JOHNNY WAS SHOT UNDER ANOTHER NAME
Johnny was shot under another name
robbing a drugstore in Vancouver.
You blew your head off at Christmas
and sent your wheelchair flying across the room.
They must have liked you
they must have trusted you
if they only broke your back
for leaving the company too soon.
Even when we were kids
Johnny was always looking for someone to kill him.
Hope he’s out of his misery now.
I think your parents did that to him.
As I watched them do so much to you.
Anyway. You were two brothers.
Now you’re dead.
And you were my best friend
growing up in a garbage can
that reeked of home.
Johnny was crazy with rage at fourteen.
Remember the day we hung him by his neck
from the limb of that tortured tree
that grew out of the side of the cliff
in the prison-yard they turned into a highschool?
He never carried a gun around us after that.
He was cyanotically blue
by the time we hauled him down.
And he knew that we knew
how to keep our word.
Hey, and that day when we made a pact
to stand up to Nick Paris and Grant Basanta
and I broke Nick’s nose
and you took a baseball bat to Basanta
and we took off like antelope through the backfields
exhilarated with joy
in the heart of the dark error
that had called down hell upon us?
I still haven’t stopped laughing.
You couldn’t do much for yourself
so you always fell in love with women
you tried to save from the things you knew.
What didn’t we know by nine
you still couldn’t tell
the average thirty-year old?
Prostitutes, junkies, battered wives
and the occasional rich bitch
who’d slum down with you
to avenge herself on a life
she couldn’t give up.
You wanted to be the hero
but they wanted to fuck a dragon
and I knew you’d never get
that thorn out of your heart
by trying to turn their scales to feathers.
You couldn’t love anyone
unless they were a lost cause.
But I heard the last one to leave you
came clean out of rehab
as you de-cultified yourself
from Vatican business
to make a new start.
I remember you
cutting your little finger off
when we were teen-agers
and giving it to Alice
in a little white jewelry box
with cloudy cotton stained by blood
the day she came to say good-bye forever.
I wanted you to know
in a way you’ll never forget
what you meant to me you said.
That was your poor boy’s notion
of being noble.
She thought you were out of your head.
I knew you were romantically intense
and made a wry remark in a footnote to myself
about how hilariously helpless you were
whenever another princess beat you senseless.
I guess things didn’t change much over the years.
A finger? A life?
A difference of degree not kind.
And remember when we played
at being Romans
when we were kids in cardboard armour
with six inch nails at the tips of our spears?
You’re a suicide, my friend.
The Romans are going to cut off
your left hand
and bury you without it.
But there’s an unprofaned glory
in the way you fell upon your sword
in obedience to your dark code of love
as she was leaving
to show her how much she had meant to you.
Born into a life of lies
you would have lost your mind
if you hadn’t kept one thing true.