HomePoetryIn The Tea Tree

In The Tea Tree

They used to tell us to be careful of the tea tree at night
because bad men hide in there.
But when the man showed us his dick on the playground
it was midday, sunny and cloudless,
and there wasn’t any tea tree around.

Little girls are not like little boys.
Little boys act all tough like pirates,
but they are needy and soft
and can’t even do their shoelaces right.
Little girls come into the world
with a briefcase with three ironed shirts
and a to-do list that’s already a mile long.
Little boys find the boundaries by crashing into them and crying.
Little girls find the rule book and learn it by heart.

We were eight.
I still remember the principal’s face
when we went to go tell on the bad man.
We were expecting to be praised and protected;
we weren’t expecting her pursed-lipped dismissiveness
and insinuation that it was our fault.
I felt bad. We all did.
We had followed the rules,
crossed all the ’t’s and dotted all the ‘i’s.
He’d asked if we wanted to see his dick,
and we said no and told a trusted adult.

The bell rang, and we ran back to class.
Not one more word was said to each other
about what we’d seen
far from the tea tree
on a bright sunny day
in the playground.

My cheeks were pink,
and my head hurt,
and everything was darker and murkier.

Mum said that I was a good girl
and I did the right thing
by her rulebook anyway.
But the principal had a different rule
which she made so the girls couldn’t play
on the playground any more,
and instead had to play with the infants
right next to the tea tree.
The boys could still play wherever they liked.

None of it made any sense,
but I learned the rules anyway
and wrote them carefully in my mind’s rule book,
dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s.
The rules are
(should you ever need to know)
that when a man shows you his dick,
it’s your fault,
and you shouldn’t tell anyone,
because it will make your cheeks pink
and your heart hurt
and they won’t let you play
on the playground anymore.

Little girls spring into the world ready to lead,
and they are smashed from the air
like a sparrow with a tennis racket
in the hand of a man with a lion’s teeth.
And the world gets a little darker for everyone,
and the boys march off to join the briefcase army,
and the girls get confused and married and pregnant
because we don’t know what we’re allowed to want,
or how much playground to allow for dicks,
and we all walk more carefully,
with more hesitation,
because the shadows have gotten longer
and nobody knows what monsters lurk
in the tea tree.

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Latest comments

  • Your story brings up complicated issues, though many of us have similar stories. You rightly pointed out that it was a female principal that decided the girls had to pay a harsh price for that incident rather than send a teacher out to watch over them. Both men and women in positions of power often fail to protect children in their care, and who knows if the boys may have had a similar experience and learned their lesson from the girls not to tell anyone at school? What is still true after all these years is that the sexual abuse of boys is considered by many to be a worse crime than when the victims are girls. This needs to change. Cultural change happens very slowly and only thru widespread discussions of the need to do so, despite the discomfort and raw feelings that are brought up in the process. I thank you for your heartfelt and courageous contributions to that effort.

  • Joan Rivers used to talk about it. She was my heroine.

  • Absolutely right on point! Sadly, in this new religion tainted world, no child of either gender is safe from the monsters! Your poetry is truly inspiring and so very much appreciated! ;-))

  • ~Sigh~

    After reading some of these comments I can imagine a few of them making you wanting to pull your hair out, Caitlin.
    I hope you don’t; there are at least a few who get it and appreciate it.

  • Round and round devastation is spread
    many a day we approach with much dread
    there are many who know the game has been rigged
    to divide and thus conquer hey .. that’s their thing.

  • More of the destructive emoting that is tearing Anglo Culture apart.
    Women versus Men
    Generalized psych destruction

    Poor little girls
    Poor Little women

    Sad to see from an Adult

  • Excellent poem. Excellent mother you had there too!

  • When Bally girls do belly dances,
    Peering round with furtive glances,
    Weighing all their odds and chances,
    Seeking out some man’s romances,
    Swooning into deepest trances,
    Dare we spurn their bold advances?

  • This may have been a poem solely about little girls in days gone by – and also things such as assault that still occur against both children and adults. But, where I am, including most of the people I know, people do their best to protect children, whether boy or girl. Further, children are encouraged to come forth and tell the truth. It is from such things that the development of sexual predator lists occurred.

    Sadly, it is impossible to protect everyone – the abuses by so many Catholic clergy not only are proof of that thought, but are representative of the depravity to which human beings may sink. So too are the females born as sneaky snakes and as devious, manipulative creatures who, like Lorena Bobbit, who years ago and as an act of vengeance, cut off her husband’s dick while he slept – and currently by such heinous creatures as Betsy Devos, and Nikki Haley , or any of the females who rise to the power seat of huge corporations, only to treat their underlings with verbal abuse, scorn and unreasonable requirements. One would hope that that sort of woman would lead by example, but the example they set is a major step backwards not only in all gender relations , but in the efforts of women to achieve recognized full equality. Too often, that sort of woman is far worse than the typical boss that most people ‘hate.’

    My point is this, that I am a lot older than you, have seen situations changing for the better and, oh yeah, there are still a large number of females who, as adults, prefer to retain traditional gender roles. The fact is that, given the human genome, there will likely always be those – both male and female – who abuse others, as well as those who either accept the abuse or fight back and for change.

    I’m truly sorry that you had to experience such a restrictive culture. Since the development of the internet, the stigma of such abuse has become much less than before because adults of both genders have learned that they can fight back, they can tell their story and that the majority of people will place the blame not on them, but where it belongs – and whether it happened as children or adults or both.
    While there are still those who will victim-shame rape victims, the majority is supportive of the victim today. Yesterday’s sentence on Bill Cosby, though not nearly long enough, is proof that great segments of society have taken an even greater leap with regard to how sex offenders are handled and how victims are given the needed support.

    Finally, even you are living proof that things are getting better. There are those of us who agree with most of what you write and look forward to your continuing to do so. We even generally respect your positions, even when we happen to disagree. However, where, in the past, people such as you would have slunk away, possibly into depression, you have found (and insisted) that you no longer have to play with the infants next to the tea tree, but can step out and make the entire world your playground.

  • Wow… really moving to me. The magic of poetry is to express things that can’t be expressed any other way.

  • As you said in your essay on Rape Culture, it’s all about power.
    In the UK, boys are/were abused and raped, via various institutions, and grew up disabled and suicidal. The institutions’s reputations were thought more valuable than the lives of vulnerable children.
    Girls are trafficked, passed round, drugged, raped and also told they are worthless. And told that no one would believe them even if they found anyone interested in listening to their story.
    Like all whistle-blowers, they are threatened and accused that worse will come. And usually it does.
    However, we now also have the phenomenon, where street wise kids know which buttons to press on inexperienced adults who favour emotion rather than evidence and falsely accuse teachers etc of abuse as an exercise in power play and sometimes for financial gain.

  • When I was about six or seven and my little brother 15 months younger – we walked to the shop with an errands list from our mother. It was probably close to a kilometre – in those days a little over half-a-mile. On the way a man stood facing the roadside walking track in his front yard. Would you like to see the horse? Well, of course – and indeed down the back of the house – the rear shed and garden ending in farm land – was a horse – a Shetland pony. So we looked at it. Then he told us he had something else to show us – and led us inside the back door – he sat on a chair – we sat side-by-side in front of him – and then he showed us what you were shown by the man in the playground. But we were both little boys. My brother said he wanted to go so we stood up. The man in my story pressed sixpence into my hand – and away we went. Really no idea what to make of it but that it was not quite right. I think it was only many years later that we mentioned the incident to our mother – so it was/is not only little girls who were being confronted – but little boys too. We avoided him – he was clearly “simple” in some way – living with a sister – her husband and their two little girls. In my high school days he could be found at the local town “Olympic Swimming Pool” – in the days of wool swimming trunks – not particularly tight-fitting around the legs – and possibly (surely) aware that his parts were definitely hanging loose – as younger teenagers crowded around. But they were not things easily spoken of in those days – when priests and brothers and others in various institutions (and in families, it must be said – and when will we have that Royal Commission??!!) were able to do their worst.

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