Try to Remember that South African Man

Sometimes I try to remember the name of that South African man,
who insisted on being called “Coloured,” even though in this country
he would have qualified as “black.” He was more attached to that
identification than any other, such as “older,” “dapper,” “tourist,”
“uncut,” “speaks Afrikaans,” “wears glasses.” His hair slept under my
fingers like lambswool; he could tongue longer than any guy I’ve come
across thus far. What did we talk about as we lay on the comforter
in his hotel room? Getting around Boston on foot. How we’d both
considered studying architecture. Apartheid over there, racism here,
especially how Black Americans had achieved so much in comparison,
how we seemed to take everything for granted. Back and forth.
Imagine if just bitching about inadequate schools and lack of housing
could land you at the bottom of a ditch? he asked me. But it happens
here too, I protested. He smiled: respect your elders, even if they’re
lovers. Be quiet now, and then his palm covered my mouth and nose,
leaving only a tiny slit for me to breathe. This is how they held me
before they began to beat me, he said. Then he rained down another
round of kisses.

From Punks: New & Selected Poems (The Song Cave, 2021) by John Keene. Copyright © 2021 by John Keene. Used with the permission of the publisher.