Inertia, for the student who asked if I would donate during the campus blood drive

after Philip Levine

I walk among the rows of bowed heads,
circle the perimeter,
snake through the columns.
In exam quiet, I hope
my dress shoes’ clack covers the protests
from an almost-empty stomach.
I enjoy what my students cannot know.
The ache in my knees from the bathtub.
Head remembering the weight
of his fingers, my invisible crown.
The lack of breakfast stretches these hours,
but I’ve earned three compliments
on my Frog and Toad tie,
a gay reminder the world is larger
than the four corners of their state
test. Their fetal-postured bodies,
heads tilted down,
appear to be tumbling forward
into older, better selves
on future pathways I can only imagine
the glow of, with velocities
that remember what I used to know
about potential’s invisible energies.
Yet my route has become routine:
circle the perimeter,
snake through the columns.
Head bowed, I walk among the rows.
for the student who asked if I would donate during the campus blood drive


I used to lie
on the questionnaires. A role-play
made tolerable if I imagined
the three lives I would save.
Eligibility, an evaluation
of my lifestyle. A secret joy
in the possibility
that closeted blood could save
who prayed for my soul.


Under current federal guidelines,
a man in a monogamous relationship
with another man must defer sex
for three months to donate.
The guidelines seek to establish the timeline
of “his most recent sexual contact.”
Ambiguity condones skepticism:
did you even know his name?

This on the LGBTQ+ Donors page.
A recent addition to the site,
I learn, after browsing
Wayback Machine screenshots

from 2009 to 2017. I find
Can I get HIV from donating blood?
in every version.


After my third donation, 	[Defer:]
I questioned 			[to delay,]
the convenience 		[to postpone conscription,]
of my silence. 		[to submit humbly.]


In tasteful testimonials,
queers insist they’re proud
to serve their communities.
I admit, shifting attention
from homophobic policy
to redemption narrative
is a neat trick.
All that blood-disqualifying
fucking keeps the FDA up at night.
Celibacy, our patriotic duty.
Citizen defined belong to,
as in membership,
as in property.

Lucas Wildner is a poet and essayist in Seattle. A heritage speaker of German, he is currently working on a project examining the relationships between internalized homophobia, cultural geography, and white privilege. Recent and forthcoming work lives at Pidgeonholes, Chronotope Magazine, Homology Lit, and elsewhere.


“Inertia” was originally published in Under a Warm Green Linden.

“for the student who asked if I would donate during the campus blood drive” was originally published by Nice Cage.

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