from nowhere he came back

from nowhere he came back and kicked our asses
he hissed and made us jump did uncle Curtis
that crime-ridden, long and lanky drink of piss
and eisel pounced upon our street and moved
across from us—imperative as illness
he festered in our neighborhood, he shoved

our dull, safe lives toward bleeding lights and horrors
old wrongs and harms were tumped from drawers
for show and tell—our women and their soft men
even the boys like me, eager and too ready
for real evil, who dream delicious sins
knew him for the boogeyman, the real one, for he

preyed from his porch swing like a spider
sculpted from a claw, grinning wider
than any decent man would ever smile
his arms ran ruptive with scabs and tracks and puckers
and puss-filled sores—he’d scratch and cackle while
he laughed at us—he called us backwards, suckers

and idiots—good christ, my head was filled
with tales—how on the night Blondie was killed
with Blondie shot to strings by state police
how Curtis, with him, still escaped beneath the waves
of Ponchartrain—didn’t even lose his crease
he was so smooth back in those days—

Grandmother had him in for coffee and read
him from the bible—he’d nod his head
ever the prodigal, back for the meat—
a bit of song, a prayer, a kiss, and then
he’d skitter back across the empty street
to wash salvation’s stench away with gin

some cracker stabbed him at a joint in Sun
and all the next day long he lit it run
to show it off—he’d let it stop, coagulate
then gently spread the wound to make it bleed—
he danced and shed his blood for us and like Pilate
we resisted the tow of his terrible need

it must have healed all right for he survived
to stay—another week or two he lived
across the street—I never spoke to him
or tried or got too near lest I should catch
whatever awful sickness fevered him
but one day when he’d gone I slipped the latch

and sneaked across the empty street to find
what nastiness he might have left behind—
the crumbling house was filthy, cold, and bare
I prowled about for something dark and hidden
a book was all I found, so in his chair
I read the secret love poems he had written.

—Don Whittington

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