it was one of us
By Richard H. Fox

Ray, six-feet two, shoulders that carried kegs like cans—
charcoal skin, knee holed jeans, red t-shirt, vest populated by power pins.
            his girlfriend Rebecca—minister’s daughter, albino white,
            a wisp wearing peasant blouses, gypsy skirts.
            in heels, her head caressed his collarbone.
first year of college, greenhorns in dormitories.

a slick nine ball shark, Ray collected quarters at the pool table.
            most of the guys were flush East Coast whites.
            he grew up in a prole Midwestern ghetto.
sinking the eight ball, Ray would grin and say the black one always ends up in the hole.
his ash stetson had steel studs, an Eldridge Cleaver hatband.
            when we talked about the draft and Vi-et-nam,
            Ray lectured about brothers immolated by the Cong.
if we countered with Jews in cattle cars or shetl boys as cannon fodder,
Ray would pop a ball, shake his chin side to side, shut his mouth.

at Muddy Waters, a bartender ignored him to serve whites.
            we grabbed the guy, told him to give Ray a beer now!
he looked up into the stolid face, hat brim cocked a tad, drew the draught.
            Ray wouldn’t brook our anger—
            said it wasn’t Ours but His.
he was one of us but we were never of him.

one night in the poolroom, a bottle of Boones Farm Apple appeared.
            those that could hack sweet vinegar took swigs.
            Ray knocked back half the bottle.
            three games later, the swiggers knew the wine was spiked.
Ray never did acid, didn’t even smoke the occasional joint.
he started talking about men with ropes stalking the windows.
hands shaking, he dropped his cue, ran out into the quad.

we found him on his back, thrashing in dirt, flailing arms and legs.
afraid he might run into a wall or the street or a glass door,
            six of us pinned him to the grass.
            Ray kept tossing me off his shoulder but I hung on.
an ambulance wailed in, all flashing lights and siren.
Ray bucked even harder until the paramedics needled his arm.

forty years later, we gather without Ray.
he dropped out of school, out of our lives.
            one of us says Ray is homeless in Soulard.
who spiked that bottle crashes the conversation.
it’s a spirited debate, townie or prankster or stranger.
            I say nothing

Richard H. Fox was born and bred in Worcester, Mass. He attended Webster University, as much artist colony as college, in the early 1970s. These diverse cultures shaped his world view and love of words. He is a former President of Poetry Oasis Inc., a non-profit poetry association dedicated to education and promoting local poets, and was Managing Editor of its journal Diner. Richard has been published in numerous journals including Above Place, Boston Literary Magazine, OVS, Poetry Quarterly, Sahara, Midstream Magazine, and The Worcester Review. Many of his poems focus on cancer from the patient’s point of view, drawing on hope, humor and unforeseen gifts. His book Time Bomb was published in 2013. Richard seconds Stanley Kunitz’ motion that people in Worcester are “provoked to poetry.”