The Condom in My Wallet
I carried it for years before I lost
(as we knowingly said then) the Big V,
like the coin of a country I wondered
if I would ever visit. I think it cost
a quarter, from one of those gas station
or junior high school boys room vending machines—
the male counterpart to the tampon—though
if anything, it only increased the flow
of blood through my veins, a promise, commitment
waiting to be kept. And in class, sitting
at that metal desk, I seemed to feel it
pulsing upward through my underwear and pants,
so exquisitely tuned was my backside
to its presence. It was there in the first place,
tucked discreetly behind the learner's permit
and cherished bubblegum cartoon, "just in case,"
as some guy had told me I might need it,
as he had heard from another, and so on,
an endless chain of raging testosterone-
driven prudence, experience, wisdom.
And in just what sort of emergency,
I'd ask myself, would it come in handy:
a stuck elevator, a fair young maiden
trapped in the dimming, air-starved shaft with me,
and succumbing to claustrophobia
until I can save her by valiantly
offering the distraction of pleasure...
Did girls lug sponges, diaphragms, IUD's
in that portable pharmacy called a purse?
It wouldn't have mattered. The man prepared
was the fortunate man, we had learned in Scouts.
But looking back, the condom seemed more curse
than talisman, languishing as the wallet
slowly crumbled around it. Finally one night
its moment arrived, but when I pulled it
out, lubricated badly to begin with,
the thing had ossified to nearly stone—
when I stretched it in my hands it shredded,
and the girl just looked at me and shook her head.
Preventer of pregnancy and disease,
it had now prevented sex altogether,
a newly discovered form of abstinence.
O thin repository of so much hope,
the imprint left in imitation leather
sized it up: like a zero on a scorecard,
batter out on strikes, ball still in the yard.