Heir Apparent

Issue #32: February 2015


after Little Italy by Bond No. 9

I had hoped that it would curve and disappear

and take me with it, the passageway

under your city, until it did

and then I was alone down there

and all there was for me was the smell

(to say scent is too delicate for it), a little hell,

most of it my own, the echoes of my wounds,

my footstep sounds, end-stops from my insteps

every foot I crept, following the tunnel.

I was a creep, and worse, a scary creep,

I had been told: not man, not moth,

not mouth nor breath nor gust of wind

nor guest. Because of the incisions,

these lines that radiate from my eyes

and scar a map into the peachskin of my body,

I should shun the sun and turn

my face away from man.

I know they’re disconcerting. I too wonder

at their meaning. Each night I count them

down and watch the skies for revelation.

Of course it does not come.

I bear them with what might as well be pride

but is not. At best I might have called it spite:

a refusal to be diminished by the meaninglessness

of the stars, to shrink from gaze, to count for

less. To be scarred like this

is to incur the fear response in others

and the gag response in some, Halloween excepted,

a night when I am free among the other monsters.

I learned to live with your averted eyes

& so I wore them like a Boy Scout sash,

badge-adorned, an orienteer collecting welts

on legs from scrub I refused to skirt or skip

for a reason I couldn’t bring myself to name.

I should have moved.

I should have loved less.

I should have closed myself to pain

but I did not.

So I was here in the underneath

below your home, singing

into the ringing song of traffic

from above. Manholes keep

what’s below the street

from coming up into the street,

you told me once, when I inquired.

I said I thought these sewers were designed

to drain the undesired away to underneath,

to keep the city livable and bright.

That was a year ago.

Now I’m here but you are not.


it smells of daylight and love’s sliver

fading, and how spring means differently

in your desert than it does in the lake country

I once called home.

I left—well, I had been driven out

with my belongings and a strongly worded

note that told me never to return.

I could not stay gone like that

so I returned at night and festooned

the city in sequins in my stead: a burst of them

in every place I used to haunt,

a line leading into morning

to remind them of my absence:

a peacock’s trail, a skunk’s plume,

a sign of light and doom

for anyone who remembered me

or deigned to say my name.

I thought of the boy whose burns

I could not stop looking at

in the food court watching television:

his face polished smoother

than a lakeglass mirror. In this light

his smile became translucent. It had been

his fault, the burns, he said, the fire

he’d started in his father’s workshop

after dark and how, aflame, the gases

gathered him and claimed him as their own—

but it didn’t matter now that he had TV.

A new family broadcast itself to him each day,

as he flickered from mall to mall, a ghost.

He’d shadow couples—subtly, as subtly

as a bad burned shadow of a boy

can live underneath our gaze—but we were

the ones to see him there and I paused

and wondered if he was even there at all.

His fate might have been mine, I knew.

To be bound to a placeless place,

unmarked, a faceless face out there

in darkness. Somehow the tunnel smell

brought him back to mind.

An afternoon: the boy and you and I

shared a bag of lemon doughnuts

in the food court between the Sbarro

and the Auntie Anne’s and the vague stink

of the trash of everyone around us

and we looked down anyone who looked at us

and did not blink until they passed

and resumed their lives. We would be

their story. We were danger,

otherness. Later they would think of us

and fuck others who looked like them

and think themselves rewarded

for their bravery.

It could have been anywhere

but it was here and it was him and you

and we were us. And then you left.

And it was just the boy and me

and the expression on his face

when I stuffed another lemon doughnut

in his mouth like a turducken and he grinned

a grin for memory. It was like he stared out

into the dark without a sense

of what it might contain

only to find it held him there

like a star along with everyone

but that somehow it was okay

because of stolen lemon doughnuts

because of sadness and Sbarro

because of pain.

I was not so sure: he was gone

so long that I knew only telling myself

this story kept him here.

Perhaps I made him up,

a golem of memory

multiplied by desire. But what else

was memory except desire

to understand a perfect afternoon?

What else was it for

if a scent from underground

could bring you back

as if you never left

as if you had not left the two of us

as if you had not left me

as if you were not now my missed

connection, maybe my only. Hit me back

if you read this and tell me what I wore

so I know it’s you.

This poem also appears in The Book of Scented Things, Literary House Press, 2014.