It was cool and still beneath the house. Slowly
my eyes levered the darkness open. We crawled
between pilings, bricks, off-cuts of timber and sheets

of rusted iron. Bits of stone and twig fragments
clung to our skin, leaving small impressions.
Joanna counted her stitches, five pinches

bridging the fine white scar that marked
her belly. I was beaten. The small double cross
— a pale notch below my chin — was no match

for this. She pushed her underpants to her ankles
and shook her feet free. I slid my shorts
and underwear to my knees and shuffled closer.

She tapped at my penis and gently squeezed.
Her fingers were cold. I pressed a finger against
the fold of her vagina. We dressed. On hands

and knees we returned to the broken skirting. Some
slaters were hiding under a plank. We carried them
outside to make a farm. The sunlight made us squint.


Sometimes I’d tuck my penis between
my legs and try to imagine I was a girl.
It seemed simple enough, but even then

I guessed there must be more to it.
A boy just was. I knew this much.
And girls? They were different

somehow — something more
than skin. Girls were girls. They
couldn’t help it. That’s how it was.


Richard Smith teaches in Brooklyn, Wellington. He participated in the VU poetry workshop of ’97.