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The Circumcision

I held my father’s / hand, all two blocks to the clinic

Poetry | Straddling Convention
February 14, 2013

This poem is part of “Straddling Convention: The Erotic in Asian American Poetry,” edited by Ocean Vuong.

Light diffused through the blanket. I faced the rise
and fall of my father’s stomach and plunged my hand carefully through the elastic waist bands of his shorts,
startled at how different his penis
looked from mine: darker, not only the skin
but the hair around it like tree shadows.
Its head, a gravity-defying, moth-eating house lizard,
had no flap of skin over it. How free it looked,
powerful, shaped like a bullet, and instead of taking life,
it gave life. I petted it. My father
shifted to my direction and continued his snoring. Slowly,
the penis rose as if it was absorbing the light, the air,
my touch. It stiffened, flaunting itself
as the center of the universe.
I wanted my penis to be
like my father’s, the union of beauty and purpose,
and five years later, on a thirsty July afternoon,
he asked me and my brother to hurry up,
he was taking us to the doctor for our circumcisions.
I buttoned my pants cautiously as my sisters teased:
They are sending you both to the butcher.
My mother stood on the threshold
and sent us on our way, the most important men
in her life, her father many years dead. I held my father’s
hand, all two blocks to the clinic
where I spread for the doctor, and thanked the inventor
of anesthesia. I heard the snipping sound vividly, felt
the smooth trickle of warm blood and the otherworldly
contact of hard metal on skin. The relief of the operation’s
end was ephemeral. My penis resembled little of my father’s:
the flap removed, the head smooth and tender, yet
it looked ragged, humbled, beaten, like a man down on his luck.
When the anesthesia wore off, the throbbing pain
seemed to be eating up my groin. My brother and I
inched our way back home,
our smiling father walking patiently beside us.
How funny we must be to him,
his minions bow-legged with what might as well have been
egg shells in between our thighs. When the stitches
heal, I thought, and when the raw skin has time
to acclimate to the elements—air, touch—I will possess
the potential. My father placed a hand on each of our shoulders, and there in the doorway, as if a painting in its gilded frame, was my mother waiting for her sons.

From Imago (Cavan Kerry Press, 2007) by Joseph O. Legaspi.