the wax paper

YMCA

They made us swim naked at the YMCA. We were six or seven or so, dozens of us huddled along the ceramic shore, a cluster of behinds. The water was more green than blue and a haze gathered above it, a primordial mist trapped beneath the ceiling canopy. They would teach us to swim, make us into little four oared boats with peckers for rudders.

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But some sea already knew us and we took to water like lemmings, bumping again and again into each other, so many limbs flapping about in that little pool. We tried to drown the weak. We pinned Leslie Morgan to the side of the pool from behind until he hollered Uncle. We dragged Fats Logan to the murky depths and held him there, stuck rubber rings into his crack. We climbed on top of each other and fought until the death or until our nuts were crushed against the necks of our partners. We crawled amphibious back to shore, slid along the slippery tile, and chanted the chant primeval. We stood in the warm shallows and smiled, little yellow clouds rising beside us.

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"I don't understand," our mothers would say, "why they don't make them wear suits." We knew things our mothers might never know and those things made us stronger.

Jimmie Geralk had a birthmark on his ass, the state of Louisiana. Joe Camey had no testicles as far as we could see. On the diving board Dutchie O'Dell's pecker sprouted a hook on the end. Tommie Anderson's hid beneath a jacket of skin. And when we straddled the rope that strung the bobbing buoys between the deep and shallow ends, riding it cowboy, one hand in the air, a sensation crept through our groins, half pain and half pleasure, a kind of sex.

Edward Micus is the author of The Infirmary, a collection of poetry, and Landing Zones, a collection of shorts and stories.

Also appearing in The Wax Paper is Micus' poem, So We Shot.