Out West Where His Best Friend Suffers
Depression at Her Grandmother’s Spread
In the morning the grandmother shows him
the rattlesnake twisted around the chicken
wire, knotted up worse than a curtain cord,
back and over and through a dozen holes.
“It gets in,” she says, “but it can’t wind out –
the head forgets where the tail’s been. Sound
familiar?” He’s just come from her
granddaughter’s bedroom, cotton-mouthed and guilty
as a wet dog slinking off a sofa.
They’d made awkward, hungover love, the bed
frame banging the walls. “She’s sick,”
the grandmother continues, “don’t you know that?”
And before he says ma’am she says, “She thinks
her daddy raped her. My son.” She stamps
a foot on the dry ground, her white socks limp
at her slippers. “Is that what these doctors
tell her?” He avoids the blaze of her eyes,
and she gives up. With a weeder she pokes
the snake. It’s too exhausted to rattle.
He says, “I guess maybe I believe her.”
She says, “You think so, do you? Isn’t that
loyal.” She turns for the house, muttering.
“Poking around in all them holes … getting
its damn self killed…” He finds a stick, tries
to push the snake free, but his help digs wounds
into its flesh and flies land on the fresh blood.
Red ants proceed up the wire. Blackbirds
on the fence posts throw patient shadows.
French Quarter, 1974
On Bourbon Street, a man who doesn't
drink hawking his poems to a crowd
that doesn't read on a Friday night when
the legs of a stripper poke through
a second storey window every seven
seconds and the Runaway Kid nibbles
a 99¢ sukiyaki from a stick
near a cart selling Lucky Dogs.
“Get away from me, kid, you bother me,”
says the Lucky Dog salesman, as he krauts
up another dog for the overweight
tourist the Kid panhandles for change.
The Runaway Kids’s been missing
for six weeks, his employers the local blood
banks, his arms a pin-cushion of missed hits
and half-purple bruises. “If you don’t buy,”
the poet drones, “I can’t sell.” The Kid
wipes his fingers on napkins he nicks
from Lucky Dogs, he pockets the change
he cadged off the tourist, and he buys
a poem. “A love poem,” he tells the poet,
who says in the end they’re all love poems,
and the Kid stands below the strippers’ legs
for hours, reciting, until the bouncers
shrug, and the strippers smile, and the tourists
take his picture, almost as if he’s home.