“Black Box” — Randall Mann

“Black Box”

by

Randall Mann


I was someone’s
honor’s student once,
a sticker, a star.
I aced Home Ec and Geometry;
I learned to stab a fork,
steer my mother’s car.
Old enough to work,
I refreshed the salad bar
at Steak & Ale,
scarcity a line
I couldn’t fail.
The summers between university,
interned at AT&T,
in the minority
outreach they called Inroads.
My boss, Vicki, had two
roommates, whom she
called, simply, The Gays,
crashing on her floor.
That was before
I was gay, I won’t try to say
with a straight face.
Like anyone really cares,
I care. What I’m trying to say:
all this prepared
me for these squat blinking
office accessories.
The dry drinking
after the accidental reply-all.
By now there’s a lot to lose.
Little by little, I have become
so careful, no talk
of politics, or orientation:
I let them say, he’s “a homosexual,”
without an arch correction.
At a fondue buffet
in Zurich, our dumb-
founded senior group
director—when I let slip,
damn it, my trip
with a twenty-year-old—inquired,
They’re always over seventeen,
right? I told her of course,
god yes, and, seething, smiled,
which I’m famous for.
I didn’t want to scare
her. But I tell you,
I’m keeping score.
E-mail is no more
than a suicide
I’d like to please recall.
Note my suicide.
I’m paid to multitask,
scramble the life
out of fun:
Monday I will ask—
every dash a loaded gun,
every comma, a knife—
you to bury the black-box file.

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