When he says no

as some boy or man inevitably will,

it may be that he is still growing from one

into the other, or unaware of what he wants,

hasn’t learned the language that lifts

your diamond soles.

It could be his longing bends toward a secret

other, who may someday stir

a slumbering ache, blow its acrid tang

across your harbor

of forgetting.

Or perhaps it is you he travels

toward after all, nameless color

of a stain he traces, maze

of sugar in his palm.

Or not.

Or maybe…

because is just because.

The point is, no is not an exclamation

mark, parentheses curled around the sum

of still becoming.

You remain you, sass rolled

onto your tongue, glitter streak

in your veins.

And though a shuttered yes can halt

flight, blast its shadow

into the breath of future wanting

you must know:

you are the kingdom and the key,

bone of unbreakable sun-bright

bone, gift of sky and orchard filling

up space and always

the beholder —

supernova flash, cosmos of song

tempted, among boys becoming

men and men afraid of being men,

to claim

this light

belongs to them.

(for my niece)


5 thoughts on “When he says no

  1. This reminds me of a time when I was a heartbroken 14-year-old, believing his rejection was my own reflection. Years later, a knowing, silent embrace was all I could offer my heartbroken teenage daughter. Kahlil Gibran​ wrote, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” That shell also encloses a stronger, more radiant, more resilient you. So beautifully expressed Naila. Your love for your niece radiates through this poem.


    • Ah, Bev – Thank you for sharing, with such grace and insight, such a vulnerable moment from your teenage years. I love that Kahlil Gibran quote (I once found a greeting card with it and kept it for many years as a reminder to myself before passing it on…His wisdom, and yours, also remind me of this song by one of my favorite artists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuKvUKSFDq0) Thank you so much for offering up this glimpse of your (and your daughter’s) experience. That first pang of rejection can set up so many false expectations…What a glorious gift your daughter has in you!


      • Wow, you are so right. India.Arie’s song Break The Shell is beautiful. It really spoke to me, maybe because I’m in the midst of a navel-contemplation, life assessment, existential funk right now. No biggie! It always happens after a transformitive life event. Like a butterfly, I retreat into a chrysalis for a while and eventually emerge as someone…well, different, hopefully better.


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