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My Midwest Knight

I tell you how my best friend from high school
          wrote to say he misses my friendship,
the way we could talk about anything—
          says the closest he’s come to replacing me
is an 80-year-old man he met in a used bookstore
          in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and you wonder if
this is a compliment. I tell you how he and this man
          went to a production of The Music Man
at the high school where my friend teaches Latin
          to young dorky kids, and you smile,

reminding me that you played Winthrop
          in the 5th grade, the little boy with the lisp.
How very fitting, since I once had trouble with my Ss,
          meeting weekly with a speech therapist
who made me say “squirrel” over and over again.
          This was about the same time you took
to the stage, your eleven-year-old body belting out:
          “Gary, Indiana,” though by the 1990s Gary
had become one of the murder capitals of the country,
          a place you drove through quickly,

head ready to duck—no dancing, no singing.
          And now my friend, still in Indiana,
sits in the dark of an auditorium, an old man
          beside him, “76 trombones” played by pimply
boys with squeaky voices and young girls dying
          to be noticed— and it’s like I’m there,
in the back, watching their heads bob up and down,
          applauding the “talented” youth,
instead of being here in Florida with you
          where 80-year-old men come to die,

their wives buried long ago up north beneath blankets
          of snow that never warm the dead—
or the nearly dead. And I wonder how we got so far
          apart, he and I, once spending every Friday night
together, watching movies, driving in circles around
          cornfields, thinking of a future beyond
our youthful glows. Or all the late night phone calls,
          planning the best way to get the girls of our dreams,
which worked better for him, than me—
          though I did end up with you, my little Winthrop.

But still he must have felt a little betrayed the night
          I told him I was gay. Must have pondered
every detail of our childhood, thinking so much was a lie:
          the tales I’d twist of the unattainable girl
who I longed to fall madly in love with
          and how he comforted “my broken heart”
when everything fell through, when the girls
          only wanted to be friends.
I want to write back to him and say
          how I wish I could make it up to him,

make him know that in a way everything was true,
          as true as anyone’s life, anyone’s growing up.
And maybe it’s my fault that I faded away,
         thinking it was best we each go our separate ways:
him marrying a Michigan girl, me moving
         to Florida with a boy I love. But now my friend sits
in theaters with old men, remembering me,
         and I sit in the humidity of Florida,
filled with good old southern boys, who laugh,
         drink whisky, and sit in hammocks,

not like the gentlemen of the Midwest—
         men he once thought we’d both become:
sitting on our Indiana porches, our wives cooking
         meatloaf, our kids chalking the driveway,
as the marching band of boys parades by,
         their trombones catching the morning sun,
blinding us like the shield of a knight sent to save me.

Posted 08/05/09
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