"Will you write something for me
where something nice happens?" the boy asks me.
He nods. "Everything you write is so serious."
He is ten years old, the son of a dear friend
who is a terrible parent. He comes to my house
very often, has for years, and does his
homework or reads books while I sit writing.
Sometimes I read to him what I have written,
sometimes he reads it on his own.
He's asked me what a clit was, because he read it
in something I wrote, what a speedball is.
We are unlikely friends, a grown man and
a precocious boy; if we go out - I often
take him with me when I don't feel like
cooking - we are always taken for
father and son. We favor each other,
as the ladies used to say.
His father is one of two people
who has literally saved my life,
but is now on his own downward
trajectory, he is a human Skylab.
I see the boy very often lately.
"It's always drugs or weird girl problems."
He is not wrong.
"Something nice then?"
And he nods his golden-brown head.
At the very least, this child
should have that.
You deserve better, I almost say,
but it would be a betrayal of our
unspoken agreement never to mention
why he comes here, why we are friends,
why I am even alive.
He comes and looks over my shoulder
at the poem I am about to delete.
" 'Country and Western'?" he asks.
"It's only a title," I say, my finger hovering.
"Is it about music?" I shake my head.
He says again, "Write something nice for me,"
and trundles off to the bathroom.
A boy and a girl sit on the edge of a dock, dangling their feet into the warm waters of
a Minnesota lake, watching the summer sun disappear behind tall pine trees. They have only known each other for a few hours, and already the boy's arm is curlicues and swirls and whorls, painted in henna by the steady hand of the girl. His chest, his back are decorated too, and as she had painted him, she had told him the designs she was making, what they meant and symbolized.
And why those, he asked, pointing to a slithering vine-like line going up his side, and the girl smiled and tucked her tongue in the corner of her mouth to paint the leaves just so, and finally said, A vine is strong and tenacious.
And this? he asked, pointing to the cattail going up the underside of his left arm. A reed is supple and bends when it is wise to bend.
She tucks her blond hair behind her ear and tells him to lower himself into the water. He does, and when he comes out the henna is like filigree etched into his skin. He is breathless at the loveliness she has made upon him, and he looks at her, in wonder,
The boy is back from wherever he has been
and is reading over my shoulder again.
I can feel beside me his warmth and smell
a scent of peanut butter. "What does the boy
say", he asks, looking up at me,
his eyes clear and unveiled, as if seeing
at last through a dense and frightening
fog. "He says, 'I don't deserve this'."
And I put my arm around the boy
I have no right to deserve
and he says, "Finally."