I saw you that summer,
in the club by the plastics plant
under I-87, where the dance floor throbbed
below the throttle of cars
on the road to New York City,
the bass from the DJ booth
thumping the room, filled with sweat
and glistening chests
like a common heart,
behind the blackened windows,
past the bar
wrecked with half-empty bottles,
the glassy skins of cigarette packs,
your face under the strobe’s light,
shifting palette of green, violet,
aquamarine, as if you were a swimmer
in a carnival at sea.
I was a junior in college,
I sat at the bar and smoked, lifting shots
of Wild Turkey between drags, watched
the young stripper descend the stairs,
glowing like crushed jewels.
He was no more than 19, decked
in black chaps and biker boots.
You sat back with a beer in one hand
and took him onto your hips,
your legs flexed across the dark floor
as a crowd gathered, hooting as though
they were at the Seventh Veil on Sunset,
watching a leggy blonde straddle a trucker.
I disappeared into the pack of men on the patio
before you could turn around, get caught
by your old student in the bathroom,
another man on his knees.
I wanted to remember you
standing at the front of the classroom
in your dress pants and your blue oxford
in the fall of ’88, waxing poetic about the Reformation,
picturing Ann Boleyn’s pretty head
under Henry’s royal arm.
I didn’t think about you for years
until my mother whispered the news
into the phone one night.
You’d lapsed into a coma
after a cocktail of coke and GHB,
your brain numbed under a web of seizures,
strokes, a heart attack.
You didn’t go down like some of your friends
into the dungeon of slow decay
but you left your body for the last time,
passed it over
to a machine that funnels breath
into the dead engines of your lungs,
bathes your organs in blood,
to a team of nurses who don’t know
where you’ve been, how hard it was
to show up here alive.