by Hayley Brooks


Before the 2008 election, the boy
in youth group who chanted “Nobama”
into our ears, who flailed a
clumsy dance as a chorus of boys
bellowed “women drivers no survivors”
as the girls arrived, challenged
my sister and I to a Lincoln-
Douglas debate. We declined
and he inflated, boasting of a defeat
he mused his intellect inspired
out of us.

What he didn’t know was
that we knew to stay a
hushed tone of red, to turn
the stove off before the
kettle whistled, to stay
pregnant with grief.

When we played human tug-of-war
(no metaphor), my youth pastor would
drag me across the floor as my
skin mounted a dusty red from the
carpet’s heat. I do not remember
if my body let out a wail, or
if my mouth opened. I only
remember his ocean wide smile,
the laugh my body recalls in
moments of doubt.

Some people from church still talk
to my sisters: comment on their
wedding photos, tell them they
miss them on Instagram, come to
their house warming parties.

Maybe my silence has become
something new to them.
Before it looked like a different ballot,
that was all. Now, I am what they position
themselves against. Not the other
side of the debate, but the topic.
Topics do not have mouths.

When I fled, it was not the sort of
heady civility required of debate
that allowed me to run,
but my own knowing:
that eventually my grief’s infancy
would arrive, that it would turn
into something holier
than where it was

– – – – –

Hayley Brooks is a poet from Denver, CO who is now based in Minneapolis, MN. Her work has been published in Lavender Review and The Mennonite. She has a chapbook, “Becoming Hallowed,” published through PinchPenny Press. She currently works for the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests. Find her online at

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