There’s No Street Cleaning In Providence

Father-

Your days weigh more than the family around your neck.
Nine months and nine pounds without your voice or hand,
my mother called, and you said: “Give Him My Name, Noel.”
And she abided, faithfully, by the promises made
that warm May night. But years proved these words,
like so many other parts of you,
were broken, and so I am yours
in name only.

I haven’t your dark eyes, fair skin or welcome wiles.
That cooing air of arrogance
in your smile, or the graceful way your beard
rises and settles into a dignified chin.
Your daughters are your spitting image,
shorter and effeminate, but telling tales
of their ancestry by the nines
of their soft and thoughtfully thin
eyes, a wild nose above cupid bow lips.

I am not like them;
every camera and mirror whispers,
how my genes have aborted you.
And yet strangers say the strangest things-
like that I am most your son when I look most annoyed.
Something in the nothing of demeanor
makes me summon your image to men and women
that have known you. The passive opening and closing of a fist.
In a folded leg, an unconsciously tapping foot,
staring into the distance with a cigarette dangling from my lip.
All of these acts I thought my self are borrowed,
are not my own, are ghostly references to a man
this man
who grew up growing you
says are bestowed;
are reflections of the seed
being strong.

But…how?

My first razor was from the deli man,
his eyes lost when I asked him how to do it,
until he could understand that I was young and
that I needed. My first day of school was Johanna
ironing clothes, running me over with a lint brush,
combing my hair and reminding me
no girl likes a boy who sucks his thumbs.
Sex came from a box, a secret, a word of mouth
passed along the boys and bus rides.
Shared and studied in the dim blue tint of monitors
and television screens when nobody could see us
in our vile innocence. YouTube learned me
with tutorials, my first suit from my first check
a baggy thing. Green shirt, black tie, but
from your few visits I’d already known
how to make a knot
having been left in one.

Yet I am most your son when I look most annoyed.
The passive opening and closing of a fist. A folded leg.
An unconsciously tapping foot. Staring into the distance
with a cigarette dangling from my lip.

And I wonder, can character carry in a vein?
Have I shed and denied your look but not your scowl?
Am I as doomed as you are, to the rum on my breath
and vagabonding with the boys on Tuesday night’s
rather than with my family home? Father,
our days are numbered like the calendar
and when I’m fugitive to a feeling;
waxing gibbons and poetics at the moon,
I’m tempted to think my temperament is nothing
more than an heirloom. Is a remnant of you
in the recesses of my blood,
and I’m tempted to take a razor and gut you out.

But there is no salvation in suffering your self;
it’s best to leave that to the masochist.

Instead I’ll wear your name proudly,
but like a cautionary tale.
Instead I’ll learn to love
better than how you’ve taught me.

Well.

Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her (aka A Broken Heart’s A Heavy Bar Tab)

Even when I’m not a vagrant there are days I get the taste of gin and cinders on my tongue again. Waking up skeletal, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. Veins poking from a sleeve, revealing what I’m made of, like wires from old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling ends-less, frigid and grey as the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony of my house. The air feels wet, the grass shimmers just a little greener, and as I take a breath I’m thrown to somewhere that isn’t here. Smell, they say, is most directly linked to memory, so there must been a scent of the early 2000’s perspiring in the grass of Trump’s America.

I was nostalgic, I guess. Remiss of the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining, the day you saw Samantha scrape her knee in the PS 143 playground. A gash so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended. You can’t even remember what it looked like, just the sensation of black tar and plasma. And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, no crying, not shedding a damn tear, staring into that cut the way adults look at sunsets or somebody they used love. Almost hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that velvet. Make it more than just colors and blood.

I think that’s when it started for us, really. Fifth grade, Ms. Turmiski’s class. She made an impact on me that day, and no matter where she sat I had my eyes on her ever since. Even if she was in another room. Feelings I denied vehemently until sexuality amplified too high to be tucked away in an Ew-Girls. Samantha had came back from Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (before that fad came in, you hacks.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were early-primming into drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. Come junior high she started keeping a deck of cards on the sleeves, and I’d make it a point to always sit across from her on the other team when we played spade or casino. Took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face made me want to do things with her I didn’t understand yet. Bluffed through boyfriends like Troy, Elijah, and Anthony like a champ. Fake-It-Til-You-Can’t-Take-It was the name of the game, and I was good.

Kept it cool until that one long walk home Sophmore year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile and hump over. Told her what I always felt, even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade, and she said “I always knew, dummy.” Kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue, deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at sixteen, and a universe of intimacy opening the floodgates. Going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over silly things. I wanted to make the world laugh, and she wanted me to study and make something out of me. She had kisses made of phosphene, I still remember the way her lips against mine would make my head melt. The only girl I ever suffered the dilemma – kiss her, and feel that bliss of touch and sexuality, but miss out on all the lovely things she could have said.

“i want to see your face. send me a photo.”
Her text read at four in the morning, and so I did.
“no. a real one. something I can hold and write your name.
scribble the date and the way you make me feel on.”

Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re trying to fall asleep but afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down a street because it looked so lonely, she’d remind me what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. And I loved her terribly, but only in retrospect. Spent more time dreary eyed with the boys on Amsterdam when I should have been watching Samantha color code her study binders. A realization I wasn’t able to see or understand until long after it happened, and honestly, only because it was gone. Like suddenly missing a limb or finger, or admitting you were an asshole to somebody that didn’t deserve it. There’s a learning curve to gratitude and I was on the verge of overcoming the anchor line. Which is no excuse, I guess. Hindsight is 20-20 and not having regrets just means having things you haven’t thought of enough yet.

“So just like that, you’d leave New York,” I said. Unable to admit by ‘New York’ I meant me.

“It’s a scholarship. Why wouldn’t I?” She said.

And I think we could have made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilding trust from where there was none over jokes I shouldn’t be making. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and all the blood we’ve tried to draw from one another wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about anyway, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 5 am and the bar is closing. Goodbyes and lonely train rides home that turn the world into a stranger, that make us pull the breaks and reverse into each other. Is it still falling if its the fifth time in love? Why are we so surprised to be veering off the side of the road because Why-The-Fuck-Does-Everything-Have-To-Be-A-Joke-With-You? A phone call slammed, and I don’t call back, because I’m tired and her birthday is right around the corner. I’ll take six months off before I start rolling the boulder of our love up over and over again, like Sisyphus. Glossing over our past in grey, summer weather. Sitting there not shedding a damn tear, staring at the sunrise like somebody I used to love. Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that rosy velvet. Make it more than just the colors and blood we shed to each other.

That kind of chemistry can become exhausting, so her walking out for good was a victory, really.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Why Do We Fall Down, Bruce? (To Have Subtle Resentments and Character Flaws)

It was the second week of summer and I was riding high in friends and parties without a care or clue of what was to come. Eighteen is such a brittle age, not easily impressed but so tragically impressionable. Adulthood loomed on the corner of job and college applications I neglected to apply to. There would a time for that later, I thought, right after these beers and excessive experimentation with girls and social so-and-so’s. Don’t-even-get-me-started is the procrastinators mantra, and I carried my would-be’s misguided, but like a titan.

Tiffany was leaving soon, I forget to where. Cruising west Manifest Destiny bound on a four year college scholarship, dinner with the mayor, more books and grades to ace while the world her oyster. Lately we’d become surprisingly tender towards one another. I stopped trying to convince her to stay or love me, and instead only wanted to enjoy what little time I had left of her. She must have felt the same, I thought. Short sighted or naive as we may have been I suppose the both of us knew, instinctively, without a word or approach of the subject, that September 3rd would mark a change in both of us forever.

Milton and Anderson, cousins, were throwing a party that Friday. Surprisingly, she was the one who brought it up over the phone.

“It’s this Friday,” she said.

“Yeah I heard.”

“I might end up going.”

“But then who will close the library?”

“I’m sorry, what? I don’t speak Jerk.”

“Come with me,” I said. “It’ll be our prom.”

We’d never gone to prom, or rather, I didn’t. She asked me to, to share a limo with her, Christine, Tamara and Chloe. Her friends, a herd of herbivore What-Do-You-Even-See-In-Him’s. As much as I thought I loved Tiffany, the decline was telling. I didn’t love her enough to sit five minutes with her condescending friends. Through the tragic of social media it later surfaced she’d gone with another guy, Anthony something was his name. I forget.

“Pick me up at 8.” She said. “And you better fucking shave.”

I arrived at her house at 7:40PM sharp. We’d had many an argument in the past on account of my always being late. My excuse was that rushing was stupid, immaterial and pointless. That a friend, a real friend, or love, is not a job that needs punctuality. It needs patience.

“Yeah,” she said. “But it’s also inconsiderate. If you say three but know you won’t get there until three thirty, then just say three thirty. That’s half an hour you’re wasting on my road to a Nobel prize.”

That was the way of words she had. And its ironic, how that mock arrogance and punctuality are two of my most discerning features.

On the way to her house I remember feeling very good, happy, and a little bittersweet. I was aware that tonight was just another night, no change to the inevitable drift distance makes. But we’d never been out together, not to a party. She preferred movies, parks and picnics, quiet nights at home. She’d never seen me in what I then considered my element- the social isotope, loud and loutish, brazen and a clown to a row of strangers. I’d never shared her with my friends or took her hand in public. I’d never held her in a room full of people in a pretty dress.

This will be a good goodbye, I thought.

I rang the bell and her brother, the druggy one, answered the door with a glaze of red nirvana coloring his eyes and spotty beard. Dazed and a little daft, he nodded me in absently, drifted through the walls back to his marijuana smelling basement.

I sat waiting in her living room by the oak colored cabinet and flower blotted sofa. I remember looking at the familiar door to her room, excited, waiting for her to step out looking amazing in a…in a something. That green streak in her hair and fire in her eyes, coy and dryly staring at me to Stop-That.

The door opened and she stepped into the hall in an oversized white t-shirt. But what grabbed me most was not her wardrobe. It wasn’t the nervous in her face or worry in her step. It was the looming figure in her room staring blankly back at me, laying with a tank top and scruffy hair across her bed. Anthony something was his name, I forget. Suma cum laudie. He ran the robotics team at school and was another high hope senior on his way to a top tier college and brighter things in life.

“Sorry I….(something)….meant to call but then….(something)…not getting my text?” I think was what she said. I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t really hear anything over the sound of a deafening and violent white noise that pulsed inside my head and vibrated against my skin.

I don’t remember much of that part. Just nodding along once or twice, saying goodbye and walking calmly out the door.

My mind was blank and so was the world, the air felt stale and my tongue so dry. I walked in a random direction for however long, directionless, and while some noun or adjective might better describe the circumstance I was in, my memory paints it as that one dull word- blank. Just blank. Too shocked and taken back for any hint of sadness or rage to overcome me.

Tiffany…no, everything, it felt like, let me down. Life was a series of bad jokes I could not see the humor in. I ended up going to the party anyway. I laughed and made jokes and danced with girls I thought were pretty. I even took Jennifer back home that night. We had sex in the shower which I bragged about for years, like the rest of the day and nothing ever happened. I kept right on living that night, and every day since. Even today I don’t feel sad about it. Nostalgic, partially, but not sad.

Still, and it is difficult explaining the how or why, but I know something died within me that day. I still feel that blank darkness cataract my decisions when someone I love shows the slightest hint of unsure or indecisive. I walk away from people easily and flippant, broad and sure as a titan. Atlas too apathetic to shrug. I just don’t care.

I’ve never even been to prom.