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Today I’m Lamenting the Reasons for Counting (To Your Safe Voyage)



Thirty-seven pairs of brand new sneakers

are dangling from the crisscrossing telephone wires

over the intersection of West Sixth

and F. I count them one day (it takes a while) and think

they are all nicer than the ones I have on.


In 1997 nine kids kill themselves in Southie.

Hang themselves from the exposed pipes

in the project basements. Suicide

Pacts! Suicide Pacts! The papers cry.


When Brian jumped off the chair he swiped

from Red’s Pizza Shop, he stopped mid-air

for a moment, or two or three, before the belt

he’d fashioned into a noose snapped

and whipped him to the ground. His neck

and eyes were black and blue, the floor

smelled like piss. Twenty-three other times

that year, kids looked up at flimsy garden hoses,

ripped up sheets and rope, or even broken pipes

and said, I can’t even kill myself.


The newspapers forgot to mention, out of respect

to their families, every single one of those kids

shot at least five bags of heroin every day. Suicide

on the installment plan.


Brian’s mother dies of AIDS when he’s three months clean.


Fourteen months later he meets a stripper

who works Wednesdays Thursdays

Fridays and Sundays at The Glass Slipper

on Washington Street, near where the old

Combat Zone used to be. She’s trying to kick,

but not as hard as she’s trying to find

really good dope in Chinatown. She has

great tits. He shoots it once, just once

to see, and loves it, again.


Brian’s 21 years old.


Standing outside of Saint Augustine’s,

waiting for the bus and counting

hanging shoes, Johnny Blockbuster walks by

and laughs. I tell him I wish I could

get those shoes down, I could use a brand

spanking new pair of shoes. My black

Adidas Gazelles have holes worn through

their bottoms, and I can feel the sidewalk. I don’t

tell Johnny though. “You don’t want those

fucking shoes” he says. “The kids around here

hang these shoes up to let people know

where to get drugs. You see ‘em all around,

but not like this. Business is good,

they’re showing off.” He smiles and points

down the hill. There’s a blue and white cruiser

parked next to the Boy’s Club. “Plus

they’re fucking with the cops.” One cop

is reading the newspaper in the car.


While he’s at Saint Elizabeth’s

getting clean, Brian calls Johnny

to ask if he can stay with him after

he gets out, he needs to stay clean

this time, he needs help, he doesn’t know

anyone else to call, he knows he can

count on him. Four days after he makes it home,

they catch him shooting dope in the bathroom,

tight strap strangling his arm. No one sees

Brian for a while. No one is counting on it.

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