June 2020 – The Rites of Manhood

by Alden Nowlan

Recited by Gene Marckx

It’s snowing hard enough that the taxis aren’t running.

I’m walking home, my night’s work finished,

long after midnight, with the whole city to myself,

when across the street I see a very young American sailor

standing over a girl who’s kneeling on the sidewalk

and refuses to get up although he’s yelling at her

to tell him where she lives so he can take her there

before they both freeze. The pair of them are drunk

and my guess is he picked her up in a bar

and later they got separated from his buddies

and at first it was great fun to play at being

an old salt at liberty in a port full of women with

hinges on their heels, but by now he wants only to

find a solution to the infinitely complex

problem of what to do about her before he falls into

the hands of the police or the shore patrol

— and what keeps this from being squalid is

what’s happening to him inside:

if there were other sailors here

it would be possible for him

to abandon her where she is and joke about it

later, but he’s alone and the guilt can’t be

divided into small forgettable pieces;

he’s finding out what it means

to be a man and how different it is

from the way that only hours ago he imagined it.

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