A drunk vet—1st Marine Regiment,
Persian Gulf—homeless by the smell,
Has shuffled up to me. He says his dad died
Killing gooks, so he went over to kill
Sand rats. We stuff pork balls in their
Mouths. Keeps them outta heaven.
East River is metallic this morning,
The breeze makes meshes on its skin.
The early ferry is making its way across
And a speedboat rips the river a new spine.
I watch his face—and mine—get blown
To pieces in the churn and froth.
I was here once, half of me
Leaning out over the guard rail. I knew (or
Hoped, or feared) I could simply tip into
That silver, roiling body and be freed
Of all struggle, with only a few seconds
Of regret. Yo, you want proof? Look,
I’m still carrying shrapnel. He rolls up
His pant leg and shows me his dark scar.
He asks for cash. I hand him a pair of tens.
He digs into his shabby jacket, pulls out
A pack of smokes and shakes out two.
We lean on the rail and smoke. A flock
Of squawking schoolboys flies off the ferry.
The M14 arrives with a groan
And jackhammers start pounding the street.
I watch a cormorant stab the river’s belly
For a fish. My friend has forgotten me.
His eyes are shut tight, he mumbles
To someone only he can see.
I think back to a short-sleeved shirt
I once saw floating here, how the river
Handled it with such care, turning it
Over and inside out, endlessly washing
The checkered cloth with its grey hands.