A Somewhat Provocative Poem
At the Gallery,
erect asses saturate the wall in black and white detox
as do mouths, open to receive a cock
or a lullaby.

Fucking is the new cuddling.
Talking is the new fucking.
There is nothing left to hide behind
when you lift a dress
or unzip a fly.

You have to cockblock the bullshit,
tourniquet the jism that spews from our mouths daily, 
have the goddamn balls to go to those scary places inside you and me
deeper than the pussy will ever be,
if you want to be truly free.

And that's the damn truth.

Circus Lust

The girl who was paid to make men hurt and the boy who was paid to make people laugh stood side-by-side in the classifieds. After the movies and the employment ads, past the apartment listings and before the teasing photos of 1-900 hotties, Serena and Philippe advertised their services for a $1 a word a week. 

They were oblivious to each other, until one day Serena's phone rang.
 ****
Serena heard the ringtone while mending a tear in her crotchless pleather bodysuit. She lifted up the upholstery needle and glanced at her "personal" cell. Seeing an unrecognized number, she answered with a brief, "Miss Distress." There was silence, then a hesitant male voice.

"I'm calling for my friend. He can't talk."
"Oh, he's shy is he?"
"Not particularly," the man answered. "He's a clown. He communicates through hand gestures and props mostly." "Ahh...does this 'clown' have a name?"
"Zerbo."
"Of course. Well tell Zerbo to be at 1403 W. Sawyer #3 at 10 pm sharp. There are penalties for being late."
"No problem, he's..." Click.

The dial tone finished the sentence. Serena was back at her 66 Singer Industrial, transfixed by its violent purr.

 ***

Clowns are voluntary defects. Mute. Autistic. Tainted hair, massive feet and a non-existent sex. For Philippe, this life wasn't so much a calling as it was an escape. 

A shy, imaginative child, Philippe was the butt end of every joke until he realized how powerful being the joke could be. So he shut himself in lockers, painted his hair with neon markers and tied his shoes together before his bullies could.  The euphoria he felt hearing their reluctant cackles erased the pain.

Today he was trying out a new routine at a small theater on the Northside. His gag - a microphone. He sashayed up to it like a frontman, and then tangled his arms, chest and legs in the cord. After a few extravagant attempts to get free he ended up hog tied on stage with a smile.

And he liked it.

After the show he fingered the red indentations in his skin with admiration. The torn blood vessels blushed like his face never could. A master of control, he imagined himself stripped of it. Next time, he decided, someone else would wind the cord.
•••
A man in clown pants kneels on a concrete floor, a few feet away from a large duffel bag. His wrists are bound behind his back. His red lipstick has been smeared across his mouth by leather, shoes and flesh. He has a widow's peak and slick black hair bound by a stocking cap. 

"You pathetic fool"
Smack.
"You're a punch line gone flat."
Smack.
"You're so hideous you don't even need a costume."
Smack.
"You're not a clown, you're just a nightmare."
Smack.
"Say yes, Miss Distress!"
Smack.
"Say it!"
Smack.
"Now!"

 Clowns wear their heart on their sleeve, overreacting like adult-children to objects given and taken away, to small joys and accidents. But while Serena performed her sadistic set list, commanding and mocking, whipping and spanking, caressing and penetrating, Philippe remained expressionless. He was caught in a trance of obedience that was neither pleasurable nor painful, just complete.
***
As a tormentor, Serena's voice is both cruel and kind. "You know what Zerbo's gonna get? He's gonna get the paddle." On Philippe's delicate frame this almost seems cruel to Serena. Almost. His bound hands beg for every backlash and ass-slap that comes near. 
Whack....Crrrrrack!

Phillips fingers hit the side of the wooden paddle and a ring on his index finger explodes in a burst of blood-red ink. Face dripping, Serena leaps back as if the secretion was real. " Stupid clown," she screams to a dazed Philippe. "Get up. Game's over. Go back to the bigtop, Bonzo." And with that she yanks his rope free and stomps over to the bathroom to towel herself-off.
***
Philippe slowly stands up and walks over to his bag. He carefully takes out a cake box, opens it, and removes a pie. Lemon merengue with extra cream. He mimics throwing the pie in his face. Then in the direction of her face. Then he looks at the pie, shrugs, and sets it down on the floor.  Grabbing a pocket knife from the case, he begins to slice the pie into pieces.
***
Serena stares into the mirror, red ink dripping onto the sink like the aftermath of a crimson dye-job. She violently unfurls a big wad of toilet paper from the roller and wipes her face, smearing red clown lips across her mouth.  In that instant, his costume becomes her costume- a single mask they both wear. Who's the fool now she thinks? And with that her angry stare softens into a smile.
***
When Serena walks out of the bathroom, Philippe offers her a slice of pie. Serena kneels down beside him and they eat, on her basement floor, in silence.

The Last Frosty in Virginia

It's a Friday night in August 1990. I'm standing at the front door of my mother's condo, waiting for my father to pick me up in his '87 Mercury Grand Marquis. Made with a V8 engine and more American steel than a skyscraper, it has all the luxury of a night at Howard Johnson's. Of course my dad didn't buy it, it was willed from my grandfather – now 2 years dead from Cirrhosis of the Liver. I said this to myself proudly, cuz even at eleven I knew this was just a fancy way of saying alcoholism.

So my dad rolls up in his poor man’s limo. When I get in, the air is thick with unanswered questions. Usually a disarmingly funny man, he would fill the "changing of command" with Michael Bolton-esque renditions of his favorite songs, I Want to Know What Love Is by Foreigner, Love Potion #9 and The House of the Rising Sun. Or he'd break out folksy ditties like...

Monday I had bread and gravy.
Tuesday I had gravy and bread.
Wednesday I had bread without gravy.
Thursday I had gravy without bread.
Friday I didn't have nothin’. Mama just
whipped me and sent me to bed.

Between tunes he’d keep up the banter with mildly adult and somewhat inappropriate jokes such as, "Who wrote dried shit on the wall? Who-flung-poo!" and “What do you call a deer with no eyes, no legs and no penis?  No fucking idear!"

Occasionally, he would just stop. If I was lucky he'd pull over, but sometimes it was right there in the middle of the road. When he tightened his grip on the steering wheel, I knew. There would be a swallow and dramatic tear wipe, a "I repent to you my God. I am a SINNER!" Then he would start bawling. I never actually knew what he was talking about so I would just close my eyes and think of horses.

But this time he was silent as we crawled over the Hampton-Roads Bridge Tunnel. He drove 40. The speed limit was 55. I didn't know or care where he was taking me. With him I never did know.

To write poetry by the river—across the state
To knock on the doors of people he hadn’t spoken to since grade school
To a midnight showing of Pink Floyd’s The Wall
To a rectory, of a friend or a lover
Or to tend to myself while he disappeared

But this time is different. It’s a command from my mother, for him to come clean.

He exits the tunnel on the Norfolk side and pulls into Ward's Corner, a strip mall near his duplex. Happening in the 1950's, it consists of a coin laundry, an ABC store, a check-cashing joint and the best-named gay club EVER – "Nutty Buddy's." And a Wendy's. He pulls into the drive-thru.

Now, let me tell you about the frosty. This is no ordinary milkshake. This is the holy trinity of chocolate milk, sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream, blended without flaw into one icy panacea. From its frosted cocoa color to its perfectly arched tip, it is assembly-line perfection, pumped out for gold stars and nightmares alike.

To put its glory into context, the Frosty is the one thing I can’t give up, throw up or lose faith in. He orders me one without asking and takes a breath for dramatic effect.

“Your great-grandfather, William Leslie Gray, he was a terrible drunk. When he’d get into the bottle, he’d make me…get into the bed with him. Said if I told anybody he’d say I liked it."

I don’t know much about the man except that he was skinny like bent tree branch and that I'm named after him, a fact both my parents often pointed out.

“The abuse started when I was 7,” my father continues, “lasted ‘til I was about 13. At the end I knew I was different. He ruined me.” He spits out each word like a cherry pit, as I lose myself in the creamy swirls.

“After that ‘The First Sargent’ beat me every night”, this being the nickname for my Grandmother based on her warmth and physical demeanor. It’s generous. She made his life hell, he said, because he preferred musicals to sports and boys to girls. Because he didn’t fit in to the ideals of a poor, uneducated Southern matriarch who based her self-worth racism, country music and matching Christmas dish sets.  

Then I was drafted…., “he says, straining over every word, unable to say what he had often said before in broken confessions involving little boys in Thailand and Vietnam. Half-horrified, half-proud, he would ramble on then switch himself off like a burnt out streetlight.

At this point the frosty is at that perfect semi-liquid, semi-solid state that goes down easy and fills your empty throat. I cradle each pillow of chocolate cream in my mouth as long as I can before swallowing.

He breaks the silence. “When I got out I was called to join the priesthood. I needed a safe place to do God's will.” A place where nothing can hurt you, I guess, like the inside of my yellow, cardboard cup. At this point I ditch sipping the Frosty and am scraping it out with a stray plastic fork.

I kinda knew the story from here. That he left the seminary to volunteer at Cardinal Cushing Center School, in Boston.

There he met my mother, a widow with two adopted boys, “Jim” and “Sam”, who were getting into all sorts of trouble. My mother said he was a handsome charmer with a sharp wit and an easy tongue who did crazy things and could convince you of anything.

She said it was a comfortable arrangement. He took the boys under his wing and asked nothing of her. After all, he was a man of faith.

As for me, all I know is that I’m a freak of nature. Maybe born out of love, maybe a lie. Maybe just a particularly poignant song on the radio.

I slide towards the passenger door, as far away from him as I possibly can. “The relationship between a man and a boy is sacred,” my dad pleads. “Yes, I took indiscretions with those boys but I loved Sam, I fucking loved him.”

The remaining teaspoons of frosty have liquefied into sweet, brown milk. I nurse them painstakingly slow while pressing my face against the cool glass window.

The woman he’s dating now has two boys, I think, about the same ages as the ones my mom adopted all those years ago. And the woman before her. The pieces are coming together even as they fall apart.

Without saying a word, my father turns around and drives me back across the bridge. Now there is only essence of Frosty left. I let each minuscule drop linger on my tongue like communion, worshiping its delicious numbness, its holy motherfucking sweetness.

Then it’s gone. And all I can feel is shame. Not for my stepbrothers or the other boys, not for my mother and certainly not for my dad. I am heartbroken because I know this will be the last, best Frosty I will ever have.