There was barely a soul in the theatre come the end of Thursday. It was always a quiet day here and i liked that. I wanted to be with myself- away from the thousands of eyes that found me in the day light. I came here to sit undisturbed and touch myself. My day had been spent in public smiling and looking at visiting white folk. I worked the door downtown at one of the largest hotels in the city. I saw them come from all around to vacation somewhere out of the way of the bigger cities- a place that was not quite big but held some kind of adventure. And they stayed downtown cause that was a place that was not as close to Black folk as others. They felt safe. I would watch them, person by person, come into the hotel. Each one of them past me with a new disgust. Some stiffened in my presence- became like boards and moved by. Even in the light of day, and with me in servant drag, They were scared. There was a strange energy in the air. It is a curious thing to observe them- walking both in fear and superiority. I was after all in servitude to them, just as my ancestors had been, and there was part of them that sat in that moment with jubilee. At the same time, they were scared, in complete terror. Most days I wanted to abandon any questioning and reach out, grab them by the throat, and kill them. . .


That day, a young man jumped back when I approached him. I stood with my hand outstretched, ready to take his bags from him. Our eyes found each other. He looked back with a kind of need I wasn’t used to seeing in their eyes in the hotel- it had been other places. I saw that need in the baths and arcades- in movies and theatres. It was longing and a terror more than what I found in the eyes of White folk who were not sexually moved by me. I ignored what sensation was there and grabbed his bags. There was a thought, about how ridiculous they were, dancing about in my mind.


I reached for my sex in the theatre and thought about robbing them blind- being every bit the savage they feared and salivated over. No more smiles- only teeth for biting. My smile had been made numb long ago anyway. On the screen, the regular mix of porn played. There were some men here. They’d hidden themselves so as to avoid being seen or talked to. I never spoke, never gave them eye contact, never invited company. There was nothing in them that I needed. We were there in a collective of silence and wanting. The only sounds were those from the screen. The action mounted. Three men took turns penetrating a fourth. If there was anything happening at that moment, it was rendered irrelevant by the screams, sounds of flesh slapping, and moans on the screen.


I spit in my hand- inhaling the scents- found my dick and began to stroke it. There was violence. The bottom on the screen barely seemed to enjoy himself. He sounded in pain. It seemed to be all that he could do to stay on the bed- each top pounding more intensely than the former. Something moved in me and I came to arousal- growing more solid with each movement. In the dim lighting I could see others caught in the same moment I was- somewhere lusting and loathing the thought of being a player on the screen. And why was that? What brought us to this point of wanting to pour our misery into another man in this way? Many of us had partners- woman, man and otherwise? Were they fucked like this? Were they here too, enjoying the show as we were? If Brandon was here, i’d hoped he never find me, there was no love here. There was no softness. There was just thrust- just sex.

In school, there was a boy that I would fuck like the one in the movie. We’d take turns pounding away almost crying- pushing all hurt deep. Afterwards we’d barely speak. I’d throw a joke or two, he’d laugh and talk about some girl he thought looked nice and we’d leave it there. Always, we reminded one another to be cool- to keep our thing between us. The world couldn’t know of what we did. There was nothing in the universe or in us that could bare the hatred that would bring. So, we kept it in us. Nothing in our relations lent itself to any kind of friendship beyond these sessions. Nothing developed beyond what was had there.


In the dark, a white boy moved closer to me. I felt him before I saw him- his energy. My hand began stroking faster. I held myself still, moment by moment, attempting to ignore him. At the very last second I turned to see him. It was the boy from before. The same boy who thought I was coming for his bag. This time his eyes were all hunger. I looked at him- his own hand reaching to grab his sex through his jeans. “I oughta rob you for real, this time.” I thought.


Eyes danced. A moment and then a discovery. A chill and then. . .


“Suck my dick.” i commanded as effortlessly as pouring water.


Heat and hunger. The corners of his mouth widened into a kind of crazed smile and he sank to his knees. “You want this huh, boy? You want some of this big black dick?”


“Yes sir.”


I knew he did before there was speech. They all did. As scared as they were, they were also curious. In here they could get lost- roleplay. They could become submissive in ways that daylight would never condone and become what the society guarded against most- a white man in service. He gave me a slight glance. My dick waved in front of him- measuring his face in the small light.


“Go on boy.”


He began. I grew in his mouth. There was wetness streaming, pulling, gagging, and choking. He threw looks my way. Part of me wanted to see him moving up and down on me. Part of me wanted to see what his eyes held now. Was it still hunger? Was he scared? Did he care what happened to him here at the mercy of the nigger doorman? Did he want some kind of intimacy? That curiosity never won out. My eyes averted his everytime and found dissonance in the screen. He felt nice. I dug deeper with each breath- began to push his head down on me. Seeing someone requires heart. That sight requires movement and understanding- requires the emotions that bring folks to conclusions involving marriage and moving in and such. You ain’t seeing anyone in this dark. Here, there was only moisture, moans and half thoughts. Men came here to release- use and be used.


Again Brandon came to my mind. For a moment the White boy became him and we locked sight. He cried, bit down and let out the same sigh I heard when his favorite Aunt passed. No longer smiling, no longer wanting me. He cursed me- for using this boy, for white men, for our ancestors, and for my dishonesty. He cursed me.


The boy at my crotch was loosening up. He may have been losing steam. I grabbed his head again, more forcefully. He had to know that he wasn’t done yet. Seas moved in me. There’d be waves crashing soon. He choked- letting up for some air. My sex was covered in spit and lust. His sight travelled from it to my face- lusting for an expression that would tell him where this journey was going next. I could never use Brandon like this. It wouldn’t even look right, His body felt too pure to me. It didn’t trigger the same rage nor did it beg to be degraded. We were both Black men, stepped on daily. His voice just as quiet as mine- just as smothered by poverty. We knew the same notes. There was no justice for our hard work- nothing more than what we celebrated in one another. Our labor was produced jubilee for others who sat in privilege. Others, who ruled over our material lives and looked at us like beast in a zoo.


I grabbed the man, before me, and forced him down on my dick. I was close to exploding and only wanted to hear the sounds coming off of the porn. My eyes closed and I began the final round of thrusts. Tension mounted. The boy could barely hold on. Images of his expression, when I reached for the bag, came back more vivid. I became harder. I saw him scared- saw every pale face, every milk toned look of terror. He braced himself on the arm rests. I opened my eyes as I came. He couldn’t avoid any of it. We both were wet.


My core shook. The boy removed his mouth. My sex jumped in the cool air.


“shit!” I exclaimed.


I sank into my seat. He looked at me. Somewhere in him wanted to speak. I got up before he could. I wiped as I walked and placed myself back in my pants. I left before he could speak. There was nothing to say. When I got home, Brandon hugged me- probably ignoring the smell coming off of me. When he asked me how my day had been I responded with a sigh and a small mumble that was meant to sound beat but not defeated. I came into the bedroom with him after showering and we laid together- him spooning me.


“I love you, Eugene.” he whispered.


“I love you too, pa.”


“You off tomorrow? What do you want to do?”


“Lay here. Be with you. I think that I’m tired of being outside. Maybe we can go for a walk.”


He squeezed me and laid his head on my shoulder, giving me a small kiss.


“I love you.” another squeeze. Sometime later I pretended to fall asleep. I listened to Brandon float off to sleep. I let out a few tears, then turned to see him. I searched his face- leaned in kissed him and watched him sleep. There were no sounds other than his light breathing.


the exchange.


“so what’s the exchange?”

“how about a story for each part. for each section or part of you that i massage- you tell me a story.”

“fair enough.”

and that’s how we always would begin with him smiling. he liked touching skin and having small ceremonies. we’d always make them ceremonies. cause that’s all we had. the world was what it was and had been. And we came to a place in ourselves where we knew that two punks like us had nothing but our skin, and our tongues and our stories.

tonight i wanted to tell around five of them and i wanted to feel him on me in around five places. m lips turned upward in anticipation i saw his eyes, as grateful as mine. he spoke.

“where do you want me to start?”

“you can start on my back.”

then. “sorry i didn’t mean that to sound like a command. i meant to say- can you start with my back?”

“of course. you want me to use the cocoanut oil?”

“please . . .” i said as i laid on my stomach. for a while he watched me undress and before i had been nervous. i had held notions about being ugly- didn’t lie what sagged and where – didn’t like what peaked, what valleyed and i was afraid that no one would. But his eyes brought comfort. They changed that. I had begun the process peace with my fleshy self. at first i believed it was their validation. and it was, in part. but it was also the questions that they posed. i asked myself why i had been so scared of holding me. and how it was so easy for him to look on my marks, scars and curves and smile while i ran across mirrors. i started to speak.

“i remember the first time we met. you had on that fuzzy shirt and those flower pants. and i saw you. i was so scared to say anything.”

“and you didn’t.”

“i know i didn’t want you to think of me as some lame punk who was thirsty and fumbling around at parties.”

“never that.”

this time he held both bits of sarcasm and love in his smile. it nearly rounded his whole face.

touch began. my story paused and i moaned low to myself. i moved myself to see him better. “thank you.” then. “i wanted to step to you with some superior game. something that would have you all about me. and so i said. . .”

“excuse me, pa, did you see a grey phone over here?” he laughed. “i remember. real smooth like.”

he laughed and moved more deeply into his touch. i felt each movement. each finger. each subtle and new sensation. the pressure on my back grew. he spoke.

“. . . funny thing always is how the nerves travel and how mutual they are. when you smiled i became full of them. there was a stampede in me” his hands shook a bit as he moved – one strong back push from lower back to shoulders. the voice, however, remained steady. “you wanted to make a grand impression. i wanted to be remembered. we both wanted to see each other. . . sorry, im messing up your story. please keep going.”

“its all good. i just remember the way you stood there and the power in it. you was like a man all over, if that makes sense. i wanted to come correct. and i was lost. it felt like a long time coming out of your smile. i didn’t even notice you passing the phone or when you asked what my name was?”

“i didn’t think you had one.”


“i was glad i asked you to dance. i don’t think it would’ve happened otherwise.”

“probably not. my shy ass.”

vibrations shifted. he begun massaging my arms, so i shifted too.

“one time, on the way to the clinic, i saw a woman, who i thought was an islander or something and she asked me what i put on my skin to make it shine. i told her that i used cocoanut oil and she smiled. i knew, too, that she liked to smile. and that she was going to talk for a minute.”

“did she?”

“she did. she told me that she was from the island and what they used it for. told me they used it to clean teeth, cook with, moisture, in their hair, everything. they use it because it’s good. she said it gave life. and i smiled cause i felt all special and wise for using cocoanut oil on a whim one day and feeling it right. then she asked me if i ever saw an ugly islander. i was stuck, half laughing half thinking and she said ‘exactly!’ then we both near fell out.”

small stirrings. then.

“then i was smilin’ cause of the magic she gave off. then she got on to story telling. she spoke- growing more powerful with each breath- i could tell that she was grounded in what she was saying. ‘we story tellers, my people. thats where our power began with. we got on with each other beautifully. we spoke about our histories, our victories and sadness, we spoke to one another to show love or resolve what needed that. we told stories. thats why when our land was taken it, it was our stories and our tongues that was cut out. they came for our power because they knew that, in our unity there was a love stronger than what their weapons could do. they made more lines. attached price to our land and it real with their guns, but it can’t be helped, thats how history wrote it. it can however, be held and changed. we still got our tongues and our power to share with one another. and thats my way of excusing myself cause im a mouthy woman and i speak alot.’ and then she laughed again. i told her how i like to talk and we sat there for a minute trading small bits of our histories.”

“you found yourself another soulmate.”

“i knew i had options”

” shut up.” more laughter. “she had a heavy laugh too. like she was always pausing to get it out.”

“did it shake her?”

“she shook. she moved all over with her laughter. the way your sister do when she shading somebody. i was standin’ still after her speakin’ and she near fell over. said i looked more lost than listening and laughed. came back only to say that it happens on account of how she is and laughed some more.”

he had begun to pull and stretch my arm. i felt his eyes looking down at me. i kept my closed- allowed him touching me to move my spirit somewhere more into story.

“were you ever lost?”

“nah, i felt kinda saved.”

“so what’s next?”

“my other arm?”

“i meant, what story was next. i know where im going. this is the exchange. i massage and you tell me tales. i got your back and arm, you tell me where to go next with another story.”

“im gettin’ tired.”

“so am i and . . . no you’re not.” he smiled. “you’re mouthy too” i rocked and wiggled my lower and he bounced. smiled wider and tickled me. moved all over- he rode every jump- managin’ to get me each time. words couldn’t form- i was a sensation. laughin’.

for a small while after, he laid beside me. his stomach facing up. and i heard breath. just breath. slow and deliberate. he was catching up with himself.

he rolled on his side- pulling me to cradle. then low and into my ear he said “im tired now too. but i want another story. one more at least.”

“i got another one. what you gonna trade me? what’s the exchange?”

i felt him grow against my behind. i shooks. he blew on my neck.

“not enough. my stories are worth more than a little play.” i could feel a smile form on the back of my neck. Then his toes on mine. and i was giddy. moved over inside. i was waitin’ to see how he would come back. i, halfway, wanted him to continue his advances.

“how about you ask me a question- anything- and i will tell you a story.”

i liked that idea. “deal.”

“we should make pie tomorrow” i continued.

“sweet potato?” he whispered behind me.

“sweet potato. im trying to be like my mama one day and have the bomb sweet potato pie. its all sweet and crisp. it’s nice and has cream on top.”

“i remember when i first got lost in some. . .”

“like heaven.”

“like an orgasm?”


“we gotta go to the store tomorrow. she used ta sell em’ at card games at my grandpa’s house. as the card games in between Ms. Regina’s swearin’ and Mr. Albert hoppin’ all over spoutin’ that jesus speak. she’d wiggle, smile and move between them. lettin’ all the big words and personalities in the room live- would sometimes sound like a great commotion was goin’ on and id think folk were fightin’ but wasn’t never anythin’ but Black folk playin’ cards. you know how we loud bout everything just about. my mama- she’d sing. i remember her hummin’ a lot of Aretha from when she was in the 70’s. when her afro was on point.”

i stopped and caught my breath- i smiled. i was being mouthy, i could barely keep up with myself. “that was one of the ways we got coins cause we were at my grandpa’s house to take care of him in his sickness and that meant that my mama had to give up her job. i was too little to have one of my own and so she had three then- three jobs- my grandpa, myself, and the rent.”

“no coins.”

“no coins. she’d fry something, bake something. it was on.”

I bet she was tired.”

i bet. thats a weekly un-paid gig. she giving care and tryin’ to scheme on coins. sounds like something mighty tirin’.”

in my head, i saw my mama smilin’. she was listening to her favorite music and cooking something. she had her feet up- relaxing. she was smilin and singin something for me. i hadn’t spoken to her in a while and i felt bad for it. i just didn’t know when would be the right time in both of our days. after making a promise to call in the morning i asked my question.

“anything special happen to you today?”

“eh . . . lemme think . . . i drew a picture.”


“yeah. went down by the park over by Eastern General Hospital.”

“ain’t it a mess over there sometimes?”

“sometimes. the heads be out but usually they just moving along on their trips. they ain’t stunting or messing with folk too much. it’s kinda nice to be out with our folk- in all states. they always there, smokin’, talkin’ shit, doing cartwheels. . .”

i smiled imagining him out there, laughin’ and smokin’ a joint to himself. sketchin’.


“brothas like to come up to you while you sketchin’ and start on about this and that. speakin’ to and at you. kinda botherin’ and helpin’ you. niggas like to challenge you. tell you about how they was Basquiat in high school and fell off.”

“they might’ve been.”

“i know. it’s easy to lose it. especially when it’s only for sport. thats why when i hear stuff like that, i offer them a page of my sketch book- so they can get that magic back.”

“they take em’ ever?”

“not today. i think it’s cause i was drawing vulgarities.” i pretended to gasp and asked what he had been drawing.

“a figure.” he started. “a naked man. penis out and erect of course. he was in a forest. they might’ve been redwoods. some of them was chopped. and out of his head it was a record player. can you picture that?”

“no i’d need to see it.”

“it’s good. i don’t want to move. you feel good. i’ll show you in the morning.” he kissed me again on the back of my neck.

“how’d you feel when you were done?”

“full. kinda complete. i drew that in place of a gratitude list. it was things i needed and liked havin’ in my life.”

“music and wood?”

“ha! you got me”

he laughed and i rolled over- my face rested across from his. i traced his side with my right hand and kissed him. he pulled em in and as we parted lips i asked.

“in between us- there are two hearts, four lips, four hands, 40 digits, two erections, 5 stories and four eyes. what do you want to do now?

he smiled- a kinda breathy one


“They been hurtin’ for some months now, doc.” He said talking outside of himself the way that folks can sometimes do when pain and time force us to be away from our bodies. Red didn’t like this- none of it- not the pain, not the possible problem, not the god awful lights that seemed to burn away any conviction held, not the doctor and her cold tongue. That’s why he smoked before coming.

“Your kidneys?”

“Is that what’s back here? I never knew where they was or what they did for real. I just knew that they was somewhere in myself- doing something.” He smiled out of nervousness. In the past it had been a ticket to bliss- someone’s bedroom, a cheat out of penalties, a free pass to lie- something, but now it was a plea for mercy. I spell he wish to cast over reality and make what he desired happen. He wanted to be free of the constant problems.

“Your kidneys help to clean out the waste in your system, like a filter.” The doctor continued almost unmoved by whatever Red was attempting. “If we are experiencing pain or problems there it could mean several things, including stones or failure, which is important to monitor because of the vital work that they do. A lot of times disease or poison can sit for years and finally appear, very suddenly, attacking both kidneys and their capacity to help your body. “

He heard about all of half of the warning and tried repeating it to himself while he pissed in a cup the doctor gave. Red hoped this didn’t end in more pills. Something particular did flash back brightly in his head- something bout how men in the United States had higher rates of kidney failure than almost anyone else and how African American men who were on medication were likely to suffer this problem more that most because of the fact that pills taken over time actually weakened kidney strength.

“People under constant medication have to be very conscious of their kidneys. Meds taken over long periods of time may cause kidney stones or failure. Black men taking HIV medication are especially vulnerable which is why I as you to pee in this cup every time we have a check up. I want to make sure you’re doing alright in there.”

“shit” he sighed while holding his softening sex. He held onto the wall and exhaled the stress once more. In these moments, bad memories, from all over, found theyselves flooding all over and his body felt pulled down by its own heaviness. Parts of his fleshy self began to fall off shelves he put them for safe keepin’ – he was loosin’ it. And he cried.

When Anthony was here he at least had another pot to put his misery in – another to blame for the infinite wrongs happening. And part of him knew that wasn’t right, but it felt nice- to just for a small bit of time loose any personal accountability in the matter.  Blame and notions of bein’ a victim washed over him and found all the feelin’s that was hurt and stepped on or left for dead on the stand next to unused condoms.

His throat closed up, as it did before and he shook all over. Red saw mortality and the thousands of lives he hadn’t a chance to live. He rolled through sheets and stood at the mouth of Golgotha. You must come in at the door. There were witches living on sad times and doctors casting death with their instruments. He’d been infected and used. It all fell away- all the innocence held in high places and he felt used- pulling himself back into his pants, and collecting what could be .

Only when there was a knock at the door did he realize how much time had passed.

“Give me a sec.” he called, not even listening for a response, over the sound of flushing water and moving paper.

The quiet came in more new and menacing than it ever had.  He saw his mother standing over an empty bed and she was crying and carrying a Bible. He has made a home for me over there. Jesus has prepared for me a home over there. She sang something blue for them and Red knew what she meant. So he went to her- his hands like the very cup of trembling.

“I tried mama. So hard.” he spoke low into her breast.

“Dance with me please, Emmanuel.”

Their hands held one another, one over another, for the first time in a long while. Music played and it was as if the river welling inside of him was held at the gates of his eyes. There was another knock.

“She ain’t really here, Emmanuel. Its just us, lets finish this dance. You and me like when you was small.”


“shhh. Step up on the stool.”

He was small again- in a suit and standing on the stool mama used to let him climb when she taught him how to move. And there was warmth.

Like when you was small.

And there was a low hum that brought him round to himself in that cramped room of beginnings.

“You are a child of God. Just like me and all other moving things. He make the sun move on us and blesses us with its kisses. At night when the moon makes out to see the world, he holds us close and sings something sweet to us. Sometimes I can feel you doubt that. But please know this now, more than anything else that was ever true. I love you.”

The final knock ejected imagination and Red stood in front of his wet face in the washroom mirror again- this time smiling.

And we get up bit slower and lot more deadly. 

Who This Belong To

“ was he was a faggot?!”

“I think so, I’m saying the nigga was walking over on Southern Avenue in a dress and shit.”

“That don’t make him a faggot, Cliff.”

“Yea? When you ever seen niggas in dresses and they ain’t gay? I ain’t never known a regular man to come out dressed like that.”

“Shut up, Cliff.”

“I’m just saying…”

“It coulda been a woman, dummy!”

“Brenda! Where you come from?! I’m over here talking to Roy. Don’t laugh Roy that broad ain’t funny.”

“She telling the truth though, you know you old. Coulda been a woman. People used to say the same thing about Martha. That she looked like some man cause she was big as all get out, but you still messed with her.”

“What that got to do with anything? I’m not talking about her. Im talking about these crackers coming up on Southern Avenue in them new condos and taking over all the space. You never seen that shit before.”

“Yea, you only seen niggas in dresses and Matha.”

“Shut up Brenda. Goddammit, for the last time, mind your business. And the shit ain’t funny, Roy!”

“She right, Cliff.”

“I know she is but none of them never got too far without the police stopping them. You know them punks was all walkin’ round- trickin’. The crackers is all over. NO POLICE.”

“That’s cause they is the police. They just in orange vests and what not.”

“Yeah, they come in once that television says a place is bout to be worth a cent…”

“Or when the downtown crooks fix up one of these ole’ holes in the wall and make it into a fancy spot to drink. Or even before then they come in when its still crooked looking sometimes cause they want to be seen in someplace they figure is interesting or dangerous. Them crackers sure do love it when they feel like they wading in some water they ain’t all the way allowed to swim in. Then they want to control it- start with this damn neighborhood watch thing. Man, I remember I was coming off the bus to my house and I sat a spell on some porch to rest. All of a sudden I’m seeing five or six of these fools- with the orange vest talking this none-sense about robberies and asking if I stayed near.”

“like they ain’t robbing us out of our space…”

“Amen, and when I told them to walk off into Hell, they called the police. And here I am, a 56 year old man explainin’ to the police about how I grew up here-in these streets. We used to be able to just sit.”

“And when an old man such as yo-self sit down, it used to be respected.”

“There you go, talking like she just was. Talking two statements at the same time- at once agreeing and knocking my age. Can I finish please?”

“hahaha. You brought up your age but go head Cliff, finish.”

“I brought it up cause I was making a point. I was here when King was shot and this whole thing went up in smoke. I was here when we had to build it back with no help- not that we asked but still. It was our hands which made them bricks pile and it was us who sang spirit back into them stores By ourselves we did that and when it went south again with the crack and the young folk guns …  hell, I hope’d to be here to fix that but it don’t look like there’s gonna be anymore fixin’ to happen.”

“Well, they fixin’ it alright.”

“Mhmm. Like we was never here. They coming in like a cavalry for something they never cared to save and causin’ all kinds of hell. And that don’t sit right with me. I’m a man …”

“and I’m a woman!”

“Don’t look like that Cliff, you know she was going to throw herself in. She live here too. Ain’t just men who been fixin’”

“ … yea, we is folk. Good folk. We came here, built us something. Gave taxes, ate, laughed, got fucked up, and made life in this city. This here is our space. We ain’t got much more than this…”

“ and we made it special too. They wouldn’t be so pressed to come over here if there wasn’t good enough reason to. We gave this place something. All these clubs and stores they so quick to run into, they was ours.”

“yep, and I told em’ that after the police left me there. I said ‘ya’ll would do good to remember who this place belongs to.”

“Alright Cliff, you bout to be another nigga in jail. You know them folk don’t like to be talked to like that.”

“Well I don’t care no more. They bout to move me out anyway and someone should say it.”

“You right. As the day is long, you right. ”