things said in the changing room

I don’t still carry them on my shoulders 

I think     probably    they’re rested somewhere 

in the scoop of my clavicle      the time 

a teacher shamed my obese body 

as I pulled my shirt over my head 

 

or the time a new young supply teacher 

seemed to look at me with pity    as though 

my body was someone else’s misbehaving child 

so each time I’d take myself to the edge 

of the tiled square    away from splintered benches 

 

the whole thing no bigger than a modest 

corner shop and full of my classmates 

the two types of bodies boys that age have 

the flabby    baggy ones    the skin a shirt 

draped over them they’re trying to grow into 

 

or the ones thin as Bunsen flame    who seemed 

embarrassed by their own fragility 

all waiting for the body to exert 

itself over its own boundaries 

some boys knew how to make a performance 

 

of their size    my instinct was to hide 

not shower   let the acrid stink of sweat 

and nylon settle on my skin     the ones 

skinny enough to be able to pretend muscle 

would take their time    do slow circuits 

 

of the group    hold eye contact with everyone 

over half of them have children now 

where before I’d think of them undressing 

for their wives    now I’m kept awake by thoughts 

of them as fathers      what they’re thinking 

 

as they bath their sons   how they will tell them 

the stories of their bodies   what soft curves 

they’ve built to hide the minor injuries 

of marriage     which parts have grown slower 

which parts of them ache as they lift their boy out 

From playtime (Jonathan Cape, 2018), © Andrew McMillan 2018, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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