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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