Elegy to My Roommate

 

He was as he so often said

                        a dark skin’ded dude,

but being father, son, and friend

his skin and he were more than that:

deep earth soil live and roiling from his soul

black butter onto which I pressed my heart

and felt the frail-strong softness there within

  take self-sculpted shapes

      of body    face    mind

Allegany mud in the hands of a black Rodin,

of the person he wanted us to want him to be.

 

As strong winds stiffen up the sapling in passing

            Randy Roebuck reshaped me

                        and privileged me to see

                        the emergence of his selfhood

                                    as what was

became what could be.

 

So, what the fuck, Unca’ Buck!

Ditched us for another fishing trip?

            The obit said you battled hard.

                                    Would that I’d been witness to that war.

 

Instead I see you now as I did then—

            master of the funk, spinning in your chair

            from tape to tape, deck to deck,  

            DJing for no one and the world

            from your turret room above Bloom’s Saloon

            fronting your wall of cassettes

                        a twister in your mouth   

                        that crooked smile, long deep-shining face

                        The Voice a bari sax: Ship Oars!

Oh Noooo! We’re gonna rock down to —

Electric Avenue!

                        easy teeth, goofy grin, linty naps,

                        puffy I-ain’t-had-my-coffee-yet-this-morning eyes,

                                    Gettin’ right, gettin’ tight

Talkin’ ’bout gettin’ dem panties tonight!

Speak into the mo’fo mic!

 

Close, even at a distance, distant

even with your arm around me

rollin’ with the group home boys

scopin’ on da bugs, da purdy trees

a shadow of the little boy you’d been

alive with those felonious man-children

yet diving under the table at a back-fire,

     never trusting anything completely

   after being there in country

    never spoken of.

 

With your charm and looks

            you could have made the velvet hustle pay—

                        the happy gigolo with goo-goo cooing

                        sugar-mommas paying for the ride—

                                                but no.                  

You chose to help,

                        with an MSW you thought was bullshit,

                        the flower-hatted, ruby-lipped church ladies

                                    you mimicked mercilessly

                                                            but whom I know you loved,

the case-loads-full of group home kids,

foster families, moms, grandmas, grandkids, aunties,

generations of cousins, nephews, nieces

happier now because of you

than you could ever make yourself.

 

I don’t know who you were trying to please—

            your wife? Your sons? But it was seldom really you.

                        Like me, I’m sure they were happy to be

                                     teased    annoyed    disarmed

                                    the way you knew how to do it.

 

To a tee you played the part of

            I-don’t-give-a-fuck macho soul brother—

                        but many knew you so much better.

We knew the boy inside the man with arms

            so long they wrapped around you twice,

I knew the warmth inside your leather

            jacket as I clung to you on your motorcycle

                        proud that people thought I was your boyfriend,

                                    down at The Stud dancing with the boys

                                    looking for women at the end of the night

                                                ending up with Jack-n-seven, a joint,

and the long hall between us.

 

Thank you for the smile that said I see you

     and understand the spaces in our hearts

                     that we can never fill.

It’s OK to let it roll, let it ride,

     straight up, beer back,

              cribbage on the side.

You let me see the man you saw in me.

                     Thank you.