Texas Bamboo Summer
One summer my grandma locked us children out
of the house, which led my cousins—and younger
brother—to invent a game called Run, Fatso.
We traipsed over to the edge of the property
where our neighbor’s patch of bamboo
grew, and they kicked and broke stalks
until each had a decent spear. One stalk
had split so that its shaft fanned out
like a cat o’ nine tails. I’d thought bamboo
was a symbol of peace, but my young
cousins proved me wrong when our property
became my corral. They yelled “Run, Fatso,
Run” as they whipped me. I was fat, so
I must be punished. I ran, yelped when their stalks
struck my skin, I would become their property
if I stopped running. Why hadn’t my cries outed
them to Grandma? They herded me past the young
ash tree beside the house and Nathan’s bamboo
rod burst against my calf, cutting my skin. Bamboo
fibers clumped together, beige on blood. Gotcha Fatso!
I threw myself against my younger
brother, wrestled the now-shattered stalk
from his hands, and flailed my weapon out
at each of them. It’s funny how the properties
of wood change when it snaps. When your property,
your body, is threatened, you’ll use anything—even bamboo—
in defense. I thought if I could just get out
of their circle, I’d be away from their jeers of fatso.
Wrong. They followed me back to the house, stalks
dragging through dried grass. Then my youngest
cousin javelined his stalk at my head. If I’d been younger
I’d have cried, but instead I ran across the property,
back to the corner where my family’s stalk
had begun, back to the browned bamboo,
where I crumpled in the grove, sweaty and so fat,
so angry that all I could do was bawl my eyes out.
Every day, their young hands broke dead bamboo.
They chased me around our property, yelling Fatso! Fat-so!
and, even if I returned to hide in the stalks, nothing kept them out.
Aaron Michael Kline received his BA in Theatre and English from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. He is currently enrolled in the MFA Poetry Program at Rutgers-Newark, where is the Truman Capote Fellow in Poetry Writing and cohost/co-coordinator of the Student Reading Series.
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