Why Do They Do This to Boys in America?

"Without a Helmet" and "TV Dreams," two poems by Tyler Sowa

Why Do They Do This to Boys in America?

Without a Helmet

In our home, 
a magnet held a polaroid 
of my father’s penis on the fridge:

a ghostly phallus wearing
a novelty Patriot’s football helmet.

He advised me:
Never trust a dick without a helmet.

Later, I wondered who to trust
in public restrooms while standing

with my legs spread apart
at the shortest urinal.

Beneath the sleeping bag,
my cousin and I compared ourselves.

Outside, our parents were naked
and bubbling in the hot springs.

Good, he said, yours is like mine.
But his was bigger.

As we grew, he would sneak up
behind and flub me with his penis,
or rest it like a rodent on my shoulder.

I wanted to hold the girth of it
like a pool cue in my hands,

or not his, but another, any other.

The first one I touched
after mine was long,

narrow at the tip
like the lip of a beer bottle.

And like the loose skin on a bone
of cooked meat, when I pulled down
the skin slid back.

In his French accent he asked
as he grabbed me,
Why do they do this to boys in America?

TV Dreams

As we collect garbage 
by backlot cargo ramps

between department stores
and banks, a child in a blue

coat picks up newspapers
scattered on the cement. 

I reach the back of your neck
and pinch the tiny hairs.

I’d kiss you but we only kiss
drunk. Rain is falling now,

the child makes mud splatter 
paintings—damp pants, he looks

like two depths of ocean.
His mother is smoking

under a blue bus terminal.
He brings her a paper and she says,

She's with Jesus now.
Way up there, like the moon?

Yes, son.
Do you need a spaceship in heaven?

No, son.
I laugh and look into your eyes

and you ask 
if my bag is full.

About the Author

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