My Man
Delaney Nolan

My man carves belt buckles out of good tin. Folds it over flat and then gouges out the patterns. Says he chalks them designs out on his cell floor all day and lays awake all night thinking of me with his hot hands. I believe it.

Last April he sold eight at the rodeo. Eight buckles sold, eighty dollars for the fund. Says he did out the math and he can have more than two grand when he gets out. I like to think of this and sometimes I don't. I like to think of: my man's work done by his rough hands, hanging over some hood boy's pants, the buckle shining down Elysian Fields on a stolen bike, flying free that way, dirty with oyster grit from the Market that way. I don't like it when I think of: some brat wearing it on St Charles, catching a streetcar, all glowing in the Louisiana night, buckle polished clean. Makes me crazy. I keep an eye out for them buckles that's his but people think I'm looking dirty at them and they cover their crotches, turn away. I would too.

My man's buckles are the best ones at Angola. It took him four years of good behavior before they let him in the workshop. Since then they offered he could do the rodeo, if he wanted. He could, too. He could be good at it. Knows how to ride, if you know what I mean, and here I give you a leer. But he's got the right of it. I seen the way them boys get beat up, thrown down hard in the dirt. Angola Prison Rodeo is a nasty thing if you ask me, but my man says it's mostly what they talk about inside, all they got to look forward to. Understandable.

It's a glory thing to watch. Especially when they let out that mad bull at the end, with the poker chip between the eyes. There's the guard towers on either side of the ring with rifles out, and there's the stands packed with fat tourists and their greasy turkey legs, but when they let out the mad bull you know that's all them boys see. One mad bull, one poker chip, two evil horns and three dozen boys in orange jumpsuits, keeping away from the danger, running the ring, getting up close enough to make a snatch at the chip but not get trampled. Someone always gets trampled. Last year I seen it, one man go down hard with a hoof in his gut, the bull not letting up, bucking its muscled hips hard and black like velvet. You know that hits like a truck. The clowns led the animal away and the medics came in, carried the man off, doubled over and half-collapsed, heard his yelling from the stands. All the tourists and their greasy fingers sitting still like it don't mean nothing. It means something.

I find my man by the corner fence. He's in the pen on the other side of the chainlink, but we can still reach enough of our fingers through. Every girl visiting leans on her man in there casting mean looks like I'm gonna steal what's hers. There's an understanding when they see what I come for. He rises like a moon when he sees me.


I tried to get here sooner.

We press lips and the cold metal crushes at my nose-bone. The diamonds in the fence are too small. I wanna squeeze right through.

Where you been, baby, shit, I was scared you ain't comin.

I got held up. George wouldn't let me go.

George is my boss and my man hates him. Any man's name that isn't his coming cross my tongue makes him wild. This was bad before, when he would break the walls and yell till neighbors pounded, but now he's penned up it just makes him wild and there's nothing he can do about it. It makes me hot all over. I like to call up his wildness by saying names, I wanna see this rage he can't do nothing about. I don't say the name of the man who sleeps in my bed now, it wouldn't be right if I did that. I just wanna see him rattle the bars and grit his teeth.

You look sweet as hell.

He draws his eyes all up my length like tearing clothes off. We're crowded by strangers-- the knotted dark men on his side who watch me, the white kids from Uptown on my side who keep their eyes downcast. They don't know how we used to make each other sweat. How he used to tear at me. He used to pull out clumps of my hair when he was inside me, aching. Now all my hair grown back.

How's it? You sell any yet?

Don't even matter with you here, sweet thing.

He's pressed flush against the steel fence. I step back because I can. His table is still crowded with buckles. Next to his table is one with picture frames, carved with pictures of the Virgin Mary. On the other side is one's I recognize, Tyrone's. He carves chairs for kids. One chair's painted with Dora the Explorer, a big seller, and he's got a good likeness, though her eyes droop. She watches me looking sad.

You ain't gonna go see the rodeo, right? You gonna stay here with me?

I don't say anything. Last year I swore I'd never watch again. See them poor boys getting flattened into the mud. But it's pulling at me now, and I think I'll say yes. There's some part of me bearing its long-sheathed fangs. The part that would press thumbs into the eyes of Uptown boys. The mad bull part. The part that wants to see strange men I never knew, thrown down by furious animals, stamped down hard into the dust.

Delaney Nolan has stories in or coming from Post Road, Gargoyle, Dogzplot, Metazen and others.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Dominic Campbell.

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