In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Do I stink? Roscoe wants to know, his voice
Choked, his two-toned fingers trembling
For cheap gin. Can you smell it on me? Roscoe
Is a drunken boat pitching down the corridors
Of Flow Lab, Inc. He and I shoot monkey virus into
Test tubes and sweep flame over the tops before
We screw them shut: tight but not too tight,
They shatter easy, and if you cut yourself, well,
Good luck fighting back from monkey flu. Roscoe’s
black and doesn’t like it, he is short and wall-eyed
And fat, he writes nature poems on brown paper
And cowboy stories for me to read. Do they stink?
He wants to know. You can tell me. But the boss
Is glaring at us through the glass partition,
His blanched, oval face fluorescent, his eyes
Pinwheels of impatience —
It’s just a summer
Job for me, but Roscoe’s in it for life. This gig’s
My last chance, man, he tells me every day, and
Every day I shake my head: Can’t smell a thing, man,
Breathing through my mouth so as not to offend with
A reflex grimace, and he looks at me straight,
Maybe waiting to see me breathe, and then looks away.
You got a future ahead of you, kid. Remember me
Someday when you’re far from this zoo and free.
Outside the windowless brick of the Flow laboratories,
The sun rushed out like a lion among the clouds —
Not my image, that, but Roscoe the poet’s, who was
Fired that August as I went off to class.