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josiah #1

a poem by carlisle sargent.



I wake. Light a cigarette inhale stretch my arms over my head, yawn. Reach behind me with a dull nail to the itch. Not the other one, just my lower back. Not the other one. Not yet. Touch my face and feel the hole, circling with dirty fingers. My head is a split brick I feel the hole again and also a fresh gash and I fucking wince. A woman walks down the stairs and I can almost see up her skirt if I crane my neck but I don’t crane my neck because my neck hurts and because I can see the hints of 43 year old cellulite above her knees and nothing worthwhile could be above that so I don’t crane my neck. I lay back. Smoke my cigarette and close my eyes to the sound of screeching metal and pretend I am in Cape Cod.

When I was young, maybe five, my parents and my brother and I would drive to the Cape in our Isuzu Trooper and the back of the car would be stuffed with beach chairs and coolers and my brother would swing his legs off of the car seat and I would stare out the window until my eyes were heavy and I would fall asleep with my forehead bouncing on the glass. And my parents would wake the two of us when we arrived and we would leap from the car legs tight and skinny with anticipation and we would run through the old house. Like hooligans, my mother would say. Slow down you hooligans. I would sprint first to the room with the bunk beds just to make sure the top bunk wasn’t already claimed and throw my bag up over the railing and smell the cedar of the frame and the ocean so close by and next run into the kitchen and fling myself into my grandmother’s arms and smell her so close by, like saltwater and sautéed garlic and Newports.

My stomach growls. Ignored. A train arrives and with it comes the Itch, the real one. I do not ignore it because I can’t it comes like a wave strong and tidal like my grandmother’s saltwater and it is shameful and I am up, dusting the seat of my filthy pants and gathering myself into at the very least a walking nightmare but to be honest, it’s the walk that is the nightmare. Squeezing past the Manhattan bound carcasses out of the concrete dungeon I emerge triumphant and ancient and desperate among ear buds and smeared lipstick and coffee cups. An easy parting of the pencil-skirted masochists and illegal bike delivery boys and dry cleaning and two dollars off and always somewhere to be and I am moving, moving, fighting. The itch grumbles and prods and I am steadier on my feet but still keep as much distance. Walking mostly side streets because I belong inside the belly because I am reborn every morning inside of it. Inside hunger and want and something darker Every morning I emerge and every morning I am dead more dead than the previous night. Reborn. I do not fit among the living, who wrinkle their nose and grab the hands of their children and think Thank God I’m not Him. Thank God. And they won’t be as mad at their husbands for getting home from work late because work means a home and pants that aren’t dirty and a membership to the gym and to Thank God I’m not Him. And they won’t be mad at their wives for getting fat and bossy because Thank God I’m not Him. I walk. Reeling slightly from the sunlight and from last night. I feel my head: a souvenir from that stupid bitch who pushed me when my hand was extended so hard that I stumbled into the pole on Broadway and that’s all I remember except for the concrete and the decay seeping below my head and that stupid bitch taking my money. The cut on my forehead pounds I pull out a cigarette it pounds. Inhale. I look down at my feet, dirty Reeboks leading the way. Belonging once to some old man well tough luck old man you shouldn’t of left them on your stoop in February, and what did you expect. This is the City, after all. And my feet were fucking cold.