Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2016  Vol. 15 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Roommates, 1969

Brown the ed-psych man staring at a plaster wall of paisley doves
as he applies the theories of Skinner to a model fifth-grade class
and blows a plexi-sauna of homegrown marijuana;

Mann in a brown study, legging up for the space race
by gnawing tooth-marks down his slide rule,
as he mumbles over the text of Quantitative Analysis.

Well, it is not going well—in sum, it feels like hell—
and friend-gossip is the valve when things do not go well.

Mann complains to Portis: once
when they tripped, Brown lay all night observing the ceiling, cooing “Frog syndicate” and “Magellanic clouds.”

Brown tells Mills of these selfsame hours:
Mann pacing with incarnadine face then vanishing
until they went and found him shaking his fist at a light,
shouting, “Change, you motherfucker, change!”

Not ideal companions to say the least. No,
Portis tells Mills: Mann is a date thief:

that business in the closet: Mann with Brown’s sweetie:
her pale thong whitecapping among his penny loafers.

Mills cites other occasions:

Mann with his own honey; Brown across the room
demonstrating blood-pressure adjustment from his bed: “Imagine,
let’s say, you’re holding a live grenade, now suck
your asshole through the top of your head”;

Mann after the Warhol lecture, resplendent in blond wig,
slit skirt and pearls, lip-synching “Fever.” The same
night Brown saw it was Millicent, it had always been Millicent,
the Methodist minister’s daughter, who he truly loved.
A call, an afternoon, weekend visits from Cold Springs.
Mann’s second cousin: this settles things.

Except one night before a party, a joint—
she’s never tried it.
It pleases them she wants to take a hit:

itsy tokes, then bigger
until, comatose on the sofa, at peace,
she sits up like a spring.
“I’m blind,” she says,
“I can’t see a friggin’ thing.”

This instant then
as Brown bolts for the healing kitty—
Mann whispers, “George,
“we shall have to kill her.”  

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