He has brown eyes. A small classmate tells him in confidence what this apparently means.
When he asks his mother about it at the dinner table, she teaches him why “nigger” is a naughty word. Her admonishments remind him of when he brought home a condom that he found in the street. She was far from pleased when she saw it lying next to some coins on his orange bookshelf, reinserted in its wrapper.
A recurrent nightmare devastates his tiny psychology.
That sound – like an anvil battered in some cavernous forge; the blacksmith a circus-master caricature of his father, with those bulging muscles and the grease-twirled moustache, at the heart of the clanging, piercing din.
He crawls white-lipped and muted to his parents’ bedroom after these visions, utterly helpless in his fear.
Little boy marching at sea
Diligent captain of the
abundance tall and
“I’m thinking of joining
the priesthood –
becoming a man
of the cloth”
Near the brick-enclosed barbecue pit, he seeks for torment fire ants, potato bugs, and, after some hesitation, spiders. The latter must inevitably be sought within the cobwebs behind the latched iron door – the gateway to a cave formerly used to store coal, pokers, lawn darts, and other forbidden utensils of a prior generation’s recreation.
Grandma cleans, Grandpa smokes. The industrial-sized hum of the dishwasher contributes further to the palpable oppression. He fails to locate a comfortable position on the brown floral surface of the reclining loveseat. Slinking from the room in grim anticipation, he pads off in grass-stained socks. He flushes the toilet as a diversion, then rounds through the living room, past the piano.
From his vantage point near the crystal dish on the dining room buffet he can see Grandpa’s bust underlined by a banister. The old man is still watching golf. Grandpa’s head jerks momentarily away from the now-muted set in the boy’s direction; he catches his eye briefly, chuckles to himself and raises the remote control towards the screen. He grimaces as he raises a cigarette to his lips, which he then leaves dangling.
Staring straight at the old man, legs locked in place, the boy reaches blindly into the bowl. Distractedly, he raises a pinkish blob to his lips. He places it in his mouth and chews slowly, mashing the candy. It tastes of coconut.
These thirteen year-old birthday parties are all the same
Cola next to plastic cups
a mother and the ping-pong table
children bumping up against one another
in the dark
learning what it is to have bodies
At least once a month he is afflicted, usually in the middle of the night, by profuse, interminable nosebleeds. They follow a familiar pattern: after waking instinctively in the dark (as he does only on such occasions), he is aware of a creeping, leaden sensation inside his nose. He plugs his nostrils with tensed fingers then hastens to the edge of the tub where he fills sheaves of toilet paper with dramatic stains. He drops these saturated lumps into the toilet bowl one after the other, turning the water a cloudy pink. His mother once reluctantly suggests as a solution that the vessels in his nose could be cauterized, but he thinks of this as something better suited to livestock than a growing boy.
The football game,
with its whistles and crunches,
ended some fifteen minutes ago
in the neighbouring field.
A small crowd of parents is laughing
gently, tiredly as they glide
slowly along the northern fence
towards their minivans and pick-up trucks,
carrying red and white coolers
and folded lawnchairs.
The players are nowhere
to be seen.
Dad returns to the infield,
his white t-shirt glowing ghostly against
the grass and his sun-reddened skin.
The creeping twilight thickens
the air like a foam.
The restaurant hums with traces of the departed energy of Saturday evening: the baseball teams have travelled homeward with their cleats, leaving only strawberry-stained cups, red spoons, and rich piles of outfield grass under the tables. His forearms and tucked shirt are densely spattered with translucent dots of ice cream whirled from the claws of milkshake machine blades.
Ice cream shift
Rinsing luminous hands with cold water
after removing the yellow kitchen gloves,
pressing wrinkled fingertips into the aching crescent
between visor brim and flattened hair,
then scratching roughly,
thrashing the matted tissue back to life.
The clatter of plastic serving trays,
the flap of wrappers pulled down
over towers of ice cream cones,
the dampened rattle of sucked water lines,
the prison clank of the freezer door–
The factory song of the teenage workers
permeates the squat building
like the glow of fluorescent tubes.
The smell is that of death-in-fat: thick and charred. The pressurized spray of the sink hose doesn’t lessen the stench but, rather, aggravates and reassigns it to his clothes. The blackened meat chunks uncovered in the various trays and screens of the hamburger machine resemble stones spewed by volcanoes or, perhaps, fragments of unburned coal.
The cruelty of curiosity
Watching a woman-haired boy
Dispatching a sparrow at close range
With a pellet gun, we stood in silence
Beside an orchard stocked with the swollen
Unremarked fruits of knowledge.
The sun consented with a crimson glow.
Later, under cover of night and secreted
By a building’s unbetraying corner,
I attempted my first cigarette, a small
Miracle of unpleasant half-familiar
Smells, ember, and beguiling poisons.
The match sounded in the dark
Like a steeple chime unheard and undreamed
By our blanketed childlike mothers.
His feels like a monkish life, but he isn’t entirely sure he’s ready to shrug off those robes.
He is fifteen before his first yellow orgasm into a crumpled sock. Dan has warned him that “It might hurt a bit the first few times,” and he is right.
It doesn’t hurt so much after that.