Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ghetto rain


Rain brings truce to summer warfare here.
Silencing the boom-box shoulder-born cannons,
Needy ghetto boys cars to the corner
To advertise their whereabouts to God knows who.
They cling behind the steamed picture windows
Of neighborhood grocery stores, praying for the rain to stop
Or hover in the windows of their family homes like prisoners.

I watch the grayness of the day
And the ripple of rain assaulting each puddle,
Me, half expecting new life to evolve out of the mud.

Not all is still, of course, since the streets
Still squeals with panicking brakes
And the thump of delivery trucks over the humps
Of grave-like utility digs public service can’t quite fill,
Drivers cursing each other and the city for ruined shocks

Self-proclaimed auto mechanics rattle their ratchets
In the mud-streaked car port behind my house,
Rolling out their half-fixed classic cars
From the line of rented garages with leaky roofs
When rain permits,

Slick ghetto kids ease into the mouth of the driveway
With new machines, paid for by easy credit
Or drug sales on Third Street
Too dressed up, hair-greased too perfect, to risk the rain,
Leaning on their horns instead
To hurried the harried resident they’ve come to take
Car windows sealed tight against the wet
Yet vibrating with the heavy back beat of hip hop
Loud enough to raise even me from the death of sleep,
Vibrations so intense they spread through the court yard
Like a earthquake or a tooth ache,
Leaving me numb when they finally leave.

In between, I heard the rattle of the rain against the glass
And the impatient thumb of dribbled basketballs
In the sheltered alley where kids wait for the drops to stop
So they can hop over to the school yard courts,
The thump, thump, thump my heart soon imitates,
And I fear will stop, me, sealed up inside the coffin
Of my ghetto apartment, cut off from the world by
The constant dripping, no scent of sweet supper
Drifting in at me from the neighbor’s kitchen
No sound of the Latino gossip which always
Gives it spice,
Just me, myself and I, listening for something
I never quite hear, but ache for,
As if my life depended upon it.


Cobwebs round out the corners of the room,
Anchored in the cracks of pealing paint.
I wonder why I am here
My face reflected on the inside of dusty glass
My fingers gripping the splintered arms
Of a cracked wooden chair.

I keep thinking something must be wrong with me
For sitting here like this,
Yet I make no move to leave
I think the room is lonely instead of me.
I imagine the window shades and closet doors, mocking me.
Even the chair groans as I shift my weight,
And I think it is me.
I’m barely 27 and preparing myself for death
Needing to die for lack
Of anything better to do with my life
Yet I keep looking at my face reflected in the dusty glass
Trying to figure out,
Just exactly who it is I’m looking at.


They tell me not to worry
That I don’t have office spaces
Filled with love
No coaches for secretaries
After hours
In fact no office
Except for a phone booth
In Grand Central Station
Where I remain at almost any hour
Night or day.

My life is a party line
With two slick chicks
Pulling tricks,
Collecting nickels and times
For me as charity.

Ugly as they are,
They sometimes get lucky,
Scoring five dollars
For a trip to the toilet,
Ten if the john wants more
Than a warm mouth
Each man dressed in business suit
Carrying a brief case
And a wallet full of wives and kids

Some call for reservations
Then flock in
Their pockets stocked
With ripe bananas
Each voice still whispering
As if still on the phone
Their palms full of sweat
And their eyes full of acid

Some men want men
To accommodate them
Which doesn’t pay as much
As my girls do,
Or as much as my shinning shoes
Used to, though I still get down
On my knees.

I hate my face being inches
From the edge of a greasy toilet
And look for lingering lice
While the man above me moans,
I always ache from something better
Something more than the grunting impact
Of man inside man,
Wondering why my turn never comes.


The change comes in little ways
A name or in tainted snow
She stands so small
Baby riding her hip as if a saddle,
She looking staggered, stomped or stone.
I ask if she is in pain
Does she feel the miles
She’s been dragged along
At the end of her rope,
Her dreams banging asphalt
And dusty roads,
Old cowboy movies
Paint the scene just right,
Maybe even Greek myths,
She is Hector, not Helen,
Dying ignobly,
Harassed by life
Even after the fact.


The forest is new
Only the trees are old,
Roots transplanted
From a more innocent age,
Lined up against
The barroom wall
Like ten pins

Sweet young women
Swaying in the breeze
Of cool rock
And hot cocaine

Stone axes blazing
Through them from the stage
Search them like cops
From limb to limb,
Stealing their virginity
With a stare and
Seductive wind of sound

Paul Bunyan types
In t-shirts and jeans
Kicking the heals of Reebok sneakers
On the chair rain,
Waiting for their chance
To climb on for the ride,
Each endangered tree
Drawn to the heat
Of this budding
Forest fire


You walk by night
Strolling streets of broken beer bottles
And littered with the carcasses of shattered men,
Star light illuminating their faces
Their eyes glittering with dripping tears
Of self pity.

It is never easy living in a concrete jungle
Beating back weeds of desire with will
Rather than machete
Brushing off Roman hands
Without Rosary beads

But you love the scene
A silky lady with loose hair
Whispering around your face,
Your fingers flirting with each strand.

You know you don’t need them
And they know it, too,
Though they never stop pelting you
With tired lies, offers of drink
And, of course, more.

You like the danger, too,
The precarious fly strolling
Over the outer edges of a spider’s web
Taunting the dark bulk
With your delicate vibrations

They think you are inviting them
When you’ve come merely to mock,
They think you are happy to see them
When you want only drink of cocaine
They think they have a chance with you
When all you ever really want
Is to walk lightly in the dark


“It’s a lazy way to spend the day,”
she says leaning back against
the splintered porch rail,

Two flights up and dreaming
Of that paneled apartment
We saw above the head shop
She says she will miss this view.

She says the new place is upscale
A better place to bring a baby
Though her heart always gets restless
This time of year,
Stirred up by the rustle of
September leaves.

She says she’ll mist the view
That narrow space between the trees
Where a silver sliver of the river runs
Cutting through out lives
Like a scalpel.

It is a slice so small we might not
Recognize the river at all
If the old landlord never pointed it out,
One of the attractions he gave us
When suckering us into moving in,
Giving us green trees and fresh waters
The way white men gave blankets
To Native American Indians.

“It’s a lazy way to spend the day,”
she says, coughing back unwanted tears
as she hurries off to finish packing
for our two block trip to new digs
and rooms without a view


They locked him away
Like a rare stamp
Postage due,
Brain expansion
Pressing against his already
Weary skull
The stroke a legal notice
For eviction,
Testimony on
How he has lived his life,
Bad diet,,
Too much booze,
And a tendency towards perversion,
Me, standing at his door
My hat in hand,
Waiting for the nurses to decide
If a nephew was
A close enough relative to let in,
Fascists in white
Prophesying the next generation,
More death merchants
Than the street pushers,
Who sell hope on the street,
Waiting for the moment
When they can declare him dead
And can stamp him with
The cancellation notice,
One less soul left to circulate
Among the living


They teach you first to be tough
To get your shit together, man,
Or get the hell out,
The congestion of school desks,
The sock top switch blades
The fights in the street
The real report cards,
Jungle halls strew with potential victims,
The frightened weak ones
Bending over backwards or forwards
To keep from getting beat up,
By meaty boys of any color
Who used any kind of excuse
To get the girls to giggle
Being too smart,
Wearing glasses to thick or not hip
Being too straight
Or honest,
Or talking to the cops
Who are as bad as thugs,
Talking to teachers too frightened
To do anything,
Except to survive,
Thinking “better you than me,”
Turning deaf, dumb and blind
As you get raped or drugged,
Never seeing your bruised face
When you come into class,
Never hearing the beasts outside
Until you come in with a gun
And start shooting,
At which point
Everybody asks:
What’s wrong with you?


They gave the storm a name
And now it pursues us,
Beating a path up from the south,
They say, to soon knock on our doors.

This is no bluff like the puff pieces
Of past storms,
But one thick with bent trees
And ruined lives,
TV images showing South Carolina’s
Blurred faces and strewn lawns,
Trash and leaves whirling by the camera
Along with reports of death.

I sit in my Passaic apartment
Casting a glance at my world,
Walls heavy with books which I envision
Cast down and over-turned,
The scent of spilled cologne rising
From not yet shattered bottles.

In my mind, I ride highways before the storm
Seeing its wrath in my rear view mirror,
Hearing its roar in the back of my head,
Yet for some reason, unable to stay ahead of it,
Losing ground inch by inch,
I feel its storm clouds creeping over me,
I feel the cold chill of its painful touch
I scene myself being sucked up into it,
And know I will never escape it,
Even as my cat purrs and rubs against my leg,
I reach down, fingers feeling fur,
In a desperate effort to touch
Something real.

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