The man in the shack on the corner wants
to kiss you. He remembers when you jump-roped
better than most of the girls & prayed without
manly pretense, remembers how you mimicked
the church mothers—knees & body bowed, Lawd
—your genuine contrition for being broken
& breakable still. You always was too pretty
to be a boy. Come gimme some sugar, he says
& reaches out to kiss you on your cheek, but
his lips are thistles, his face a cavern of bones.
It’s World AIDS Day, & you are here to chronicle
his free-fall from engineer to blind man leading
the myope, to fevers that flash on & off like a switch
spooked by the God he calls great & merciful
with a smile. Your mother says his songs tore up
church services all over town like hurricanes
had done Old U.S. Road: dogwoods splayed,
naked limbs convulsing, rapt in holy water,
like the saints slain by the spirits he conjured.
You don’t remember him, so busy kneeling
at the altar of this you the mothers & sanctified brothers
could praise, who loved Shirts Against Skins
more than Bible study, loved tackling the most buff Skin
on the field, who always held you on top of him long
enough for you to feel him hardening against you
hardening. Gimme some skin, nigga, he’d say
& grin, as you pulled away, then reached to pull
him to his feet. This man doesn’t know the you
who dreamed of kissing the lead tuba player
but was too much of a punk or a saint or both
to follow his leer from the dais to the bathroom stall.
It could happen to anyone, he says, especially
when you love somebody. Make sure
you write that down. You don’t. Too
sentimental, you think, for a hard
news story, so you dig for the grit, for the who
who branded him untouchable. He smiles,
places one hand on his chest, gropes the table
for yours. You using protection with these boys?
His scaly palm grazes your keloid knuckles.
I haven’t, you know, yet, you mumble, happy
for once to be numb, glad you can’t feel the heat.