Boy and backpack melting,
or so it appeared,
through shimmering heat curtains
rising off desert sun softened asphalt,
Phoenix four Mojave hours to the east.
80 to zero in 18 seconds,
Chester, he said,
with active eyes in a cherubic face
veneered with street-wise,
a slender build, pale-reddish skin,
a layer of lean hard life over thin bones,
steady dark brown eyes with intent when focused,
shifting to shy, leery and confused when darting.
He was styling still, despite the desert sun,
wearing a stocking cap,
a black nose ring
and the scent of city streets;
on his own, homeless, on the lam
since year 19, plus 7 more and counting,
a drummer in the band.
So prepare for an interesting time
if ever your first question rhymes
with “Chester, are you off your meds?”
He was, spinning full throttle,
flowing open, gushing stories
and may have been in Oregon four days ago,
but definitely cruising the mean streets of West Hollywood of late,
and Hollywood “hospitalized” twice,
in the largest mental health facility in the USofA,
the LA County Jail,
A self portrait anarchist, feral vegan
with borderline personality disorder,
8 of 11 symptoms, he offered up
and we analyzed each one
at an easy 5 Miles Per Symptom pace.
A voracious bookworm,
with a library, located just off the kitchen, in his pack,
we discovered a dozen in common.
Chester just ups and flies away,
heard tall tales of Austin, Tex
and is headed that way.
New Orleans called for post Katrina aid,
he left right away,
arrived three months later,
a fickle, directionless, wanderer
that beat the Bush brigade.
He stayed a week, and I think
it’s usually a long and winding road
for Chester’s good intentions
Proud practitioner of sustainable dumpster diving,
which I took to mean,
he always left food for the next to come,
separated and organized,
he tidied up metal can chaos.
I offered to buy lunch,
he suggested a picnic in the desert,
anxious to share his grub,
exotic delights from LA alleys,
backpack baked in the desert sun.
Banana and water from home for me,
thankee very much,
and a bite of that chocolate,
the only food in his poke the right color,
and, well, it’s still chocolate after all
and I’m on my meds.
Dessert in the desert,
or the other way around
for the spelling confused
or when the wind is up,
re-gifted chocolate to finish our feast,
one of those memorable meals
when the prayers are said
after you eat.
Chester was beat up since remembering began,
dad, then the gauntlet of angry boyfriends:
most, the worst, the crib torture,
blocked to blackness, buried, leaking.
He told stories of Tel Aviv,
living with a girl,
on the streets, feral together,
and as he spoke
I yearned to know her.
She was in Oregon, too,
but driven away.
“Whenever I get close to a girl, I ruin it”,
volcanic eruptions of life’s lava
“It just comes out” was his regret.
“You don’t have the look of an angry guy”, I report,
he flashed his impish smile,
“I know, I feel like a good person, and don’t know why I go off”
but gone girl and lost his band,
the open road his best resort.
And suddenly we’re there, Phoenix,
searching for a hitching spot, a shady place,
to keep a black nose ring away from sun rays
and the cop’s Ray Bans.
I gave him 40 bucks and he threw back 20, with a smile, a shrug.
And by the way,
weren’t we just in Palm Springs in what seems like
hardly any time at all,
four space/time bent hours
mind morphed to magical micro minutes.
Did we age at a slower rate,
the speed of light still relative,
and how do we do that?
Too much to contemplate
on a single bite of chocolate starved brain,
and two blocks off the highway,
at the Starbuck’s counter,
with time warp afterglow
very berry, grande latte, pump of mocha, on the way,
grateful to be in the store,
not diving out back,
and blissfully unaware that, Chester,
one of the hungry roofless roaming American street kids who
billions and billions of Chinese children,
in sympathy for,
must clean their dinner plates every night,
Chester is a conjurer, too,
for that young worthy,
stealthy practitioner of
“spooky action at a distance”,
plays with the tiny pieces,
pulls quantum strings for a hobby,
as about to pay for my goods
the woman behind exclaims,
to barista and all around,
I want to do a random act of kindness
and pay for this man’s latte and cake.”
Stunned, my mind snaps, Chester, you rascal,
as I turn her way,
to a face lit-up beautiful,
struck by a smile so bright,
I almost duck,
instantly in lust and love
and maybe that’s the answer
to the question above:
open up, share everything
and ha, we can do it all the time,
even when brutalized, down and out,
off our meds, roaming urban blight,
because love is openness through and through,
and openness changes everything
except the speed of light.