Poison Oak [a poem]

Misery is like a tickle. And tickles are fun, like
a laugh, or like running with the wind for awhile.
This I believed before I was an old fat man, and knew
To roll my eyes at human contact, like other adults.

I still remember poison oak (never poison ivy Out
West), and how its seductive red leafy tri-lobed Evil
Was lurking in the forest and caused kids to stray
Through the underbrush. It was sinister, I swear.

Misery loves company most if kids are miserable. We
Were itchy, and cotton-clad, and smelled of acids and
Calamine lotion. If it bursts, it’ll spread to us,
Said adults, eternally fearful of a kinder-rupture.

At school, you’d lose a week of Physical Education.
You’d be sidelined while all your friends–and a
Few enemies–scrambled sweating up and down the
Basketball Court. Boils stick on balls, you see.

Misery is not touching yourself, especially if you’d
Just learned how to do it properly. Awed preteen boys
Spoke in whispers of the one, like us, who scratched
Down there, and it shriveled away. Have mercy, Lord!

So they provided us with a nightly regime of mossy
Green pumice soap, and a chance to bare your body to
The woodporch spiders, and toss your itch-infected
Clothes into a scalding laundry. A fat lot of good.

Misery is an itchy, lotion-pink ten-year-old boy.
Don’t touch yourself, the grown-ups glower. You’ll
Go blind. You’ll scar up. You’ll give your disease
To everybody else. Adolescence: try not to catch it.


2 thoughts on “Poison Oak [a poem]”

  1. You weave a wonderful little tapestry of the various miseries of being a kid, pre-teen and adolescent. I like how the poison oak slowly becomes a symbol of all the other miseries associated with those ages.


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