Origin of Friendship
Liquor in his hand, the drunkard sat
and listened as she told it from the start:
In the final days of that most recent flood
when all of us, displaced, corralled, encamped
felt the force of hunger in our pits,
when also was the White Plague freed from ice,
I first met Hul, the boy who trailed The Man.
Though monstrous was The Man, who cained and beat
as though we poor were mongrels, groveling
at supper-time, embarassing the master,
young Hul would look upon his master’s works
with pangs of empathy behind big eyes
that cruelty trained to mute as best it could.
Though all The Man abused, Hul’s pity graced,
with me alone was he compelled to act.
I, too, was green and little then. But seven years
had passed, my skin so relatively thin,
and yet we knew, despite our age, the weight
upon our lives the other would exert.
Just as the planets tether moons against the void,
so we against the grave, in orbit, swayed.
For I was small and brave enough to risk
and steal from underneath The Man his crumbs,
divided them amongst us after hours
to stave starvation, so for months we’d lived.
One night, The Man arose to find our feast,
and sloughing off his sleep emerged enraged.
Then pulling me by collar dragged me in
the horrible seclusion of his tent.
Delivering a blow he rendered dumb
what wits I had, and in the state,
I watched as he prepared my punishment
to teach me what my place to him should be,
through knowledge I would never seek to know,
an apple shoveled down my child’s throat.
Holding fast my child’s wrists in vain
I kicked, then suddenly was free again.
Opening my eyes I saw his own,
some sudden shock had widened them; he fell,
and standing in the shadow he had cast
was Hul, a knife besmeared with blood
clenched in his fist, his eyes alight as well.
He spoke then, or rather tried to speak,
but when he raised his tongue the sudden shock
prevented words to flow. No matter that--
his impulse was, to me, the beauty of
a thousand wordless poems of relief.