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You stand opposite me, leaning into the wall as if to escape my gaze, and take another drag on your cigarette. You say nothing and exhale silently.

A memory flicked on and off in my mind. You, sixteen, in short cut-off jeans, summer tanned legs, wearing your brother’s white t-shirt stuffed into the front of your shorts, tattered faded converse and that Yankees hat you never took off that summer. We were sitting in the back of my dad’s pick-up waiting for him to pay the fee at the dump. You handed me a cigarette, dug into your pocket for a lighter and rested your forearms on my bent knees while you lit my cigarette. When you pulled away to light your own I almost cried. It was as if we’d been going steady all summer and then you broke up with me. The simple loss of your warm tanned arms touching my knees was devastating.

Watching you now, your long fingers moving to tap the ash off the end of your cigarette, a little bit of that loss comes back to me and something sharp presses against my chest.

 

 

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If I had to describe her skin it would be deep gold liquid
spilling fire
spilling danger like a super nova
an explosion of arrows aimed to maim
but when she slept next to me I could almost cry with the weight of her
anchoring my life into a snug corner
as long as she slept in my bed she was mine
my own wild horse
tethered
if only in sleep if only in my imagination
because all these years later it is so obvious
I would never be hers
not like I wanted
the truth is she slept in my bed simply because it was there
halfway through her day and her night
she stumbled in and flopped here beside me
not mine
not belonging to anyone
liquid gold
warming my bed for a while

 

 

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Sarah is licking chocolate milkshake off her upper lip. I’m sitting so close to her I can see the soft blonde hairs glisten with her saliva. She’s not with me. She’s with Teddy, her boyfriend since seventh grade. She doesn’t notice me staring. She doesn’t even know I exist. Which makes it easier to stare, to long for that sweet mustache under my tongue.

I first noticed Sarah and her mustache in basketball practice back in seventh grade. She was at least a foot taller than me, one of those Nordic big boned, wide-hipped, fleshy girls. She was the first in our class to wear a bra. Everyone accused her of ‘stuffing’ it. But I knew the truth about her breasts that first day I met her. When she stood stalk still right there in mid-court as I ran backwards one-on-one defense against their point. Just before I rammed into Sarah, I turned around—because their point was out running me—and I saw Sarah too late. I reached out my hand to soften the impact and landed face down on top of her, my left hand cupping her very round breast. But it was her mustache I noticed. And I stared, transfixed by those tiny blonde hairs carpeting so softly her upper lip.

“Get off me faggot!”

She jammed her knee into my groin and shoved me off. She told Teddy I’d made a pass at her and it quickly spread throughout junior high. Even the 6th graders would snicker at me, huddled together in the girl’s toilet smoking Marlboro lights. I pretended not to notice and pretty soon everyone forgot all about it. But I never got over that feeling down low in my belly every time I saw that mustache.

I’ve got that same aching feeling sitting here in the Bakersfield Denny’s with the high school basketball team. Teddy’s our driver so he comes to all the away games. He told me once, when we were driving back from a game in Lompoc and I was the only one awake sitting there in the front seat of the van, listening to Casey Casem’s top twenty hits on KFRC, that he and Sarah were going to marry as soon as they graduate. I’ll never forget the song that was playing when he told me, because that’s all I could hear in my head once he said the word “marry”. It was Johnny Nash singing “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.” And now that song plays in my head every time I’m around Sarah and Teddy, which is pretty much every day during basketball season because they’re never apart. It’s playing in my head right now as I watch Sarah lick chocolate milkshake off her upper lip.

 

 

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I’m sitting on the floor of your room drinking peppermint tea. You’re sitting on your bed sorting through a stack of records. Leonard Cohen is singing ‘Suzanne takes you down to the place by the river’. I look at the album cover. Dark bushy hair. Black turtleneck. He looks like you. Your room is tiny. When you cross to the record player I can feel your breath. Your voice makes me dizzy. You teach English grammar to the boys at the priory where you live. You drink Benedictine and smoke cigars with the monks. I am jealous. I don’t want you to enjoy anyone but me. Your closest friend is my lover. You have a boyfriend named
Trever and you talk about him as if you hate him. I sit there on your floor, leaning against your bed, waiting for you to kiss me. You bring me another cup of tea, step over my legs, and sit down on the bed inches from my shoulder. I can smell your new Levis, the damp wool of your turtleneck, your Benedictine breath. Your hair is curly and cut like a boy’s. You have Portuguese grandparents. You wear brown loafers with pennies in the cuffs. You talk endlessly about Trevor. I watch your mouth move. I try not to imagine you in bed with him. My stomach aches. Leonard Cohen sings about loss and loneliness. My body vibrates with this need for you. I leave without your touch. I drive home to my lover in San Francisco. We eat spaghetti sitting cross-legged on the floor of our unheated flat, our dinner plates balanced on upside down cardboard boxes.

 

 

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7-up
When I was seven you came to live with us. You were a curly haired version of the rest of us. Dark. Round. Wiry. Mom said you were like a fish in the bathtub. Flopping here and there. In the kitchen she said you ran around opening every drawer and cupboard. Mom said you were like a wild animal freed from captivity. She said the foster home kept you in a playpen where you ate and slept and pissed and shit. You never got out to play or explore. She said once you came into our home you never settled down. You never sat still. You were always taking things apart. Always curious. Now you are 46. Married. Fat. Happy.

When I was 14 you came to live with us. Mom asked us one night at the dinner table if we’d like an 18 year old black high school graduate from Katie, Texas to come live with us. She said it was like having an exchange student only he wasn’t foreign. She said in Texas it was hard for a black person to go to college. You lived in the front bedroom. Me and Julie moved into Vickie and Cathy’s room. You went to the College of San Mateo. You were quiet. Mom said you were terrified of white people. You ran track in high school and we raced each other out to the blacktop road. Me on my blue stingray. You on foot. You always won. You’d stand on the road with your arms crossed and laugh as I furiously pedaled up that gravel hill. One year later your younger brother came to live with us. Then your whole family moved out from Cleveland (where they had moved to from Katie when you left). They moved into a crowded over heated house in East Menlo Park. You had another three or four younger brothers at home and two little sisters. We visited ever year on Christmas eve on our way home from church. Your sisters danced in their tiny bedroom to Motown records while we watched, quiet, politely sitting on the bed. I didn’t know how to dance. I had a crush on Darlene. She had freckles on her brown skin.

On my 21st birthday I moved away from home and in with you in your flat on Walnut street. I packed my Volkswagen hatchback with clothes and books and drove to San Francisco. It was a one bedroom on the ground floor with a view of the driveway out one window and the construction across the street out the front windows. They tore up an entire block to build a Jewish old-people’s home. All the tiny mice ran from the chaos into our apartment. You set traps. They were so tiny. You flushed them down the toilet. The landlord was French, like your family, and a friend of your father’s. We paid $100 a month. On the top floor there was a penthouse with many windows and no kitchen. An artist rented it to paint. I visited her and sat in the sun on the roof outside the apartment and looked out at the city. I wanted to live there instead. Her paintings were huge and hung in the lobbies of downtown office buildings. She lived with her husband in Pacific Heights.

When I was 28 you died. I traveled to Berlin with her and then she left me. I grew out my hair. I wore torn black secondhand clothing and blended in with the punks in Kreutzberg. I bathed once or twice a month at the rented tubs. I chain smoked and drank milchkaffes. I ate 20 pfennig Turkish bread with feta cheese bought in the street market. I collected coins from the sidewalk and bought falafel sandwich from the Egyptian Imbiss stand. I rode the Ubahn for free. I went to Alanon meetings down at the American base. I practiced letting go of her. After 16 months I went back to San Francisco.

 

 

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If I could wake up tomorrow and be somebody else I'd be Sal Mineo, quiet and dark and sensitive. I would have soft skin, weak hands and a little more belly than I like.

My dark eyes would see a world that other people avoid. I would spend my time at the library, the afternoon movie theatre, and the bath house at the end of the dark alley where gay boys like me get beat up when we leave alone.

The men at the bathhouse won't look into my eyes, roll me over and make love to my backside, shut their eyes run their calloused fingers over my soft white skin. Every one of them comments on the scars that snake across my back. I tell them nothing.The scars and the silence win their respect.

I always leave alone. They're usually waiting for me. The sneering college boys with their loud clothing and tidy hatred.

"Hey faggot"

I can see his spit reflected in the dim street light.

"Where are you going, faggot?"

He likes this word, likes the way it flies off his lips, pulls back against his
palate, then flicks off his spit slippery tongue.

"Faggot"

 

 

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sometimes i touch your sun-browned back
as if a camera is taping this scene
the day you left forever I paced this deck
my stomach in knots
the voicemail I left for you comes back in tiny spurts of shame
your burst of tears standing frozen between parked cars
the way your chin caved into a deep smile
that phone booth on fourth street every time I walk by
the way my body buzzed with the thick april air
stepping out onto that Mendocino green
the absolute ache of watching you leave every week
the you I’ve made up to hold my loneliness
your grainy super-eight figures walking around Greenlake
handsome and dashing, like james dean, you never grew old and disappointing