It took three beers for his past to finally emerge.
His eyes began the story but then his tongue took over.
He spoke so matter-of-factly that it was up to me
to embellish his tale with regret.
Drunken father – that’s like ground zero for his neighborhood.
But a prostitute drug-addled mother gave his words an edge
sharp enough to cut, almost draw blood from my ear-drums.
Their life together, he said, was as violent as the streets.
His baby sister died at the kick of a boot to a stomach.
He kept his own bruises, a catalog of pain and bewilderment.
His fourth beer almost brought tears.
But his fifth wiped them before they were fully formed.
He can remember the cops breaking down the door
in the middle of the night.
And a thug who called round for a gambling debt,
left his old man bleeding bad.
I didn’t bother to line his youth up against my ordinary childhood.
There’d have been no points of contact.
My intermittent weeping was minor league.
He kept telling me that he wasn’t a drinking man.
These binges, he maintained, were like
occasional visits to a shrink.
He thanked me for not charging an outrageous fee.
His pride sunk in when he recounted how
he had a place of his own, a good job,
and some early indiscretions had been wiped clean from his rap sheet.
A lot of his friends were dead.
There’s days he figured that he was the one invented survival.
He mentions an uncle who helped.
And one good cop who took pity.
But he said, the mirror was the real guardian angel.
That face, he always reckoned, deserved better than what it got.
I’m thankful when he gets up to leave.
My sympathy needs a little air.
He concludes by saying that he’s met someone
and it’s not so much he wants to start a family
as recognize one when it comes.