This is before I'd read Nietzsche. Before Kant or Kierkegaard, even before Whitman and Yeats. I don't think there were three words in my head yet. I knew perhaps, that I should suffer, I can remember I almost cried for this or for that, nothing special, nothing to speak of. Probably I was mad with grief for the loss of my childhood, but I wouldn't have known that.

It's dawn. A gas station. Route twenty-two. I remember exactly: route twenty-two curved, there was a squat, striped concrete divider they'd put in after a plague of collisions. The gas station? Texaco, Esso -- I don't know. They were just words anyway then, just what their signs said. I wouldn't have understood the first thing about monopoly or imperialist or oppression.

It's dawn. It's so late. Even then, when I was never tired, I'm just holding on. Slumped on my friend's shoulder, I watch the relentless, wordless misery of the route twenty-two sky that seems to be filming my face with a grainy oil I keep trying to rub off or in.

Why are we here? Because one of my friends, in the men's room over there, has blue balls. He has to jerk off. I don't know what that means, "blue balls," or why he has to do that -- It must be important to have to stop here after this long night, but I don't ask. I'm just trying, I think, to keep my head as empty as I can for as long as I can. One of my other friends is asleep. He's so ugly, his mouth hanging, slack and wet. Another -- I'll never see this one again -- stares from the window as though he were frightened.

Here's what we've done. We were in Times Square, a pimp found us, corralled us, led us somewhere, down a dark street, another dark street, up dark stairs, dark hall, dark apartment, where his whore, his girl, or his wife or his mother for all I know dragged herself from her sleep, propped herself on an elbow, gazed into the dark hall, and agreed, for two dollars each, to take care of us.

Take care of us. Some of the words that come through me now seem to stay, hook in. My friend in the bathroom is taking so long. The filthy sky must be starting to lighten. It took me a long time, too, with the woman, I mean. Did I mention that she, the woman, the whore or the mother, was having her time and all she would deign to do was to blow us? Did I say that? Deign? Blow? What a joy, though, the idea was in those days. Blown! What a thing to tell the next day. She only deigned, though, no more.

She was like a machine. When I lift her back to me now, there's nothing there but that dark, curly head, working, a machine, up and down, and now, Freud, Marx, Fathers, tell me, what am I, doing this, telling this, on her, on myself, hammering it down, cementing it, sealing it in, but a machine, too? Why am I doing this? I still haven't read Augustine. I don't understand Chomsky that well. Should I? My friend at last comes back. Maybe the right words were there all along. Complicity. Wonder. How pure we were then, before Rimbaud, before Blake. Grace. Love. Take care of us. Please.

- C. K. Williams.

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