There is a boy whose name
you’ll make yourself forget
but you’ll remember what he looks like:

taller than you, yellow blond hair,
a smile white as plastic silverware,
he’s the reason you don’t date
girls with blue eyes for years.

After gym class,
he saunters over to the corner
of the lunch room table
you are sitting at alone.
He cups his hands in front of his chest,
shakes them up and down,
and shouts at you: Hey! fat fuck!
did you forget your bra today?
His friends bray like donkeys,
and your face is as red
as the slimy spaghetti on your plate.
You don’t say anything.

You hunker down,
bend your shoulders in —
you’ll regret this later–
you hunker down,
and stare into your pasta
until he gets bored and goes away,
and then you stuff your face
and go to class, hoping no one
hears your belly gnaw at
the mouthfuls of shame
you just shoveled into it.

Your English teacher
reads the poems you write
and pulls you into his office. He says,
Look, you’re gonna grow out of this.
You’re not gonna be this way forever,

and you clench your eyes
because you don’t want to think
about how this bulk of a boy
can grow bigger,
how you can broaden,

he’s got to know that
growth is only beautiful
when it happens to flowers,
and you spend more time thinking
of how to mow yourself down.

Anyway, your teacher’s a liar:
this never stops;
you will always carry more
than your fair share.

You’ll sway with it.
You’ll wake up a man
with creaky knees
and red streaks on your hips
from years of tight waistbands.
You’ll stand naked in front of mirrors,
thinking about gravity
and the colors of stretched skin.
You straighten your back
until it aches.

The years give you something, though:
white static where the blond boy’s name goes,
the warm skin of lovers who teach you
you are not too wide to be cared for,
and over years of yourself,
you chewed the moisture out
of that belly full of shame:

it’s dry tinder now.

You swallowed a cinder called poetry
to try to burn yourself out,

but this big kiln contains it and roars.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.