The Bullies

Yes, I was young once.
And bullied for being small.
And wearing heavy boots
to protect weak ankles.
Throw in the home-made haircuts
and a right-hook as flabby
as my grandfather’s chins
and you have the perfect candidate
for roughing up by those
who did their growing earlier than me.
I was thumped in the back,
booted in the ass,
anything to send me sprawling.
I’ve blocked out the names they called me
but not the cruelty.
My father was dead
so there was no paternal call to arms,
no boxing lessons in the backyard.
And I didn’t have brothers,
no one bigger, stronger,
to be Captain Marvel
to my Billy Batson.
I had to rely on the pencil mark
by the door-frame,
the one that measured every new inch.
And the flex of my arm
as tiny muscles poked through.
But, best of all,
were the words that came quick to me,
funny and sharp,
on the page, on the tongue,
not exactly protection
against school ruffians
but enough to occasionally engage
whatever was behind
the intimidation, the fisticuffs.
I made them laugh.
I got them to do a little
of whatever passes for thinking
at that age.
They didn’t accept me as one of their own.
But they left me alone,
maybe suspicious of someone smarter,
dealing with the unwanted thought
in the back of their minds,
that the rewards don’t all go
to the physically strongest.
They’d see me in the playground
with my head in a book,
head off in a different direction.
There was no fun in smacking
a kid with more brains than them.
And they were wary of the novel.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Dissident Voice, New World Writing, Santa Fe Literary Review, and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in the Seventh Quarry, La Presa and California Quarterly.. Read other articles by John.