Debra Bruce

His Coming Out, One Version

She thought her son’s girlfriend must be pregnant—
Something to tell you, he said, at the door
of his boyhood room. What else could it have been?

Years later she would be able to laugh about it—
the swelling thought-balloon above her head,
as he shoved a pile of math books off his bed

to make a spot for her, then handed her the words
as carefully as if he were taking apart
his childhood Lego tower that she had saved.

(But don’t tell his father. Promise.)
Years later she would be able to laugh about it—
rainbow t-shirts, friends’ kids coming out,

a son’s not-girlfriend not pregnant!
Though pastel hairbands had littered his bedroom floor.
What was his mother in there looking for? 

(Don’t tell his father. Promise. Asleep
in the next room over where soon she would slip
under the covers, making space to hold

what their son had told her, and keep it safe.)

Concerning His Documents

He’s sixteen, skinny, wearing his Big-10 tee.
For years his mother said the papers were gone,
but then somebody found them, suddenly.

Today’s the day—he’s at the DMV.
He wore her down until she promised him—
her skinny son. In two years, one. Sixteen

in summer wind. (That’s when she carefully
inquired in whereabouts he’d never known,
where someone found some papers, suddenly.)

She turned back to the sink, not answering
any more questions, ever, scrubbing a pan.
Sixteen, flip-flops, wearing his Big-10 tee,

he’s in a winding line at the DMV,
tapping a flimsy stanchion with his hand.
She said his uncle found them, suddenly

(in whereabouts her son will never see)
—faces like his, taxpayers charged a fortune—
He’s sixteen, waiting, wearing his Big-10 tee.
He’s got the papers right here, of course, let’s see.

You Are An Inspiration! (No, You!)

No doubt she means it as a compliment,
the 40-something swimmer, an offering
to her elder, at 80 still shapely
from daily laps as she swings toward the shower:
“You’re an inspiration!”
 —which the older swimmer flings back
like a dropped towel grabbed up off the tiles,
“No you are an inspiration,” her glance grazing
the younger woman’s span of shoulder from one
powerful arm to where the other arm ends
abruptly in a round knob, fingerless.

And now in silence hangs the compliment
like a stranger’s swimsuit left behind on a hook,
which might stay there all day—who wants to wear
what isn’t hers?—still damp, so intimate.

Debra Bruce’s most recent book is Survivors’ Picnic, and her poems have been published widely in journals including The Cincinnati Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, and Women's Studies Quarterly. Website:



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