Richard King Perkins II



For J.P.

In gym class,
I saw his legs five times a week for
three years of middle school.
Those tortured limbs never stopped scaring me—
to my eyes,
they still looked as twisted and raw
as if it had happened yesterday.

I’d heard him explain the tragedy
more than a dozen times
and it usually went this way:

My mom put me in the bath and she had
no idea the water was scalding hot
and I just stood there, not even able to scream
and my legs just kept burning
until she saw the look in my face
and when we got to the hospital she was
in such shock she let the doctors take skin grafts
from the back of her legs without using any anesthesia.
Except for the way they look,
my legs work just fine and . . . 

at this point, he’d pull the bottom of his gym shorts
up a few inches,
showing a tract of perfect human skin

. . . it didn’t get any higher than this,
so I was really kinda lucky in a way.

Of course he wanted us all to know that his cock
was also just fine and hadn’t melted away
like a sacrificial candle into that terrible cauldron.

That was the story he invariably told.

A few years later,
I heard a different version of the incident
that went this way:

Mom had gone upstairs to check on her son
and when she found him
wearing her makeup and clothing
she marched him right into the bathroom,
stripped him down,
put him in the tub and tried to burn the gay right out of him.
She supposedly couldn’t see him again
until he became an adult and could determine for himself
if he actually wanted to see her.

I don’t know which version is closer to the truth
and maybe it doesn’t matter
because he seemed well-adjusted
and his legs worked just fine
and I do remember him having
the most exquisite penmanship I have ever seen
so that in seventh grade I asked him
to sign my name into all my textbooks
and every time I’d open one
my eyes would swim just a little
with seeing my name written
more beautifully
than I’d ever seen it written before.