First time I saw you
you were riding
a stolen motorcycle
down the middle
of our baseball field,
the cops in hot pursuit.
Last time I saw you
you were fat and ugly
and fixing elevators downtown
when you weren’t getting loaded
at the local bar.
What happened between
I can only call age,
too many fights, too much drugs,
one-too-many trips to jail.
And when I heard
that you had been killed,
shot down at a pay phone
on the avenue
by some Jamaicans you had screwed
in a deal,
I have to admit I was relieved.
I’m a selfish guy, perhaps,
but it was nice to have you back
the way I wanted to remember you.
I never told you this, I was never
really your friend,
but you should know that
all those years growing up,
I admired you from afar.
You were so alive,
you had so much guts.
You were everything I wanted
to be—and still are:
The coolest guy in the neighborhood.
Blond curls blowing shoulder-high,
the lights of a corner truck going red,
as you gun the throttle,
My Father’s Rubbers
It was the day after the funeral.
My mother and I went out back to search his car,
a 1988 Caddy Cimaron with bent driver-side wiper,
parked at an angle on the grass.
We didn’t say it; it was probably due to years
of my grandmother’s conspiracy theories,
but we had visions of bundles of cash
hidden under the floor mats.
We looked and looked.
At first we turned up nothing:
a few empty packs of cigarettes,
from restaurants he never took us to,
phone numbers with no names attached
written on ripped slips of paper,
an open bottle of Canadian Club
with peeled label,
a cassette of Mozart’s Requiem
conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
So much for finding treasure, I thought,
when, just about to go back inside to watch A Christmas Story,
I found something:
Tucked in the pouch behind the passenger’s seat,
my father’s rubbers.
Not the ones for your feet—
the other kind.
My mother didn’t see them, thank God;
I jammed them in my pocket
when she wasn’t looking.
Later that night, after she had gone to bed,
I took them out beneath the plastic sunflower kitchen clock,
its petals flecked with grease.
I stared and stared at the box, its bright-blue coloring,
its bright-white writing, its hastily torn-off top.
I thought about him, age 56, lying straight in the coffin,
a sense of peace filling my chest,
a thankfulness that before he left this world
he left me a gift—this one useful lesson:
We don’t break the rules; we are broken by them.