Untitled at Seventeen
by David Bennett

Mary and I were swaying
back and forth
on her front porch
being snarky
when I stopped the swing
and the laughs that came so easily to us
“Teach me how to kiss.”

The class of 1963’s graduation approached,
and we were headed to different colleges.
My chance to straighten out
a crucial experience I was missing out on
was disappearing fast.

We hadn’t really dated dated.
We’d just gone to events
and hung out.
But we’d never been


Though I couldn’t articulate this
until years later,
it didn’t hurt
that her brother was a flat-out doll
who might occasionally parade around
in only his briefs.

“Johnny!” his mother said once.
“We have company.”
He came back with a chuckle.
“It’s only David.”
As though I was part of the family.

When I took a bathroom break
later that evening,
I examined his razor,
flecked with red hairs
that had recently adorned his face,
as if I’d found the elusive specimen
that would explain evolution.

at that time,
meant only “obstruct,”
Which I had mastered.

For the next few minutes
Mary and I discussed
what I’d just asked for.

“Learn how to kiss?
Are you serious?”

“I might need to know some day.”
A seventeen-year-old boy
and I’d never ridden the train.

She was game.

We took positions
— arms thus and hips just so —
and arranged our faces
with puckers
and low-lidded looks.

I took a deep breath,
closed my eyes completely,
ready to take the plunge
off the Acapulco cliff,

and backed off.

“I can’t do this.”

“Maybe you’re gay, David.”

I’d never heard the word,
but I knew its meaning

I gave her idea
a three-second thought
and shook my head.
“No, I don’t think so.”

IMAGE: “The Kiss” by Man Ray (1922).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As soon as I sat down to address the theme — something from my seventeenth  year — this poem flowed freely from my fingertips. It’s a vivid memory 54 well-traveled years later. The porch, the swing, Mary, Johnny, the razor, my sense of  being lost, my sense of the impending loss of a good friend. Many kisses later, I look  back on that confused, earnest, and wistful boy-man, whose temperate take on life was  still taking shape, and smile on him. Growing up gay in rural Texas in the 1950s was     not easy, I tell him, but it made him save room for charity and whimsy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bennett made it to 71, after all. He solved lots of riddles and decoded plenty of puzzles and ultimately learned how to be in the world. Now, having retired from careers as a Registered Nurse and Licensed Massage Therapist, he can say he made something of himself. He’s now in a death-match with bone marrow cancer, which is incurable. It will win, eventually, but David can point with pride to Pyrrhic victories over the last eleven years. He’s content in general but would rather have a different President.

AUTHOR PHOTO:  The author in a coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon, named Rain or Shine, in September 2016, at a showing of some tapestries he fashioned.