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Pretty Boy

London, 1795

ISSUE:  Spring 2009
Can’t say he walked the walk.

Talked it, but everybody
did that, everybody
had a story to front,
the essential mess of their life.

He was pretty, though. Nobody
messed with the sight of him
because it messed with them
that invisible mirror

shining the truth
straight back. O he had it easy
out there
in the world,

his bright skin and curls,
his agreeably knobbed nose,
eyes black and brown lips
plush enough to sink
a lady’s dreams into
all night… .

Nobody told him the truth.
Nobody had a truth worth telling
so they talked all the time,
no secret safe
a week, a day, through Sunday tea—

No one could tell him anything
he really needed:
the idea of something
precious, soothing.
He walked the length of St. James

and kept his hankie in his sleeve;
he willed himself to smell the rot,
powdered wigs and mud and
dying children; he looked and looked
until he met

one keen eye
seeing everything, too:
Old Black Billy Waters,
peg leg and fiddle
just a-going, laughing as if to say

Whatcha gonna do with that stare?
and tossing it
quick as a coin
flipped into
a cup.


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