Intersection

 

I.

He looks like a more drunk, shorter Santa Claus, minus the charm & good cheer

except he’s got a fresh gash under his left eye that’s bleeding Christmas red & every word from his mouth is buckets, & I mean buckets, of cheap fifths of gin. This white homeless man, first asking then demanding a dollar from me & the woman I love in front of the pharmacy on the corner of 8th & University. I raise my hand, silent apology offered

as we move toward the door to find a birthday card for a friend. It’s people like you,

he says, catapulting his five-foot-four-and-a-half-inch frame into a monument of self-

righteous fury, and I’m talking to YOU, he barks the spit-laced words, calloused index finger nearly touching the raw umber hue of my fiancée’s clenched jaw—You’re not even

human, he says, you fucking monkey.

 

II.

I knock him the fuck out—feel the sting

in my index & middle knuckles, relish

that crunch from when I sledgehammered

 

his jaw. His face becomes Mr. O’Reilly

telling me to stay out of trouble when

I came back to visit freshman year, it

 

becomes the mutiny of my body on

a dark street passing a man in a low-

pulled hoodie, it becomes my father’s

 

slight accent & my fifth grade friends

who giggled whenever he said the word

womens, it becomes my deeply buried

 

relief at knowing a cop protects me,

the time I carried my drunk hallmate

home in college, held her hair back

 

while she threw up for three hours, how

a hallway of mostly white faces still

assumes I fucked her.

 

III.

When I write the story

in my head, I am always

 

the hero. In the old ones,

I was always the victim.

 

IV.

I easily have twenty pounds of muscle on this dude, not to mention

thirty years, seven inches, & one less extended tour at war—

 

not to mention enough light-skinned privilege of my own, enough

class benefit-of-the-doubt. I could pummel him into a coma

 

with a gang of NYPD officers nearby, explain why & have them chuckle,

nod, & say, Don’t worry, pal. We get it. Just clean up afterwards.

 

V.

He follows us, my love in tears, as she retreats into the closest aisle.

I turn & face him: You just called my future wife a ‘monkey.’ Why?

You’re better than that. Imagine someone said that to a person

you love. And his eyes suddenly arrive—no longer

in Vietnam or his uncle’s basement in fourth grade chained

to a radiator or three decades’ worth of park benches—histrionic tears

start to drown the haphazard whiskers on his ruddy cheeks, as he pulls

sheets upon sheets of stolen frozen crabmeat from his tattered backpack,

his arms extended to her, offering them up as penance. The irony,

the allegory of this white man offering cold seafood to a Black woman

with a shellfish allergy.

 

VI.

A broken man has bullied the woman I love & anything I do will make me his bully.

I ask her, What would Darnell or Maurice do? What would Dr. King do? What would a ‘good man’ do? What should I have done? And again, the world demands answers from her but then mutes her response, silent as her voice in this poem, asking her to answer for something she has never owned nor sought. She’s between sobbing & punching the next man who talks, trying to busy her hands with Hallmark cards she can’t read through tears.

 

I imagine the scenario again, except this time while holding the hand of our six year-old

daughter & I am convinced that what just happened was either the bravest or most cowardly thing I have ever done.

 

VII.

I lie awake until we finally talk – she’s angry still,

the ache fresh as the gash on that hobo’s left cheek:

 

Honestly, fuck your social worker bullshit. He was

more important to you than me.

 

But, baby, what was I supposed to do? Beat his ass? What would that have done?

 

I don’t know, she says, I guess sometimes our options are only what is

least wrong.

 

 

Alive

  

At rest upon a body

of water without life

 

at the bottom of the earth

wedged between two peaks

 

in the middle of the Middle

East,    serene resort

 

in the midst of a cluster

of ubiquitous crisscrossing

 

wars that are now just

landscape: two bodies

 

learn how to float  again

for the first time. Two

 

best friends. Close

enough to the end to no

 

longer keep track of hours

or days. They carry

 

nearly two centuries

of stories and losses

 

and secrets between them

into this stinging cold

 

that refuses to let them

sink. Each refusing

 

to release the other’s

arthritic grip, knowing

 

they came here today to

let go—and so the lake

 

becomes a sea of schoolgirl

giggles hijacking their hoarse

 

throats, now laughing as

their scars make them

 

into glowing quilts beneath

the sheen of heavy salt. I see

 

only them in this sacred

pool that is closer to hell

 

than any other, called Dead

because nothing is able to

 

survive its grasp for too

long and yet here they are:

 

two old ladies   who’ve defied

death                       rejoicing.

 

 

Carlos Andrés Gómez

Carlos Andrés Gómez is a Colombian American poet and the author of Hijito, selected by Eduardo C. Corral as the winner of the 2018 Broken River Prize. Winner of the Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize, Fischer National Poetry Prize, Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, his writing has been published, or is forthcoming, in the New England Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Yale Review, BuzzFeed Reader, The Rumpus, Rattle, CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape (Simon & Schuster, 2012), and elsewhere. Carlos is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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