Murphy


A car door slammed, and
I awoke from my self-obsession
To see you
for the first time.
As I sat in the shadows,
At a weather-worn picnic table
In a pavilion by the sea,
You exited a cab
With a basket of neatly-folded clothes.
Your eyes shined with the
Joy of a child.
Your skin was as black
As the night air
That surrounded you.
Your teeth unnaturally white
A sharp contrast
In a way that highlighted your
Ear to ear smile.

You found a seat
Amongst the crowd of misfits
At our meeting aptly named,
“Life’s a Beach.”
Your deep raspy voice
Broke into the night,
and you spoke with
a South Boston bitterness
that pounded its way
through my soft, Southern ears
straight to my heart.

Genuinely, you explained,
In a way that I’ve carried with me
All these years,
How grateful you were to be alive.
You gave thanks for the opportunity
To be at the meeting
Among us.
You expressed gratitude
For the time spent
Washing and folding your clothes,
For the cab fare to the meeting,
And for the chance
to live
Another day.
These things you recognized
As gifts
Were all things
I took for granted.

I was suddenly aware
Of the gift of my own breathing,
and the warm bed
I would return to
That night.
I wondered
Where you would sleep.

Weeks passed,
But your haunting smile
Stayed with me.
It awoke me from every
Selfish obsession.
It comforted me
When I awoke
In the middle of the night,
Scared and alone.

We found each other again
On the backs of two men
With the sun glistening
On our shoulders
In a warm pool
At a hotel in Fort Lauderdale
250 miles away
From the pavilion where
We first met.
Your swollen biceps glistened
With droplets of pool water
And you tugged at my body
With the strength of a man.
We collapsed into the pool
Embracing each other
And laughing
Until the awkward silence
Loosened our grip.
The next time I saw you
It was your 40th birthday.
No one got you a cake.
I thought it odd
To be amongst friends
On your birthday
Without a cake.
When I returned with the cake,
You were gone, and I had to laugh
At the absurdity of the whole situation.
Hours later,
You thanked me with that
Same deep, genuine gratitude.
No birthday, no plans.
I drove you
To my garage apartment
And stopped on the way
For a toothbrush.
You later told me
You fell in love with me
The minute I bought you
That toothbrush.

In my room,
I saw your eyes
Up close for the first time –
A cold, cloudy gray
Like ocean water
In winter.
Your body was tattooed and strong
Like nothing I had held before –
Prosthetic breasts
In perfect form
Stood erect in sharp contrast
To homemade tattoos
And your calloused
Hard-working hands.
After we made love,
I lovingly embraced
Your small, solid body
Until suddenly,
I pulled away,
Afraid.

You told me of nights spent
In crowded, filthy hotel rooms,
Supporting your highs
With work in the streets.
I wondered aloud
How many hands had
Touched you.
“Thousands,” you replied.
After several moments,
You told me
This was the first time
You ever made love sober.
The irony of your innocence
Caused me to love you
Like a precious child.

I am sorry
We were both
Too broken to sustain
The love of a lifetime.
1966, 1981
Our births
Fifteen years apart,
Our experiences
Worlds apart,
And yet,
Our feelings
Exactly the same.

Please forgive me
For leaving.
Your memory
And experience
Sustain me today
In troubled times.
Thank you.
I mean that deeply
With my whole
Heart.

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