(This is the fifth draft of a revision for my poem “One Night in the Rainforest….” The original caused a stir in workshop because no one could understand why I set it in the rainforest. I tried to explain how that wasn’t important. The story could happen anywhere, to anyone. But everything in poetry has to happen for a reason. To show how the story could be in another setting, with different characters, I wrote the revision for which this is the fifth draft. Of course, now everyone will want to know why it takes place in an alley. Because it does! haha Enjoy.)

The Oath

(One night in the alley…)

Wrapped in wrinkled newspapers,
he dozes in a rank dumpster
beneath a blinking alley light.
His head rests on a squashed
box. He listens to the click of elegant

high heels echoing from the sidewalk.
Nervous giggles nearby, muffled, lustful
breathing. He blinks. Heels scrape.
Someone slams against his dumpster.
Her perfume mutes the rotten stench

he’s lived in for years. He grips
his liquor bottle, held tight beneath
his knotted beard, and whispers his oath,
the one he swore before the force fired him:

To serve and protect.

The newspapers crinkle, pushed aside
just as he was. He rises. The woman’s
back is to him. He smashes the bottle
against the mugger’s head.

The explosive, hollow crack reminds
him of the gunshot. Drunk and angry,
on the night he got laid off, he shot
that girl for tailgating him.

He slashes the other mugger’s face
with the jagged, broken bottle.

His wife refused to look at him again.

The woman turns, her nose red
with blood, formal dress torn. He knows
she smells him, the filth of what he did.

She thanks him, streaks of mascara
like black tears. As he sinks
back into the dumpster, she asks,

why? He wraps his ragged body in newspapers
and whispers, To serve and protect.