Today he'll ride his bike to Safeway
in his death's head earring and mismatched socks,
where the checkers all know his name. He'll buy
Cheeto's and Kool Aid before coming home to bathe
in the rusty light from the TV, until I get off work
and collapse on the fake velvet sofa, a double order
of fast food bleeding grease through a bag in my fist.
He hasn't eaten anything green in a week
and I see the dirt under his fingernail when he points
to the surfboard he drew on his sneaker.

What would we do if I got fired, I wonder,
listening to the wind outside and the evening's lead story
announcing more layoffs in the South Bay. There's enough
in the bank for his school clothes, and the rent's
almost paid again. I should be happier.
He's been watching the talk shows. Have
you ever done it with someone you didn't love,
he asks, his old guitar resting against the wall
like an abandoned girlfriend, and the pleats
of the hound's-tooth fleamarket slacks
gathered around his small waist
like the leaves of a sunflower calyx.
Eat slowly, I say, as he smiles at me
around a mouthful of fries, points the clicker
at my chest and says I'm getting fat.

We're bound together like sailors, swaying across
a dark ocean, resigned to each other's odd humors
and unable to see the stars overhead,
as we stagger around in the engine room
of a ship with a foreign name.

--- From Overtime
Joseph Millar
© 2001, Eastern Washington University Press

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