Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Matthew W. Baker

Birthday Parties

After the third year, my mother stopped asking.

The second year, she wondered
Are you sure?
as if I wasn't sure I didn't want to celebrate:
all the hats and cake and fizzing pop
coursing through my veins and those of kids
who acted like my friends but lately
hadn't been friendly at all. My body ballooning
out, and they, like little pins, poking
fun. Day to day to week—weak,

I started to believe them,
started laughing, too, my meaty
fingers, my sweaty pits stinking
like gasoline and piss not even deodorants could mask—
one after another, sugar, lemon, pine,
even patchouli, musk.
Then powders, then creams to cure
the rashes I'd contracted from mixing
the brands as if my skin was tired

of the farce, wanted out, like the caged
lion at the zoo, solitary, roaring
for its pack, no longer listening to its masters,
refusing to do tricks; the bright mess
of the zookeeper's arm against
the cultivated grasses, the lion stripping
the top skin off almost as if debriding a wound
to reach the better flesh below.

And it was a show
each time I lifted my arms
in my mirror, stripped off sweaty gauze
and pads gone sour over hours, to reveal
what healing had occurred—if
any. The goal smooth white,
but so often mounds of red, ridges
like little Vesuvii spewing forth humiliation.

And what was adolescence but that,
and she didn't seem to know
and so she was
distraught the first year I said no,
asked What's wrong? Is something the matter?

I could feel, even then, the inklings
of that change, that laudable bench mark,
as if some horrible wool had just begun
to come off my eyes.

Matthew W. Baker currently lives in Reno, NV and teaches middle and high school English. He received an MFA in Poetry from the University of Nevada, Reno. Some of his work has appeared in Booth JournalSundog LitSierra Nevada ReviewYemassee JournalThe Meadow, and Swamp Ape Review, among others. Follow him on Twitter @mmbakes.