“then down the narrow hallway / to the back of the house, past / the empty rooms of siblings long moved on.”
In this quote, the “empty rooms of siblings long moved on” refers most obviously to the now scattered state of the speaker’s family, her (most likely older) siblings having grown up and moved out of their father’s house; however, there is a darker implication in this line. Those empty rooms could also be taken to symbolize the empty space left behind by dead LGBTQ+ people who, unlike the speaker, succeeded in taking their own lives. This can be supported by the use of the word “siblings,” which indicates that the people in question are innately like the speaker, who we know is a lesbian from reading other poems in Mosaic of the Dark. The existence of this symbolism doesn’t mean that the speaker hasn’t passed by her grown siblings’ old rooms on the way to her own room; however, it does add a second layer of significance to that passing. Meanwhile, the line break in the second to last quoted line emphasizes the word “past,” which in turn emphasizes the people who preceded the speaker (both her literal siblings and the figurative siblings who died). There is a tension between these two groups, as one group is absent because they grew up and the other because they will never grow up. Furthermore, the emphasis on the word “past” is significant because the speaker, in this moment, likely believes that she only has a past. She is, after all, attempting to give up her future.
In Tendencies, Eve Sedgwick references some horrifying statistics about LGBTQ+ youth suicide. That reality—that even today, LGB youth are three times more likely than straight youth to attempt suicide, and four times more likely to make medically serious attempts (see this) (A note: we don’t even know that much about the statistics concerning transgender youth, but one study found that 41% of transgender and gender nonconforming adults had attempted suicide in their lifetimes)—forms the context of this poem. That reality is also why poems like this are important. This moment in the poem focuses on the past, on the “siblings” who came and left, yet there is an implied future for the speaker as she imagines her father’s careless words, “Asprin? he’d say. / Asprin can’t kill you.” While what this reveals about the relationship between the speaker and her father is its own tragedy, there is some relief in knowing that the speaker herself lives on. She does indeed have a future, a future from which she recounts this experience (the poem is in the past tense). Though there is value in remembering the past, including those who have passed, this poem does more than linger on the tragic history of LGBTQ+ suicide. It also suggests that the future exists, that at least some LGBTQ+ youth survive to adulthood, that LGBTQ+ stories are, as we discussed in class, “survival stories.”