Corner Boy

Man after man comes in, muscles popping.
They see a small corner boy.
They see too much kindness, too much mercy, too much forgiveness.
They see too much knowledge of beauty, and they shake their heads.
Water, they say.
I close my eyes. One day I’ll be the one asking for water.
Water, they say again. I hand them a bucket.
Towel, says a man with a split lip. One day, I tell myself again.
His hand’s on my shoulder. The hand of a man who’s so tired of waiting,
not just for a corner boy,
but for the next hit, the sound of flesh on flesh,
the affirmation of masculinity.
I hand him a towel.
Towel, says a man with a ripped ear.
This time I don’t close my eyes. My hands shake.
The man grits his teeth and dabs bourbon on his ear.
I wonder if he’ll miss the sounds the world makes,
the difference in frog songs, the voices of the leaves, the secrets the rocks mumble.
I wonder if it’s a blessing, being unable to hear the screams of pain and loss, the
thuds of bodies hitting the ground,
the whispered bets.
People bet on your opponent but you want them believe in you, so bad, and you’re
Each time they throw a punch and it connects, I see in their eyes
sunken terror, of losing, of harming, of being harmed, and I want to tell them
I understand.
I hand them a towel. Good luck, I say.
I say it again. I put force in it -- I put in the punches I’ll never throw, the strength
I’ll never use, the dreams I’ll never live, and I lean against the wall.
What’s it like to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and think,
how many teeth will I have tomorrow? Still two eyes?
Will I remember my son?
What’s it like to look at your hand and see scars, scars, counting fights, counting
blows, counting how many times you’ve memorized the contour of your own face,
when it’ll change.
I suddenly hope I’ll never know.

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A poem I wrote for the character of a corner boy in a play.