Anthony DiPietro


walking to the bus stop in fifth grade
I distinctly remember
the bargaining stage
you know
one of those five splintered stair-steps of grief

I first began climbing when
in the bathtub I discovered
under my shy snail of a penis
a squishy wormy thing
living in the skin of my little boy scrotum and I knew

that I would die.
die because I could not
speak of this tumor
a shape I’d never seen in nature
could not tell my mother

could not label
this region on the map
of my body
or bring myself to point
where the doctor should feel

for the spongy
maggoty thing I was sure
was killing me. listen, in first grade
two older boys on the bus

hurled words at me like spitballs
and I kept my gaze low
I never complained
until they gave me
a hard-handed spanking

in the recess yard
I told a teacher
they hurt me
but cinched my lips instead of saying
what bone or joint or softer part it was

neither she nor the principal had
a magic potion to restore my speech
nor my mother
who tried ice cream
and my favorite chicken dinner

who wrung her hands
in the vast temple of my monk-like silence
who shook her head
knowing those mean boys would never
be punished without

my testimony
still she understood I’d never ride
the bus again. even after
writing my family a farewell letter
and even though my doctor

drew a picture not long after to explain
why my left was bigger than my right
and wrote down a word
to describe
what I felt

just a common nest
of dark blue veins
so harmless I’d never need surgery
and I was just like one in six men
who probably don’t speak of their ugly scrotums either

what I really mean to say is
at ten I already was taller than most of my grade
and neither fat nor muscular but
you know

and five years did nothing to shrink
this difference
the gym coach would’ve asked me
to join the wrestling team
if ever I raised an eye from my book to catch his

but what I wanted was
to be smaller
so I studied
the pill bug
curled my body tight like his

tucked my transparent shell
into corner seats of classrooms
cafeterias and movie theaters
wandered the dirt beneath the bleachers
spent every pep rally

at the library
I didn’t need to sneak in there
so quiet was I. do you see how fully
I embraced death?
how I almost became

the ghost of haunts and hallways
of my youth?
how I hid myself
so thoroughly that dead
is what I must’ve been?

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