Black Cock

Fifteen years since Bobby Dougherty died. The night before
our last day of school, in his closet, with a belt, he hanged

himself. His girlfriend had left him, and he wouldn’t graduate
this year—that’s what we chalked it up to. But grades and a girl

couldn’t have been all. We should have seen the impulse coming:
how he drank harder than any of us, how the tires of his enemies

were slashed with a switchblade, how he screamed you fucking
Wet Back at our school’s only Puerto Rican before he pummeled

the shit and blood out of him. We should have seen the sadness
that bursts out as anger, we—his family, friends, the boys and girls

who passed him in the hall, me—should have looked beyond
our own pettiness and made some human gesture. And I fail

Bobby still, can only think of him that afternoon we walked
out of the locker room and he clamped his hand on my shoulder

to ask: Is it true all black guys have big cocks? I skewed my eyes at him,
expecting his malicious grin or worse that savage glare, presaging

a salvo of punches to fatten my lip, break, as Manny’s, my cheekbone,
my fifth rib. But his eyes were open—no spiteful squint—

and waiting. He wanted a real answer. I didn’t have one for him.
All I had for him was me, quavering as an animal, its foot caught

in a metal trap, willing, for freedom, to damage itself, to gnaw
through fur and bone. To answer him, I blurted Yes, 

darted past his left shoulder, and scurried into the hallway
looking for the camouflage of other bodies. I failed Bobby then

as I fail him now, fixated, like a mind fiddling to work out
the combination to a lock, fixated on the content of a gym class

question, on its years’-old rankness, oblivious to the rust and ache
of its asking. I glanced back, and his face was set again to its malice,

unflinching even when his girl, who wouldn’t break it off
for three months more, who had been standing outside the gym,

walked up, offered her palm, and waited for him to reach out,
to hold on with the cracked-skin knuckles of his own hand.

 

 

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