Just after publicly announcing Straight Into Gay America I participated in a
poetry workshop. Early feedback for the ride started coming in very
positive. My dad's letter arrived on the same day as the workshop began,
and our first assignment was a letter poem. The epigraph at the top of the
poem is from my dad's letter. Instructer Jim Bodeen listened as I read my
work in class. "Send it," he said quietly, when I had finished. "Your father
will cry with pride for that poem."
I came to the poetry workshop last night with nothing in writing
the mail in my back pocket,
the letter you'd written. I thought to
read a paragraph out loud,
but it didn't seem the place.
Then, at the end of class, in the way that serendipity intrudes,
assignment came—write a letter poem. I walked back
to Chalet 3, and
here I sit, your thoughts pulled
from my pocket, trying to gather my own for
How old was I then, anyway? Eighteen? Twenty?
The time we took that cross-country shortcut
to finish our weeklong trek
in the Sierras? Remember
that white-granite crevasse we started up,
which got so steep we couldn't turn around to come back down?
we ended up taking off our backpacks, handing them up from ledge
and joining tandem hands to push and haul
each other up impossible steepness
until at last we came out on top,
in that bright high-altitude blue
sky that felt closer
and more wondrous than before the challenge of that
Remember in the afternoon, at the trailhead,
after the hike was
And Don's old Toyota pickup
that we'd promised to spot for him to
at the end of his own hike?
How it wouldn't start and wouldn't
even for you the master and me the aspiring mechanic?
And how, when
more than an hour later we gave
up, and sat in our car eating crackers and
drinking from our water bottles,
I had told you to go and start the
And you'd said no,
and I'd insisted, and you'd gone over to crank
starter one last time and that little green pickup
turned over immediately
and started running smoothly?
And I followed you in our
Pinto, and we dropped off his car,
and then drove home through
And how a week later when you talked
to Don, he
told how he'd needed a tow for the truck,
from the trailhead to the auto shop
in Bishop, and the mechanic there had
over how it ever got to the trail junction, "These
are completely burned out. Your engine should never have
I grew up with no doubt of your love
for me, of your hand being there to
me up when I am in need, and hoping mine can always be there for you,
no matter the size of the mysteries or the miracles.
Strange then, that we two lovers of philosophy
seem to grow increasingly
farther apart. The very places
that you admired me learning
the Air Force Academy, Cal Berkeley and seminary,
all helped me see the holes in the center,
and the hope in the
edge. The Christianity
that I studied revealed a conflicted core, even
the person became a stronger colleague to my pathways.
It's not new, your push on me towards the mainstream.
have preferred something other than my bicycling
across the USA in 1987. At
the end of all journeys,
though, you offered your congratulations.
Now as I announce my next hope,
to unicycle STRAIGHT INTO GAY AMERICA,
you let me know once more
that I'm advancing against your sentiments,
"There must be a way to work
for a better future without listening to the
voices and the ‘Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling.'"
Know that I
feel both gift and question in your pushing.
Few others cause me such careful reflection, and my own voice
stronger because of yours. I wonder,
though, from the center of this
what you would want for me if I were gay.
you want me not to be a pastor?
Would you want me not to have your
Will you treat those grandchildren differently
they grow up gay or lesbian,
or even wonder if I'd helped to cause their homosexuality
by my own
efforts at inclusion? Perhaps we're back
in that Sierra chute again, no
passing gear above our heads to one another,
handing ourselves into each other, not knowing
where the crest is, or
where the easy hiking will resume.
Perhaps at the end of this
trail, we will find
another green pickup.