At 13 the gayest thing you could do/ was sleep over at a boy’s house/ trying not to touch.

At 13 the gayest thing you could do
was sleep over at a boy’s house
trying not to touch. But you always
did, fluttering, awkward, marked
by nervous laughter. Undressing
beneath your DC Talk posters
in carpeted rooms, or basements
where the air was lighter, cooler,
next to the pile of VHS tapes.

Those plastic covers squeaking
open as you drew out the title
chosen for nudity, loose jokes,
actors forgotten in films
about sexy carwashes. Like you,
perhaps, they undressed with
wilder hopes. Odd tan lines,
stuffed briefs, legs white like
bulk beans, like your own,
startled by touch.

You came accidentally, horribly,
in the hot tub. Begged to stay
while he towelled off. Cooking in
your shame as life crisped around
the edges. The whole night liquid
as you rolled on the waterbed.
What did you want, swimmer?
To kiss his freckled back? Or
to float in that sturdy frame,
wrinkling to a new texture?

Strip away everything, like
Eustace when the lion tears away
his dragon scales. All quiet on
the bunk bed. The tape clicking
to a stop. Don’t look at him.
Not his high arches, not
his armpits, not
his hair, not
his mouth.

Look, instead, at the hummingbird decal
peeling off the window. A precaution
against birds who can’t tell glass
from open air. Feel the boundary
against your skin. The red ache
of your wings.

About the author

Jes Battis (he/they) teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Regina. Their poetry has appeared in The Capilano ReviewCV2The Maynard, and Poetry is Dead. Jes is also the author of the Occult Special Investigator series and the Parallel Parks series, both with Ace/Penguin.