Whipping Boy - Collin Kelley
Tina’s fingers tighten on my arm,
we should go now, she says,
but we don’t, because the main
attraction is about to begin.
It’s Beale Street at millennium’s end,
humidity so thick it coats like oil,
and I have two hands around a bucket
of alcohol, craving blackout.
I lean against a streetlamp, surrounded
by revelers, oblivious of everyone,
until I hear the first crack of leather
and a cheer both derisive and dangerous.
Ken drunk in the street, hands on his knees
being whipped with his own belt,
the one Tina says he took off and handed
to strangers, begging to be beaten.
I lose count of the tourists who take
a whack at him, who giggle and run,
never notice the mounted cop watching
at the corner of S. Lauderdale, waiting.
When the redneck walks up, takes the belt,
his thin lips turn to sneer, he snaps the leather,
Tina’s fingers then, and Ken is smiling
until the belt makes contact and he buckles.
The thwack reverberates in every sweat drop
of dispersing crowd as redneck throws the belt
on Ken’s prone body, fucking faggot,
saunters away, and the cop just grins.
Collin Kelley is the author of the poetry collection Better To Travel, the spoken word CD HalfLife Crisis, and the chapbook Slow To Burn (2006, MetroMania Press). Kelley, a Georgia Author of the Year Award-winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, is also co-editor of the Java Monkey Speaks Poetry Anthology series from Poetry Atlanta Press. A chapbook of new work, After the Poison, is forthcoming in 2008 from Finishing Line Press.
Colin writes regarding this poem: "Whipping Boy" was the first poem I thought of when I saw the theme [for this series]. This poem is true. I was in a strange city with my lover, who was an alcoholic, and I was starting to fall back on my tendency to self-medicate to deal with our crumbling relationship. The fact that I stood there, recognizing the danger, but did nothing reverberates today...The gay community in Atlanta is, to a degree, insulated against homophobia because there is such a large gay population. The incident in Memphis was an eye-opening experience -- the open homophobia, the police allowing the situation to escalate. Talk about stepping outside your ecosystem.