Joseph

The first time she saw Joseph he was ten years old. He was on his knees, his tiny body hunched over—his forehead touching the back step as if to will his thoughts into the cement like tagger’s ink. He pulled and fidgeted at his face.

“Why don’t you come in?” she asked, holding the door open.

“I dunno,” he shrugged. When he looked up at her his lashes were sparse and his eyebrows had gaps like the slits in the fence he had crawled through.

“This place is for all the kids on the street,” she told him.

“You don’t know me,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in me.”

“It’s warm in here. And we don’t have to talk.”

“Is there food?” he asked, and pulled at a tenacious eyelash.

When Joseph was nineteen he sent her a poem from his prison cell.

It’s been a while since I could hold my head up high,

say I’m not addicted,

and that I like myself.

It’s been a while since I could tell you my dark things.

Why do I have so much hate?

Joseph was twenty-three when he was released into the world. He looked at her with his little boy eyes; he embraced her with the arms of a man—knotted from the weights he wrestled every day inside those walls: a crusade against his private rage.

Now Joseph’s shoulders twitch; his eyes are never still, always looking behind, around, and away. When she asks him how he feels, he brushes at his lashes with one finger and says, “I don’t know what’s in me.”

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