This week’s Poem Audio features two poems on childhood: “Little Icarus” and a new poem “Braces”. The full text for each poem can be found below the audio player. Enjoy!
Little Icarus stood by the wood chips.
He was twelve when both his wings broke, tangled up,
Trying to tear through the fabric of his polo,
Caught beneath the floorboards of his shoulder blades
As his cheeks flushed with shame.
He wore a slipshod buzz cut and chubby jowls that
Framed his braces and the crooked grin they fenced in,
Standing alone as yesterday’s rain lay simmering on the blacktop.
A blur of children sprinted past him, laughing,
And he buried his dry tongue beneath the dirt in his throat,
The stiffness of death in the mouth of a boy
Who never knew what to say.
Not a word about the jungles he’d seen in gym,
The knotted rope of humiliation and the sting of the lash
As the rich kid rat-tailed his back in the locker room
And all the cool boys snickered behind their elbows,
The cute girls giggling later over sandwiches.
But don’t you fear, little man,
For I have brought an army of book nerds,
Dreamers and choir singers,
Carrying their lisps and scars in rucksacks,
Glasses, buck teeth, and southern accents,
The boys who cry at movies and the girls who still have nightmares,
Walking our bikes over to invite you to our treehouse
Where white-out is outlawed
And your freckles are the confetti of God
Like He cut up the birthday cake of the sun just for you.
And together there, we’ll patch your feathers
And tell a couple of stories
Before we lean our heads back against the beams of our home,
Look up at the stars through the crack in our creaky roof,
And slowly drift to sleep.
I am thirteen years old,
And I hate the small bike chain glued to my teeth
That keeps me from the perfect kiss
I have planned for six months.
My smile is magnetic, tangled in wire,
My hello smothered in sparks,
My words, nicked and flickering in my mouth,
Fly in a hundred pinprick flashes, embers rising
From the fire in my chest.
Perhaps I can fence my garbled mouth
With the fan of my hand, breathe to you
In smoke signals, or tell you how I feel
Through the notes we write, unhindered
By chain-link and spotted iron.
Or maybe you will read my mind,
Your eyes pressed close against the glass
Of the space between us, peering beyond
My mouthful of radio, torn antenna,
But though I have worn this metal for many months,
Turning over the flavor of tin in my tongue
Behind the hard-wired cable in my mouth,
I was thirteen years old when you let me lean close
And close my eyes –
The first time I have ever been shocked.