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.