waters our community garden, clips every dead branch, every evening at sundown, often in his “gay gardening outfit,” as he likes to call it, rainbow suspenders and a neon pink camouflage shirt and matching pants. He updates me on his daily progress each evening as I walk past him heading home, rattling off words I can’t understand. The aloe polyphylla is looking good after replanting it toward the sun. That cynara scolymus is about to bloom. I tell him the green ones over there look like little thumbs. He nods and says, You’re right about that haworthia truncata. His iPad booms Beyoncé or opera. Sings along, knows every word in English, German, and Italian. How do you sing AND garden so well? He tells me he has a master’s degree in voice, this after leaving the Army, realizing, fighting wasn’t my thing. We culled rosemary this past spring. Dried it out and turned it to powder, adding sugar and water to become his grandmother’s favorite southern candy drops. We leave sample cans of our new favorite LaCroix flavors at each other’s door. He won our informal Meyer lemon curd contest. Yours is too eggy. He was right, of course. When I tell him about a new student of mine, gay and twelve, insecure with dyslexia, and struggling, he asks about this boy’s passions and hobbies. Encourages me to encourage him to do those things while times are hard. Kevin’s told me stories about his childhood, growing up black and gay, a double whammy, in New Orleans with six brothers and sisters. How he doesn’t like to return to parts of the South anymore. I don’t go back where I’m not wanted. Shakes his head and sighs a lot whenever someone talks about Orlando. This past week, he’s been silent about the shootings. Hurts too much. He’s too tired. I don’t know how to help him. How to help our world right now. Kevin moved here to marry my next-door neighbor Brian, his long-term, long-distance boyfriend. Recently, at their sober wedding in the Audre Lorde Room at the Women’s Building, they held hands and jumped over Kevin’s grandfather’s broomstick, sent by his older sister for the special day. Over cranberry spritzes, we watched them slow dance, and later, when they threw a black leather thong from the Lone Star Saloon into the cheering crowd, I knew not to reach up because Kevin yelled out, There’s no one here for you. Stand back. Get outta the way.
RUDOLPH ANSWERS A LETTER FROM HIS HOSPICE BED
Thank you for your well wishes and letting me know that despite your lack of childhood biblical verses or temple rituals, you and your twin watched my show each December bundled in blankets, sipping hot cocoa, and embracing your own religious practice of believing that a glowing nose the size of the most perfect summer cherry fire engine nose could light up the whole world on a darkened, cold night. You asked if my nose is fading. It is. My body, too. I do remember the first time I tasted a candy cane. I licked the mint ’til the stripes turned white. Change is inevitable. Fire engine red mutes to rust. My coat is thinning. When I was young and ashamed, I masked my muzzle with dirt. No one should cover up anything ever again. When you shared that you saw me flying over your house at five, you and your twin screaming at the top of your lungs to show your parents, I chuckled. Many have awakened neighbors at twilight. And when you wrote that you realized years later you lived near Logan Airport and that my nose was probably a plane, I sighed. I liked that you used the word probably. The idea of possibility still exists. The idea of me. Before I head to the North Pole stratosphere permanently, I want to give you some advice. I took the one thing I was afraid of and turned it into a saving thing. Last night, I dreamed that my nose was blue and it matched the color of the sea below the sea. I paddled alone without harness or reins and searched for my cousins, the seahorses. I couldn’t find them, but I loved the sound in the depth. Seeping in between each piece of hollowed hair. The silence and then the water.