Scoundrel Time

Looking back, it now seems inevitable

that I would be the only one to return
from summer camp with head lice.
And that the medicated shampoo
laced with rubbing alcohol
would frost my tips. Nowhere to hide
beneath the blonde, my skin scabbed
red, dozen-or-so pimples blazing.
A fact about me: I’ll do almost anything
to be touched. Gentleness has always
come at a cost. It is worth the shriek
of a teenaged boy wedging my narrow neck
into a headlock only to discover his elbows
tinged with pus. Freak. Vocabulary
back then was just another tool used
to keep me contained. To the doctor
I was boy with ectoparasite infestation
and acute folliculitis. To the school I was
boy come alive with nesting insects. Boy,
many limbed and mouthed, teeth
gnawing at the doors. Those days
I liked to think about the larvae
dying all across my head: I, battle-
field for small invaders. When
they refused to perish, I understood
the determination of all soldiers.
One way to kill an ectoparasite
is fire. I held a lit match
beneath my ears to smoke the insects
from their hovels. One way to kill
an ectoparasite is blunt force trauma.
I filed my nails into points. I dragged
my four-fingered combine
through the fields of my scalp.
One way to kill an ectoparasite
is to kill its living host. Have you ever
fought a thing so long, so bone-
scrabble and gutted, you grow into
a kind of sibling in the fight? Even then
I knew this was the way of things—
our efforts to destroy what feeds on
our succor backfiring in our faces
and there it is again: America, red
and screaming Get out of my country.
What I mean is: the poultice pastes
didn’t work. The exorcism burnt
grandma’s curtains. Smudge sticks
smoked the pillows unusable.
I’m not sure I tried hard enough.
What I mean is: there’s so little
difference between a body
and a nation, whiteness riding
the land with its claw foot grip dug
down to the root, a swell of give me
all you got, pleased roar down
the street menacing the woman
tucked tight to my shoulder
whose hair smells tenderly
of acacia shampoo and sleep,
the not-blood-blood-brother
with his strop-whetted laugh
drawn and thirsty in the sun
brave enough to lace his fingers with
my fingers in the face of it, the face
of a man spitting on our backs.
The man, who glowers as we turn.
Who I know wants, most, to be hit.
Meaning he wants, most, to be touched.
Who pauses at the sight of me.
Who reaches out a hand, scabbed.
Who is almost gentle.
Who says: well, not you.





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