
I saw the iridescence of the ocean
Reflected in your shimmering eyes
And the sun’s golden rays tightly woven
Into every fibre of your olive skin.
I found the cracks of the cliffs
In the lines on your face
And then I knew you’d lived enough
To know loneliness, remorse, and pain
And that I wanted to live it all with you,
Crumbling like boulders off mountain sides
With a reverberating sigh
Into the reliable embrace of your solid ground.
The souls of the shrubs of your land
Echoed in the depths of your dark, wavy hair,
The curve of the vines
Shaping your sleek waist
Meandering down a long path
To calves sculpted like breathing marble art,
And in every shout and laugh
And late-night conjecture
Of your paranoid mind
Rang the cheery, uninhibited song of your people.
And like a fool made wiser through travel,
After some time, I came to realise
That like a siren you could lure me
To new corners far and wide
And that I would willingly come.
This poem, which I wrote when I first began dabbling in creative writing, remains dear to me, as I wrote it at a time when I had just experienced being away from home for the first time in my life. My homesickness had a strong part to play in the fact that I drew comparisons between the features of a human body and the Mediterranean landscape of the Maltese islands which I fondly call home.
Besides noticing how deeply I had suppressed my bisexuality, certain other poems I had written evoked great sadness within me as they exposed my own insecurities and negative perception of my own body. As much as I seem to recall exuding confidence at that age, my poems told a different story and read more like a journal entry chronicling my deepest fears. They revealed a need to gain male approval from whomever I was infatuated with at the time, for fear of otherwise feeling incomplete, insignificant, or neglected.
You saw me in the frigid marble
And released me from my prison
Pulled me out as from corbel
To trace and mould your vision.
You made love to your art
As you sculpted its outline
And gave it your heart
To pour blood through like wine.
You kneaded my waist
Into shape for support.
Though you never made haste
Our run was too short.
There was a time you’d boast
Smilingly that I’m yours
But all that remains is the ghost
Of admiration once pumped through my pores.
You once kissed my nose into shape
Brushed my hair into being
Eyed your neck work down the nape…
Couldn’t believe what you were seeing.
I suppose the glint in my eyes
Looked much too real and
Fearing I might come to life
You abandoned me mid-strife
Left me in darkness to stand
While others posed in the light of day
And my skin dwindled stone grey.
Despite all my goading
I learned what it was to feel humble
And you never even knew
So there went all my charms
With no arms.
The fault was finally my own
And to be fair on you, I should’ve known
You’d wake and lose interest.
A mark of great minds no doubt, too.
You always wished to be an artist,
When it comes to my gradual realization about my sexual orientation, as well as my relationship with my own body, I cannot but grieve the lost time which becomes increasingly evident as I discover more of these clues. I often find myself thinking, if only I had realised sooner just how many of my actions were a cry for help. But it is useless to mourn the past, as that is how denial works—it strives to waste your time and eat away at your valuable energy which could be better spent deciding what you want your future to look like. This time capsule opened a crack through which a myriad of forgotten emotions and anxieties managed to ooze their way out. I have come to know and understand myself that much better as a result.
Fiona was born and raised in Malta. She was featured in the “Around the World” feature in the Summer 2021 issue of BWQ.