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Nico Pablo

I am nine.

I have my first male class adviser. 

Something is different; I notice his ears too often, 

his skin the color of coffee I do not drink yet, 

his perfume that lingers in the air 

of the classroom at dismissal. 

I am eleven.

I pretend to be a slave to the clock, 

turn my head like a sunflower 

seeking its sustenance. 

I find it in the cherubic face 

of the class president. 

He catches me once and beams, 

his cheeks cushion the eyes that 

narrow likewise into smiles. 

The sunflower goes against its nature, 

wilts in the heat of what keeps it alive.

I am twelve. 

A classmate walks up to me, impish grin. 

Hey, do you do this? 

He forms a circle with his meaty hand, 

pumps it up and down above his groin, 

sticks out his tongue. 

My blank face gives away my innocence.

Not so many months later, 

I turn a newspaper page 

and a vision appears to me -

a bronzed god emerges from the ocean, 

kissed by the chisel of the Creator. 

I study where every sinew leads 

and rename the underwear ad to 

The Birth of Venus into Adonis Beloved. 

Finally I understand what the hand-circle is for.

I tuck the paper in a dark corner of a cabinet.

I am fifteen, sixteen, seventeen.

I try to talk to girls at parties.

I message them online. 

If this is what love is supposed to feel like, 

then it feels like nothing. 

I feel more alive when I slip 

past the stony gaze of the saints 

in the hallway of my home 

and into the computer room,

to discover how divine fire tastes when 

it explodes in my body,

torch lit by images of reclining men.

I am eighteen.

I see a giant of a man in class, 

commit his full name to memory during roll call, 

believe in Fate when we’re assigned to the same group. 

I sit with him on the floor, but how can I concentrate 

on literature when already I write verse

as my sight sails a maiden voyage 

across the sea of his shirt,

the grooves of his shorts, 

the golden forest that grows on his chin and shins?

There is no shadow of a crucifix

to flag this expedition.

I am twenty-three.

I feel like a stranger in my own clothes 

when I’m on dates. A crepe halved with

an almost neighbor turns into one movie, 

then three, several chai teas, paintings, dinners. 

If Time always reaps rewards,

I learn what risk looks like instead - 

a taxi ride of a martyr ending in tears.

I am twenty-five.

I have created a chimera in the laboratory of my mind; 

his hair, chest, shoulders, arms, belly, legs gathered, 

snatched from men in the movies, streets, 

boardrooms, daydreams. I visit him whenever 

I grow bored. I’ll have to release him 

one day but not now, not today. 

Oftentimes I cannot cross the threshold to love.




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