from C-Train & Thirteen Mexicans (2002)
my uncle lures them with grain in a pail
and then shoots one as white and black brothers
guzzle their brother's blood in the trough
At ten I walk the chop-block streets
with a rooster's-tail strut
razored for a fight: life
a broken fire hydrant
flooding streets with blood.
In opulent estates,
fountains gazelle and bridal-train gardens drain
abundantly over spear-tipped walls.
Grecian statues offer laurelled wisdom
To butlered adults with paperweight hearts
who answer the burning and gunning of America
by building more prisons.
Nobody cares what I'll find to eat or where I'll sleep.
Under streetlights throwing dirt clods
At a hornet's nest, unafraid of being stung,
I vow to avenge my poverty,
To gash unmercifully with bicycle chain
Spineless attorneys taking advantage of my misery,
Rob executives in limousines
Sampling heroin off a hooker's thighs,
mug pretty brokers with golden smiles
whose gutter glares condemn me,,
and al the chumps
who never cracked a soup-line biscuit
or had a court gavel crush their life,
should know I plan violent schemes against you,
saints melt my pain red hot,
I'll hammer sharp to take you down
to darkness where I live
and impale your heads
on La Virgen de Guadalupe's moon sickle.
Twelve years old. I am no good,
dime-bagging Peruvian flakes,
inhaling a glue rag.
With all your police and prison sentences,
You can't chase me from the street
or stop me from selling drugs,
because in my square white paper lives God--I deal God-who gives reprieve
from earthly hell and makes me feel good,
gives me hope and self-esteem,
and transforms despair to a cocaine heaven,
until I'm killed or OD
like other homeboys trashed
on a stack of county jail corpses,
who understood life was a sewer grate,
their dignity poured down with discarded litter,
where crack creates light when all one has is darkness.
Crack is God
when hopeless days bury me
under rock piles of despair,
blocking me from feeling anymore,
breaking my heart into pieces of NOTHING.
I am is no good and preach NOTHING door-to-door,
A strong kid full of NOTHING,
from NOTHING do I ask a blessing,
to NOTHING do I pray, hope NOTHING
forgives my wrongs and NOTHING
helps when I take vengeance on you.
beneath a moon above the sportscaster's booth,
at the outdoors boxing coliseum,
after crowds go home and the ring is removed,
I shadowbox invisible opponents
and raise my hand as champion to the moon.
I join homeboys against a rival gang,
Skip bleachers over handrails out of breath,
and hold court in the field with bats, pipes, chains,
brass knuckles, and guns,
in a game where every kid has to hold a five-ace winning heart,
or die with a poker player's bluffing hand-
because death is nothing but an eight-ball roll on the break.
My life is a Babe Ruth pop-up,
Sailing beyond the rival gang's catch, hopscotching crime-
Chalked sidewalks, fleeing police over backyard fences
from guard dogs barking,
down scuffed alleys where clapping windows and shutting
doors applaud me,
sliding under a stripped-car home plate, hearing the news:
Jo-Jo and Sparky got shot,
I X their names off building scorecard walls for dead.
I'm brown fighting get-down impromptu warrior,
lip-pursed oohing fevered to defy,
clicking tap shoes on sidewalks,
Chi-chi-chi-cano, heel to toe, chin to chest,
T-shirt rolled to bare midriff, pomade hair back
low-hugging hip khakis,
inked cross on right hand,
bandanna'd top button
tied on my Pendleton, lean, and mean,
haunting you with my gangster signs.
I learned my history
around water-bucket talk,
listening to mule-tongued growers
mutter holy whys they barbwired our lands off,
clacking my hoe in grower's dirt
on skulls and bones of my people
murdered and buried in chains.
Under a branding-hot noon
I cut lettuce for bronc-buckled
soft-palmed landowners posing as frontiersmen,
their steerhorn Cadillac radios
tuned to religious broadcast
blaring glory to their godliness
as they loom over me.
"God Hates you, spic. Gad hates you!
You're dirt, boy, dirt! Even dirt grows weeds,
but you, you're dirt that don't grow nothing but more dirt!"
Beat purple at age nine,
wood paddle whizzing
butt bullet stings,
I touch washcloth to welted bruises
on thigh, leg, back and wince under the shower nozzle,
My heart the severed head of an outlaw
pickled in a jar of liquor and drugs
to numb the hurt.
Purging the shame for being born,
OD'd stabbed, and shot,
wanting to believe I was bad.
It was better than falling into darkness
where nothing existed but more darkness,
and I wanted to exist even as dirt, as no-good dirt.
At nineteen, trying to rebuild my life,
I got the urge to get high, and did-
put pistol to my head and played roulette,
my bloodshot drunkard's eye seething rage
that my guardian angel didn't want me dead.
The dirt yard pleads for my daughter's laughter.
Her tricycle treads scribble
You are always gone
in whiskey and drugs,
never hear to play or help me grow.
No heat, light or food,
my baby's crying
chisels on the headstone of my bones
her need for a father,
wobble to a stop
when I pick her from the crib,
inhale her milky aroma,
patting and kissing her,
walking her back and forth
in the cold living room,
warming her in my skin heat,
breathing warmth on her,
holding her to my chest,
humming a deep-chest hymn,
"Bendito, bendito, bendito sea Dios,
los angeles cantan y daban a Dios…."
"Blessed, blessed, blessed is the Lord,
the angels sing and give to the Lord…."
Her tiny hand flexes, a wing unwrinkling from cocoon for flight,
fossilized in the stone of my arms.
I am two men with one life-
I love her, care about her feelings,
want to live at home, be a family man,
grow old with one woman.
But the warrior bares thorny teeth
at domesticity, slurs in disgust
at the dreamer's naïveté,
and wants to brawl unafraid of dying young.
Tonight my infant is me
and I am her. I see myself
as I was born,
innocent and perfect, whole life ahead of me,
and I see she can become me,
no good. I hum, holding her tight,
melting into one hug, humming
until dawn thaws frost down window casements
into stucco cracks, stray hounds croon in ruts,
yeowling cold from jaws, tooth-scratching
stickers from paws, and I walk and walk,
my sleeping infant in my arms,
humming hurting-man blues.
Thinking how to give my family a better life,
I stroll the ditch bank next morning,
surprised to see pebbles last night's rain uncovered-blues
and greens. I want my tears to reveal
what is covered in me like that.
I throw a stone in the irrigation water;
where it gasps my child's awestruck mouth
glistens for breath, for a chance at life, glimmering ripples calling
me to be a real father.
I realize I must start today.
Where the stone hits is the center of the ripples,
where the stone hits is the center that causes action. Where the stone hits is the beginning;
where I am now
is the center. I am the stone I held in my hand as a kid
and threw to see how far it could go.
Now, at twenty-one
my lightning self
carved from thrown-away woodpile days
cut deep to the knot-core of my heart,
giving me a limb-top buoyancy,
an awakening, a realization that I am
a good man, a good human being,
healing emotional earthquakes in myself.