Character Sketch—Ibrahim

A fighter. That’s all people see him as.

Ibrahim lowered into the last push-up of his cooldown. The room was empty and dark. He hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. The emergency light was sufficient.

Sweat dripped onto the floor between his hands.

Standing up, Ibrahim began to stretch. His hair was short, thick and black and curly. A scruffy beard masked scars from his time in the ring. Someday he would find a normal job and be paid normal wages. But his applications kept being met with a polite (or sometimes not-so-polite) statement, “We’re not hiring.”

Wasn’t New York City supposed to be a place of opportunity? Of new chances?

Lie-la-lie. His ringtone interrupted his thoughts, but he let it go to voicemail.

His mother had warned him that New York might not fulfill its promises, but a man hears to what he wants to hear, and he had wanted to hear opportunity and fame and fortune. So he had caught a train to New York the day after he turned eighteen.

Ibrahim stretched to the side, the corded muscles against his ribs opening and releasing the tension they’d been holding.

How long could he work here? Fighters come and fighters go. His body was already showing the wear of the ring.

Lie-la-lie, lie-la-lie

“Hello,” he said, holding the phone to his ear.

The skin on one of his knuckles had cracked again. Ibrahim sucked the blood away.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes…. Okay, bye.”

He stretched his arms above his head once more, his chest expanding as he breathed in deeply.

It was time to shower and bundle up to face the stabbing winter wind and meet a friend on Seventh Avenue.

He paused in the doorway and looked at the ring. Part of him would always be in there.

That’s who he was.
The Boxer.

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Tightrope Walker

The rope is rough
Knotted twine corded together
Calloused soles and toes press against it
Take it slow, take it steady
Why this rope?
Why these soles?
Why this place?
Why this moment?
Surrounded by air
Steady, steady, do not tip
Hold it, easy, do not trip
Tune all out
Feel the rope
Breathe
Step
Step on knotted twine corded together against calloused soles
Air on the right
Air on the left
Calloused soles move forward

Character Sketch — Peter

If he were to notch the states he’d visited like kills on a gun, the number would be thirty and eleven more. But he carries no gun, only a guitar, a pack, and a little dog. Sometimes the little dog walks.

The wind brushes a strand of dirty blonde hair into his eyes, and his tanned, calloused hand pushes it behind his ear. The sun is bright, making his blue eyes seem even more blue as the pupils contract into black pinpricks. He closes his eyes and strums another chord.

Downtown Greenville is a great place to play. He begins to strum the chords of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and a nearby woman pauses to listen. Peter begins to sing the lyrics, and a few more people pause to hear the old classic. His tenor floats over the bustle around him. As he finishes the chorus, the woman drops a dollar in his open case and continues on.

His little dog snores beside the open case. The autumn sun is beginning to set, so Peter sets the guitar in the case and nudges the little dog awake. “Come on, kid,” he says. “Time to find a pillow.”

Something That Occurred to Me

It’s weird how oblivious we can be about what is happening within our bodies
Our appendixes could be swelling with infection right now, and we’d be totally unaware
We wouldn’t know until it swelled so much that we were in pain or until it burst
And then we’d be in the hospital. Or dead.
And there’d be nothing we could do to prevent this misfortune
Because we are completely unaware of what is happening within our bodies

On Watching a Storm

I am like a storm. I blow and moan and throw myself around. I lash and rage. I try to strip the elm, try to tear off all its leaves. I try to make it bend, fall, break. I cry and make lakes in the mud, lakes with islands of patchy grass and weeds.

I flash bright sparks across my eyes. Then thunder my emotion. My breath is hot.

I am like a storm. I calm down; the flashing stops, and I cry in silence.

But then I’m overwhelmed again and cry again aloud. I strip the elm of more leaves and branches, sending them swirling, spiraling to the muddy lakes. I throw blankets of rain, beating off its leaves to make it bare.

My voice drops and I send icy hail, pelting everything in reach, pounding against the elm. I must push it more, push it harder.

My once-hot breath is now ice cold, and I let it out harsh. I drop my warm embrace and send fearful touches instead. The young sapling cannot stand me. He breaks and falls away. It takes a strong elm to resist a storm, to resist my threatening, raging, changing. It takes a strong elm to rustle in the stillness, in the calm before I storm, to rustle his promise to not fall away, to stay steady, to weather it out.

I am like a storm. My voice softens and warms as my weeping slows. The muddy lakes stop rising up the patchy-grass islands. I fall quiet and let the sun come out.

Variations on a Theme: My Friend

CoffeeThe Coffee Shop
Two people—one tall, one short
Two coffees—one decaf, one caffeinated
Two laptops—one PC, one Mac
Two people—one friendship

The Conversation
We sit, facing each other on the couch.
The short hand crosses twelve.
The cat yawns—we do not.
We talk about the future.

The Compliment
Curled up on my couch and watching me—
“I love your apartment,” she says. “It feels safe.”
I am glad.
Who wouldn’t want a home that’s a refuge for a friend?