Loneliness is a privilege, and I'm grateful
for the afternoons I had as a child
to feed the crocodile I invented in my closet.
How the knob's wood expanded in my hand
when I threatened my friend with death.
Twenty years later he still has nightmares
where I get mad and fling open the door.
Upstairs our mothers were one mother
measuring emptiness by the milligram.
Their laughter clung to the ceiling
like helium balloons after a party.
Only they never came down, stayed there
without color or reason. Bruises are genetic.
By age ten we opened a window and snapped
our jaws at the world. A flashlight's subtle patch
on pavement rendered bewilderment
in nearly all who passed. A bucket of water
dumped from three stories up
onto the reliable shock of a stranger
made out hair electric, teeth sharp: milk bottles,
barbells came next. By twelve we slithered
from the house's skin, graffitied crack
room, rascal in the narrow throats of Philadelphia
and knocked over trashcans with our tails.
Under the dank wings of older kids on corners
we learned how to steal a chump's heart
without saying a word. By sixteen the boomerang
of anger curved back at us. My fingers trace the hemline
of a frenzy, passed down through the family
like an heirloom we can all squeeze into.
Each day I carry a colorless balloon and walk
my crocodile through the same streets.
Kids look at me funny, but I've got thick skin
and a firm belief in multiplication.