This is a poem in twenty numbered paragraphs, suggested by my brief period as a suspect in a murder investigation —
OF AN INNOCENT MAN
1. I would have been born in swampland, but my father drove my mother to a city that day, a city with a stupid name, so I could forever be embarrassed by my birth certificate.
2. In the year of my birth, a shoe salesman was president. Well, perhaps he wasn’t a shoe salesman, what did I know — I didn’t wear shoes for another five years.
3. As a toddler, I was fed gumbo from an iron pot. The spices stunted my growth.
4. On weekends, my grandmother coated my teeth with flour and sticky sugars, and I became hyperkinetic.
5. My first love was fire. I watched her red hair, flickering so mysteriously, until I could not close my eyes, they were so dry.
6. One Sunday morning, all of the oxygen was breathed out of the still air of the church, and I saw stars. A nun put smelly things under my nose, and I was embarrassed I’d called her ma'am.
7. Laika the dog flew around the earth and we heard her heart beating on the radio. My father was afraid. He said communists put that dog there, above our heads. He said I should study science, so we could put our own dog above our heads. I was confused — we had no dog.
8. My father was a teacher. I was six when he asked me to name the planets for his class. I was the boy who could name the planets, but I disappointed him — I forgot what came after Saturn. A giant girl took pity on me, and told a story on herself. She said she’d once believed we lived inside the earth, and that was why our rockets exploded. She was more than twice my age, but I knew she was an idiot.
9. In high school, I grew pubic hair. But it was a year too late.
10. After graduation, I moved to San Francisco, for the summer of love. But I missed it — another year too late.
11. In New Orleans I met a woman who wanted to be a writer, but ended up a printer. And soon a judge in old Algiers said we were married.
12. Drinking tequila at a party, events were set in motion, and another judge said we were no longer married.
13. In ten short years I earned a bachelor’s degree, with honors. I had listened to my father, and was ready to put a dog above his head.
14. Two summers later, my father was playing tennis, and then, on that same hot afternoon, he rolled on a highway until he was dead.
15. I stood up too suddenly at work and became dizzy. I confused that with love and became married for a second time.
16. The boy who cooks your hamburger in his burgundy and green uniform is more comfortable than other boys were ten years ago. He does not know it, but he owes his comfort to me.
17. One day my wife was driving down the interstate at seventy miles an hour when she insisted I open the door and step out. Soon a judge said that we were no longer married.
18. For complicated reasons, an artist said words like troth, and I became married to my second wife’s best friend.
19. At work, not so long ago, I stood up again too quickly, and became dizzy. With insufficient oxygen, my mouth said things and I became unemployed.
20. In January, police came with cue tips and put my spit into an envelope. And, in the city where the shoe salesman had once lived, men in white coats I’d made comfortable years before said I was not a murderer.