Because They Are Not Eight

Ronnie gave up on his folks before
he was ten and signed on two days after
he graduated from high school. His mother
would pour the ashy, treacly scotch
until her head was swarming with rattles
and growls and recrimination. If she wasn’t

strapping Ronnie’s ass in a blind lather
she was trying to get some off him. His father,
Jerome, was gone most every night, cruising
parks, men’s rooms and adult movie houses.
Mornings Ronnie would hear him in the shower,
bathroom steamier than heaven, singing and gasping

sobs by turns. He just started talking to me when
they were shearing us in bunches, clumps
of sandy brown, black, and rusty hair
splotching dingy yellow linoleum. Heaping
in small drifts. Some trippy inane shit he said
made me laugh though I couldn’t tell you why.
My precious mane! My masculine fortitude!
Like some kind of eulogy for Caesar.

I never thought of it as mine anymore
after it was cut. And you always get more.
We bunked together. Closed the taverns in port.
They gave us watch duty on deck beginning
an hour before the next day. Creaming
night waves were ragged claps of wet
voltage teasing your mind into a graceful

stupor. It was steady and soothing and Ronnie
and me would unwind. Nothing mattered
to him I think. The way a lost balloon
meanders and bobs. Tangles and glides. Ronnie
asked me why sometimes sailors are called gobs.
I said he should ask the captain. He cradled
my neck, hooking his lips into mine.

I caught him with a rabbit punch and he yelped
and bayed. Shaking back to his feet with raucous
guffaws he kissed me again with blood in his
mouth. I spat into the hollow of his chest and cried
some, punching his shoulders and arms. I said,
“It’s okay for you first,” and he got in after three

fingers and rubbed my belly whispering, singing
Sinatra (Summer Wind) and I was frail and genuine
suddenly under hushy symphony of leaking light
thinking of my grandma’s riddle: Why are the seven
stars no more than seven? I don’t care if he wakes me

for a slip trip ‘cause I get my chance at bat as often
as I like. Ronnie can turn cook’s duty for three
hundred guys into a fucking privilege. Swabbing
toilets a jokey tango for the deranged. Sometimes
he just climbs into my bunk and tells me gags
‘til we fall asleep. I do not ask God why

He brought me Ronnie. Prince of tickles
in a kingdom of the damaged and ravenous.
Doctor for the annihilated bounce. I heard
once in church deserving has nothing
to do with grace. And I figure it’s better
not to raise the question.

:: Christopher Soden, in Still Blue: More Writing by (for or about) Working-Class Queers

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