“Streetwalkers” by James Penha

Crazy people in Indonesia walk the streets
with as much determination in their stride
as they bear indifference to their nakedness.
Some wear ragged shirts but no pants, some
shirtless wave privates from rippled pants so
their clothes and sanity seem to wear away
in tandem kilometer by kilometer like car tires
until stark-raving mad they are starkers.
Do they ever start naked, leaving the bath
one morning on a journey without a stitch
or a destination? I do know it’s wrong to call
them crazy. They are likely schizophrenic
or otherwise lost to reality in clinical terms
obscure to me. Yet when my husband and I
see them on the road, we do alert each other
to the “crazy” guy—almost always a man—
unbarbered and, I am embarrassed to admit—
but this is poetry—to the size of his cock
and whether, with a shave and a haircut,
he might be attractive. And we wonder
if he has a family and if he could be saved
if not by us then by someone. I myself
am otherwise engaged trying to protect
my husband from the paranoia that wears
him down, loosens his grip beneath the tread.
Today he said the Whopper we ordered
wasn’t served our way—cut in two—
because someone—it’s always Someone—
told the Burger King to annoy him. Part
of an infinite conspiracy. I remained
silent. “Don’t contradict a paranoid,” I read
although too often failing to heed this advice,
I am accused of teaming with Someone
and in my anger have called my husband
whom I love more than anything crazy.
Every night I fear waking to an empty house,
running to the car, fumbling keys, sweating,
driving the streets to follow thread crumbs
scattered from his underwear, dreaming
to find his perfectly naked and sorry ass.


A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his verse appears this year in Headcase: LGBTQ Writers & Artists on Mental Health and Wellness published by Oxford UP and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 years of Walt Whitman from Squares and Rebels. His essay “It’s Been a Long Time Coming” was featured in The New York Times “Modern Love” column in April 2016. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha