Brown, Mary told me, is the color
of royalty. Brown, she said, is
the color of your beautiful eyes
and the bark of trees. She leaned over
the zinc laundry basin, scrubbing
the collars of my father’s dress shirts.
I sat where she always put me,
snugged in the half-full clothes hamper
beneath the stairs, and plied her with questions:
Why did she wear a blue and yellow robe
to our house? Why did she change
into the grey uniform when she arrived?
Why was her skin the color of coffee?
And she told me, her mouth full
of her mamma’s Alabama drawl,
that she was a Queen and her man
Kent a King of all Africa. She told me
more stories of her kin, of how they all
lived in palaces trimmed in the same gold
under skies blazed with the same blue
as her dashiki, how Kent’s old panel truck
was painted to remind them of the savannah
and of carriages her people rode in
the before times. Before what? I asked.
And she stopped her scrubbing,
turned to face me, and in a low voice,
like it was meant to be a secret,
said, now, that’s a question
you should ask you mother.
Club Q, Me and Steve
5 killed, 17 wounded in shooting at LGBTQ nightclub
Headline, The Colorado Sun
I don’t go to gay bars, any
bars really, except that time
I went up to the corner dive.
It had snowed three feet and I
was out of smokes. The road
was unplowed so I walked
a mile there and back.
It was five below. I’d blown
through my last cig,
even salvaged stubbed-out butts
from the trash. So I trudged
up to The Hut, got a few stale packs
of Luckies from the vending machine
and then bugged out. Even in a blizzard,
that place was full of bikers dudes—
their colors stitched into their leathers,
their arms tatooed. Hippie me was not
gonna hang around.
Oh, and I have been to a gay bar, too—
back in ’72 in NYC. My college buddy
Steve wanted to show me the scene.
He was the only gay guy I knew
and our little college town was not
at all down with the life he knew.
Steve guided me around
the East Village streets
till we came to the place.
We walked in and he transformed
into a queen, like he’d returned
home after his own Odyssey.
The hugs were loud and too much
for me, the kisses wet, and when
he sat he was so relaxed.
A whole semester of holding
himself straight let loose as he sagged
into the tattered couch
at the back of the Tinsel Room.
Guys petted him and crooned
like he was a lost pet come home.
It’s like the whole time I knew him,
he’d been trudging like I did, years later,
hip deep in snow. I cried. He knew
why. I was seeing him whole, seeing
his eyes light, his laugh lose the saw-toothed
edge I’d come accustomed to.
It was 1972 and there were few places
a guy like Steve could go. And now
it’s 2022 and I sit at home,
not craving a smoke. It doesn’t
snow much here any more. The Hut
is gone. Steve is gone—died
in just one of the many horrible ways
you might come to expect. And one more
place he could have called home is just today
visited by gunfire and blood.
Dick Westheimer is the author of A Sword in Both Hands, Poems Responding to Russia’s War on Ukraine (Sheila Na Gig Books, 2022). His most recent poems have appeared or are upcoming in Whale Road Review, Minyan, Gyroscope Review, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Rattle, Ritual Well, and Cutthroat. He is a Rattle poetry prize finalist. He and his wife Debbie have lived in rural southwest Ohio for over 40 years. More at dickwestheimer.com.