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I wrote this poem last year about the word, no.  Before typing it out, I originally wrote it in my little, green journal.  Within its secretive pages, I would list three good things per day under categories of people, places, things, activities, and virtues.  Other times I would release my negativity, and when doing so, it would always leave me with this rainbow-like aura of joy afterward.

The day was nothing out of the ordinary when I wrote it.  Two of my friends share this same birthdate, and I made sure to send my well wishing to them both.  The poem was a result of an ongoing observation I have made.  When someone says, “No means no,” people automatically assume that person is talking about rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  I’ve noticed that people discredit the word, no, in other situations that are less acknowledged.

Whether you are saying no to opening up a credit card at a storefront, or it’s someone posing a question in a sing-song tone biased to a yes-answer, the word, no, gets ignored more often than one thinks.  Either the person repeats the question to get a yes, or someone misunderstands you and ignores your clarification, or it’s a yes-or-no question where a favorable answer is assumed.  These rhetorical questions could be posed in a cheerful tone or a dubious voice.  Either way, it’s passive-aggressively pretending to ask a question since the answer is not valued.

This can happen to either gender, and the person discrediting you could be anyone: your partner, an ex, your parent, sibling, neighbor, teacher, professor, friend, boss, coworker, coach, roommate, etc.  The lines in this poem are generalized so that readers can fit the words into a variety of situations they may have dealt with.


We live in a culture where no does not mean no.

No, I wasn’t talking about sex.
No only means no in that context.
No doesn’t seem to mean no in other situations.
No, I have other plans today.
No, I don’t want to buy that.
No, I don’t want to open a credit card.
No, I don’t want to tell you now.  I’ll tell you later.
No, I don’t want to tell you my friend’s secret or answer some invasive question.
No, that is not true about me.  Let me clarify…
No, leave me alone. Or No, I want to be left alone.
No, that is not what happened.  This is what happened…
No, I don’t want to eat that.
No, I don’t like that.
No, I don’t want to go there.
No, I don’t need this from the store or this…
No, I am not interested.
No, that is not what I did.  I went out…
No, that is not who I am.

People don’t like
to be rejected or corrected,
but they never learn
what is accurate.

Caroline Friehs
AWP Volunteer

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