Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 3



Cee Williams


You working too Bruh?

Maybe that wasn't the vernacular
maybe it was "dude" or "man"
or "guy"
this was '94 maybe '95

I just remember being short on
cab fare and twenty blocks from
the gig and no one was willing
to trade a three AM ride
to the bagel joint for zero dollars
and half a blunt

I remember he was a tiny man
his woman was not and
she was underdressed for any occasion

I remember the shakedown prior
"Let me check your bag"
"Where you coming from?"
"What are you doing out this time of night?"
Too young and naive not to comply
or too tired or too frightened
of finding myself in the back
of the squad car and late for work again
or maybe just too
used to this

I just know they let me go
without a pat down
and I was downtown
and halfway to the job
and the few men that passed by
would slow down and offer a ride
or friendship

And then the little man came along
with his woman and a song playing
in his headphones and he wanted
to talk to someone like him
Someone who took the rides

I remembered his smile seemed genuine
as did his disappointment with my reply
And then he offered me his woman
and a "Fuck you – You ain't better than me nigga"
after I chuckled my "no thank you"

At work I filled the kettle
fired up the oven
and smoked my little blunt
outside beneath the night sky
seated on a milk crate
while I waited
for things to get hot

And I forgot about the little man
until I saw him again
on the front page of the Times
"Male Prostitution Ring Busted"

There he was
same look
of disappointment
in his eyes
still hoping

to find a friend.




Black Bags
(aka The North American
Racist Officer's Field
Guide to Identification)

The Fat Man

dropped three
black bags
of smack
after the home invasion
There were babies involved
so I told
the nice officer lady
where to look

The Cigarette Man
tells the other policemen
what he saw
they
were nice
to him

There
are eight
pin oaks
and one
sugar maple
in the tree line
I could
identify
them by nine

There were
some chestnut trees
once upon a time
but they've
long since died
“He dropped them
by the sugar maple.”
I say

The officers
ask the cigarette man
his name
his number
what time is best
to get a hold of him
They write it in
a little black book

They ask for my
birth date
and social security number
they run
a warrant check
my name
comes up on
police scanners
all across
the city

I watch
the lady
she never
looks up
never noticing the leaves

If she did
I have to wonder
could she tell
the difference?

The police men
join her
back and forth
they walk the line
missing
the black bags
The Fat Man
came back later
and scooped them up

I suppose
I could have helped
I could have said
“This is an oak tree
that is a maple”

Not that
it would
have mattered
they couldn't
see past the bark
all trees

were suspect




The Cusp

You can always tell
when things are coming to an end

there is pretense
false assurances that nothing has changed

the dog didn't die he just went on vacation
the tumor isn't cancerous it's just

a happy little lump where your soul should be
and the window isn't broken that's just ventilation

all things conclude
like that last bit of sunlight on the bay

only the sun
has long since set on

a shallow bowl of inherited absence
an empty dish in a lonely dining room

I've wanted so many times
to tell you how I feel

but feelings are sandpaper
and so much less valiant than dying alone

it's not intuition exactly
it's more like seeing the wick drowning in wax

and knowing
what comes next




The Cat's Meow

There is only the fog
and the streetlights
and the neighbors' big gray tabby
with the little silver bell on a thin blue
ribbon tied around its neck. Sometimes
they forget to let the cat in at night.
He meows and scratches at the white door
while they sleep. There's no stalking mice
or slumbering birds, the jingle warns them
to his coming. There are constellations hiding
behind the fog. I would have named them
after you. Had we been born before
gunpowder or maybe the crucifixion
or indigo dye. The sky itself would would
wear your name like a cloak draped over
the Madonna's ghost. But most of all there is
loneliness. This not so quiet suffering failure
to connect the stars written on braille maps and
placed on a lectern in front of short-sighted-
sighted-fingerless men. The fog is a secret keeper
and the streetlights only serve to further
the shadows of those lingering awful things.
And the cat is just a cat
destined to be forgotten
by the people
who love him most.


Cee Williams: "I am the author of several chapbook-length poetry collections. I am a Double-A Baseball fan, an award winning urban-gardener, and grateful son. Sown, grown and setting roots in Erie, Pennsylvania."




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