Taking a Punch
Half held back I still lost a loose molar though 
he broke a knuckle on the hard corner 
of my cheekbone and snapped back holding 
his hand. The rest fell on him and the fight 
turned into a dog pile then dispersed. 
I wanted to shoot out the tooth all cool like 
because at that point, the girls hadn’t yet 
left, but Steve said spit up into my hand— 
a mixture of blood and saliva the color of glue 
with the little thing swimming in it—in case his dad 
could fit it back in. Of course, his dad couldn’t so 
I kept the white nub for a while like a trophy bruise 
and whistled, sometimes, through the open hole, 
as if no one else would mess with a boy 
who could take a punch and keep his feet, 
a boy surrounded by a gang of dogs and Steve 
whose dad would clean my teeth for years after 
and ask, each time, about my mother. And I 
would dream, some nights, of snapping the neck 
of a beer bottle on the edge of a bar or 
wrapping the sleeve of my shirt around my fist 
before burying it in some guy’s stomach. And I 
wondered about that fissure of anger, what long crack 
it ran up my body until it bloomed through 
my fingers, until it took out my loose tooth 
because I couldn’t turn away. Because it would take 
years before I could leave off looking for 
the next someone slightly smaller than me, 
the image of Steve holding my tooth like a broken 
eggshell kicked from the nest. How gentle he was. 
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