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  • Hard Uncles
  • F. Douglas Brown (bio)

Leroy, wisdom in a chuckle,    Gold chains drape around his neck—        High yellow on high yellow—

He broadcasts, I’ve been young, but you’ve never    Been old. “Mid City,” like his claims,        Stitched bold across his cap.

Hard Uncles—cool cats who can Billy Preston    In patent leather. Nothing from nothing        Is their way, something they’ve taught their

Manicured hands—how to be quick-witted and quick to grab.    Ron’s, Tennessee Totty, all ass and no body.        Bones on a table, fast as a fish fry, fast

As gambling two weeks of wages away.    Mike on the phone from Vegas and Gary        In the back—Roll another one, Freddie B.

Smoke and booze hold hands,    Swing from the ceiling and        Into everyone’s eyes.

If you ain’t ready to lose, don’t bring    Your cissy butt down here,        Tee “The Shoe Doctor” blurts out,

A notice for all pacemakers    And the faint of funds.        How the heart stops [End Page 60]

When money is lost in a heap.    How the heads of proud men swell        Or retract, puff or crumble.

John Paul whispers in my ear, anything    Better than sex and watermelon,        Leave it alone, his finger extending

Toward someone in the corner holding    A bowl full of empty luck—        A wallet full of poor decisions.

It’s nearly 1 a.m.    At this point, excuses are more eager        Than the pot. Leroy gets some

Shoe polish from the closet and blots his lie.    Honey, that damn car broke down again,        He rehearses, laughter barreling into a cab.

His drunken squint and wink—    His two-fingered blessing        Shakes the fog away.

He’s been down this road    Before—home the hard way,        And a joker up his sleeve. [End Page 61]

F. Douglas Brown

F. Douglas Brown is the 2013 Cave Canem Poetry Prize recipient for Zero to Three (Georgia, 2014). He holds a master’s degree from San Francisco State University, and is a Cave Canem and a Kundiman fellow. He teaches English at Loyola High School in Los Angeles.



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