Give It Up
by Preston Mark Stone

    Manky the scowler from Germantown
    could stink up a squat like rotten pork.
    Everyone had fleas, a little bit of funk,
    that panhandler air of bread mold
    and dirty socks, but Manky was more
    like a weather pattern, a cold front
    stiff as refiner's smoke from the
    Domino plant across the bay. Travis
    called him Pigpen, forced him to sit
    in a corner of that gutted house,
    ridiculed him endlessly with mock
    moans and gags. Black-haired Mank
    would bristle and seethe and finally
    mutter, "Jesus, man, just give it up."

    So these were my brothers.
    I was fourteen or fifteen, and these
    cruel, illiterate boys carousing
    Broadway Market Square, living
    on the rooftops of south Baltimore,
    were my only friends. For dinners I went
    with Travis to dive the hotel dumpsters,
    and one of those nights, while he was in
    the fray of grease and coffee grounds
    and I was standing watch, I saw Manky
    crouched by the docks, reading a book.
    I came up behind him, walking on toes,
    edged my body against a wall, and listened

    as he mumbled vivo, vives, cras vivet.
    Suddenly Travis was there, puzzled, giggling,
    covered in mayonnaise, rubbing his bald
    and crawling head; and Mank shot up and scowled,
    wrapping his arms around the split spine
    and dog-eared pages. I might have been jealous
    of Mank, or angry with Travis, or simply hungry
    for words. For weeks I tried to steal that book,
    but Manky, who owned so little, kept it close
    as a wallet or a wedding ring. He might have carried
    those conjugations all the way to the hopeless wards

    of the state hospital, where six years later, he died
    asking for his father. Travis outlived him
    by two or three years, then heroin. Last year
    I returned with a copy of Catullus in my pocket
    and ventured the docks and secretly peopled
    alleyways, and saw the arsoned buildings gone,
    the beautiful buildings arsoned. Alone
    in south Baltimore, my pockets lined with money,
    I gladly became a permanent tourist, a common
    citizen, orphaned by my city, without a friend to bury.

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