Another nobody kid raised in a half-broken home in middle America: a drunk father who worked twenty-five years for Clayton County, and a mother who loved you but was always too passive, it seemed, to truly care.
Yet you were inherently happy. Your smile burst across your face like a star shell. Happiness was in your bones, your blood, your ectomorphic body, not tall, but a natural-born athlete from head to toe.
The college coaches all went crazy for you, but your test scores were poor. You never quite made the grade. You served instead as a gunnery sergeant in the war: a gunner, a dead-eye.
But when you shook the high school rafters that late-autumn night, scoring seventy-eight points, shooting twenty-for-twenty in the second half, both sides of the bleachers erupting for your grace, the purity of your touch, your form, the achieve of, the mastery of the thing – you were beautiful.
When you won the 100 yard dash and the 220 against all the big-city boys, edging out by fractions two future Olympians – you were beautiful.
When, at thirty-two, you lied about your age and won a tryout with the Denver Nuggets and made it down to the final cut, still going strong, still a gunner, a sniper from the three-point line, then busted your ankle in a fall – you were beautiful.
And are you beautiful still in your oil-stained clothes, turning wrenches at the garage, your thin black fingers spiderlike among the parts? Do you still have that delicate touch?
Are you beautiful with your scuffed-up knuckles and your immutable smile, your snaggly teeth and skeletal face?
Are you beautiful in those filthy hightop sneakers and that jumpsuit mechanic uniform, your chocolate slab of forelock hanging lank across your cheek?
Are you beautiful in your small hometown, moving into middle-age, still so thin, so graceful-looking, filling in part-time at the cowboy hat store? Is your uncanny coordination fading with disuse? Your infallible sense of direction and time?
I saw you once, not long ago, drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup on the fire escape of your tenement building. It was the middle of August. You wore a white tanktop and pleated gray slacks. You looked very elegant. The day was dying. The trees beyond stood iron-black against the sky. The staircases along the outer buildings were duplicated in isometric shadows across the orange brick walls. I was visiting a woman who lived across the street, and I could see you from her kitchen window. You sat on those metal steps for a long time. The sky flared and then emptied out into a draining reef – a reef of green. Darkness came. The first stars appeared. Still, you sat. You sat and sat, and after a while, the stars began to shoot and fall.