Trigger warning: this poem is about a nefarious practice mentioned at its end …
It took years. I could reach the third crotch
of the willow, pick off a catalpa pod
once shinnied up after. Now stranger
in a familiar but shrunken backyard
I sized up the limber sycamore.
Might I still clamber up its reaches?
I sniffed sweet gardenia, bruising
its silken petals brown with soft touches.
But where were the sleepy plants sweaty boys
with grass itch tease to make play possum,
their lobes curling up like doodlebugs
beside a yellow-magenta blossom?
The new tenants must hate the burgeoning
stuff of imagination. They weed, prune,
lead staid community crusades against
anything that might make us swoon.
They spread acrid toxic herbicides
on any wild seed which takes root and sprouts,
like nettles or spear grass (once tortures for
captive braves whose home-made breechclouts
flapped in the breeze, baring boyish hips).
These good burghers drain the ditches where kids
with bacon tied on strings coax crawdads out
the lips of underwater mud-clump mounds.
Metamorphosis from tadpole to frog
has been reduced to glossy Life illustration,
the cool, real writhing of snakes replaced
with clammy joke-shop rubber stand-in.
So storms won’t sweep small boys out smelly
bayous, flush them up sticky in Galveston Bay,
these burghers put grates in front of culverts,
pour concrete on every unkempt gully.
Yet the sycamore was my private
redoubt for illicit excursion,
when lush with concealing vegetation,
a site of surreptious masturbation.
I clomb it gingerly that muggy morn
not bothering if I should or not.
Then, transgressing all their civic rules,
I did it swaying with my frailer barefoot
self whose haunts and hideways I glimpsed
through foliage below. My sperm splattered
onto twigs and leaves high above where
first I saw it. Nothing else mattered.
I had names for all the nooks and niches
in that Eden, even the unsheathed bulbs
sprouting in cat shit beside elephant-ear
in beds outside my window, my ersatz vulva.