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Rite of Passage

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As the guests arrive at our son’s party   
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves   
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their   
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,   
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a   
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him   
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other   
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to   
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Sharon Olds, “Rite of Passage” from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002. Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)
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Rite of Passage

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