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What Filled The Room

I don’t remember how young I was,
but I can still see the wooden bench
I sat on to untie my favorite blue sneakers
and the row of beige metal lockers
I and my fellow campers faced
as we rushed to undress for swim.

I can’t recall a single boy’s name
from the group I spent that summer with;
nor can I say where it came from,
the grip that took hold between my legs,
lifting and tightening
as I pulled my bathing suit up
an erection I did not want,
could not stop,
that no matter how hard
I knotted the drawstring
would not lay flat
against my belly.

Then a voice rang out,
“Getta loada Newman’s boner!
It’s fucking huge!”
and two pairs of hands,
white at my shoulders,
brown at my waist,
all in one motion
pulled my swimsuit
halfway down my thighs
and turned me to face
the rest of the group.

I froze.

Body pointing me into the air
above the middle of the room,
I froze, wishing
I could vanish,
that it would vanish,
which of course it did not.

What happened next is lost to me.
Our counselor must have come
to lead us to the pool,
and I must have jumped in
along with my tormentors,
whom I’m sure did not let me forget
my body’s betrayal, not then,
and not in the shower afterwards,
nor as we changed at those same lockers
back into regular clothes,
or on the bus that transported us
to the day’s remaining activities,
or on the ride home to dinner,
where I no doubt pretended
everything was fine.

All I see when I look back
at the end of that day
is the boy I was
getting ready for bed,
standing naked
in front of the mirror
behind his bedroom door,
tucking and untucking
his penis between his legs.

After a decade of service to his faculty union, Richard Jeffrey Newman is once again focusing on his writing. His most recent book is Words For What Those Men Have Done (Guernica Editions 2017). www.richardjnewman.com.