What Walt Whitman Said
It’s when no one else is looking, when they’re all shaking hands and handing out hugs and signing the guestbook, that’s when I expect you to break. On her back porch. Behind a tree. Under the leaves. But you don’t. You stand with your hands in the pockets of your new black pants, the ones I helped you buy because you didn’t know if you should wear black, if anyone really wears black to these things, and besides, it was supposed to be ninety-five degrees today and all the black pants you liked were made by expensive designers in Spain or France or Italy and seemed too hoity-toity and hip, and what you really meant was disrespectful. To her. “It’s okay,” I said. “She knew who you are.”
It was different with your father, you said. He had called you a fagjust once. You brought your boyfriend long before meto his grave, and wore jeans and a yellow V-neck sweater with no shirt underneath. You didn’t shave. The others whispered behind you, but your mother, she held your hand. “I’m glad you came,” she said. “I need you.”
This morning you dressed in fine black trousers and a button-down shirt and a black suit coat, even though it’s supposed to be ninety-five degrees. Your cheeks were smooth. You read a poem by Walt Whitman. It was the same poem recited at the wake of a drag queen we knew. Anita Mercedes was her name. Back then we had whispered and giggled, wondering what the hell “prevaricate” means. We decided it must be dirty and Anita would be pleased. But this morning you read Walt Whitman without cracking a smile. Without cracking at all. You looked so handsome and I felt so guilty for wanting to take you someplace private. For wanting to get rid of those fine black pants.
While they’re all shaking hands and handing out hugs and whispering about your friend Is that his “friend”? I bring a plate of strange little sandwiches out to you under the leaves. I tell you you’ve got to eat. “Get me the hell out of here,” you say.
I drive your car, because it’s nicer than mine and it’s how we got here, from our home 300 miles away. The leather seats and the B&O speakers and the precise climate control are slick with the scent of your success. Your talent. Your art. When I drive your car, I become those things, too. I am swirled into the acrylic on your canvas. I drive you down the most normal street I’ve seen, with used car lots and convenience stores and stray dogs and a prostitute. You want a taco and I’d buy you a hundred-and-one tacos since you’ve hardly eaten in days, but you just want three. So I buy you three, and we sit in the parking lot looking out on this normal street while you eat tacos with extra sour cream. One of those trailer trucks drives by, the kind with a double-decker of cars seven up, and seven down and the cars are red and green and purple and blue and they’re all smashed to hell. Like a rainbow that got the shit kicked out of it. “I wonder if they were all in the same accident,” I say.
“That’s what I feel like,” you say.
Later, we go to sleep in her bed. You wouldn’t the night before, or the night before that, because it was too disrespectful, so we went to separate twin beds in your old room. There are no posters of Corvettes or Larry Byrd or Farah Fawcett on the walls, because you weren’t that kind of boy. There is Picasso and van Gogh and Matisse. But tonight, you’re too tired to sleep apart, so we lie under her sheets. You fall asleep right away. You’ve finally eaten and you’re finally asleep, and I know that it won’t happen tonight. So I sleep, too.
You wake me in the middle of the night. “I want you to fuck me,” you say, and this is your own prevarication, so I do what you really want me to do, and I do it slowly. I cover you. The dark air waltzes through the wide open window. It brings in the leaves of your tree. Your breath is fast and your moans are deep, like you might be getting there and I want to get there with you. But this sound is something else. It’s from your chest, and your weight is breaking beneath me. I press my cheek next to yours. “I can’t stand it,” you say. So I hold your body tight, and then I tell you I love you twenty-seven times in a row.
"What Walt Whitman Said
" was originally published at Contrary Magazine