A Young Man of Chicago
Walking beneath the Armitage el,
headed for Oak Street
Beach, I saw him on the other
side, shambling in the opposite direction.
A year earlier, he’d disappeared,
but now, he was back, dressed
in someone else’s body:
skin and bones, not buff, ashy flesh
that blotches punctuated. He grinned
and waved, the same grin that took
my breath away when we met
in line at Body Works on N. Halsted:
“If you spot me, I’ll spot you.”
He wanted me. He told me with glances
and words and caresses in the sauna,
the shower, before mirrors lit
to highlight chiseled flesh. I wanted
him, too, but needed something
like monogamy even more than another
lover, needed to watch his eyes
scurry across my body when, after curls,
crunches, squats, I showered.
And there we were, stalled in our steps, our
eyes locked, my Polish Adonis
and I, while a Howard train screeched
overhead. “Hi,” he mouthed as Mr.
Death slung his cloak around that blue-eyed
boy. I froze. I waved—sort of.
I hurried away. I never looked back.
Should I be ashamed for my half-assed wave,
for not yelling over the traffic-tangled street,
“Hey! How’s it hanging?” half-jest, half-
tease, for not crossing the street and
throwing my arms around him, saying
Sure I should. And am. And have been nearly
four decades, since that summer afternoon
so full of sunshine and blue skies and
promise, when hurrying off,
I thought, Jesus Christ, I’m glad it’s not me.
Jim Elledge is the author of the poetry collection Tapping My Arm for a Vein (Lethe Press, 2015), and the biography Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist (Overlook Press, 2013). His book-length poem A History of My Tattoo (BrickHouse Books, 2006) won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. With David Groff, he co-edited Who’s Yer Daddy? Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Anthology. He lives in Atlanta and San Juan, PR.