—by John Grochalski

i turn back awkwardly
arched back
to grab a stone white door

when this ten year-old girl says
shouldn’t you be protecting those things?

i don’t know what she means at first
but then the other ten year-old girls start to giggle
and i have my suspicions

i mean, like, you know, like girls protect those things?

and there it is
ripped to shreds by some pre-teen wench
some little brat who doesn’t even have breasts

picking apart my man boobs
to another chorus of laughter

and it would so easy
so very fucking easy to crush this kid

to point out her natty. yellow teeth
tell her no boy will ever love her
with those natty, yellow teeth

that no dentist from brooklyn to l.a.
would be able to fix them unless they were a genius

then start in on her friends for their elf ears
their own buck-teeth and flat, sexless chests

but i’m the adult in this situation

and if one of these kids start to cry
if one of these kids storms off to tell her mom
it’ll be my ass on the firing line

so it doesn’t matter how humiliated i feel
how much i want to recoil
the last bits of me from this mortal state and die

i just shrug
i tell the girls i have no clue what they’re talking about

while they continue to laugh at me
while i walk away resolving to toss this shirt

this navy blue waffle shirt
that my wife got me two christmases ago

because i liked it
because i thought i looked good in it

finally looked good in something

burn it in a funeral pyre with those other bits of clothing
that made me a target in this place

the powder-blue shirt that larry said made me look fat
the green shirt that my supervisor said made me look homeless

let them all burn
shirts and pants and jackets
white and light colors

until my closet is exorcised

until it becomes a black void of fabric
that i’ll wear like some brooklyn hamlet
to hide the madness and self-loathing

the man boobs forevermore

protecting myself from the mean little girls
and everyone else

an entire planet of flesh and blood and bone
and little else that i’d hazard to call human

on my most
generous days.

John Grochalski is the author of The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008), Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010), In The Year of Everything Dying (Camel Saloon, 2012), and the forthcoming novel, The Librarian.  Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he constantly worries about the high cost of everything.