Saw River Phoenix Driving in Oregon

Right before I merged on the highway, 
someone honked from behind.
I made my face appear more hostile, 
male, drew my lips into a snarl.
And when that truck passed right
close as the grey blade of an ice skate 
I decided, or didn’t decide, to look right—his puppy
mangy face, cig perched from his lips 
like Tom Sawyer’s blade of wheat; he 
waved at me. I didn’t consider why until after 
the wheels had lumbered ahead—
when you’re really happy
you don’t want to dissect the source for why. 
River Phoenix had waved at me
like he hadn’t died on a sidewalk.
I take the same route every day I’m out
in the hopes I’ll see that dirty yellow hair
again. I cut a line willing some of the blow 
to get up his nose too. It happened just that once,
but we’re brothers now. What made me decide,
or didn’t decide, to catch his gaze that day 
replaced the old habit of religion,
changed the way my soul 
is nourished. Holy is whatever unpins us 
from the dartboard, or whatever keeps us there, 
and I thank the ruddy asphalt,
the late changing of a traffic light,
for guiding me to him:
the one time I’ve ever approached,
or finally left, the bullseye. 

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Justin Howerton
Justin Howerton is a recent alumnus of Lewis & Clark College, where he majored in English and earned a Creative Writing Concentration in Poetry. He is queer Southerner who writes about masculinity, memory and movies.

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