With the Guys

Before light, the guys from the men’s shelter
who can’t tolerate getting shaken awake
are out wandering, some
with bottles already, some mutter,
and the bad sleep is still on many, you can see it,
like driving slow through thirty miles of sand and char
and the only other car has been in the shadow
of a bird for the whole stretch.
They must know
they are part of the fault in daylight, the owls
on the dumpster lip.

When I was getting tested for TB
at the free clinic, as required for a job
I didn’t get, this skinny homeless guy
mistook me for a buddy.  He thought I was dead,
even rooted around in the woods
searching for me in lord knows what peril.

A few months later, another guy
wrapped in an ambulance issue blanket
called me Alex repeatedly, hobbled
behind me shouting Alex! Alex!
as I hustled away from the humming overpass
He too thought I’d died.

Winter had already begun suggesting itself,
in the glass eyes of the river, in the frozen cotton
stuffing crows pulled tossed French fries.
I suppose these guys had AIDS – death was too ready
an attendant – and Alex must have as well,
before he vanished.  But before he did,
I think he probably had some fun
and effected a few with longing,
which is always remarkable.

To provoke desire is to invest in the most elemental.
In desire there’s a lure to stay lost, you are
trajectory and landing pad, your sleep is fraught
with waking.  I trust desire, its infelicity
to my handsomeness and life.

That winter I nearly went completely broke
until I found a dishwashing job at a vegan joint.
I thought of Alex, alone somewhere
in tall grass, it could be the first time he’s been
alone.  I can’t think of any of his belongings
or how he feels, but I imagine him smelling
a roast cooking somewhere so far off
in the darkness, he can’t tell the direction
to find it.

Josh English

If you have any comments on this poem, Josh English would be pleased to hear from you.