For the City That Nearly Broke Me (In streets that grieve)
In streets that grieve our silence, children die,
they fall to bullets & asthma, they fall
into each other’s arms as mother’s watch on.
& there is a secret to why the small boy
can step into the street & no one notices
as it swallows him whole, a mathematics
for the hold that Newports have on men
struggling with child support & probation.
These eyes sifting through madness, that
avalanche of laughter ringing inside a
broken man’s head. You explain the voices.
You explain Khalif’s five-year sentence for
possession, for believing that there’s a pension
plan for the pusherman, for Mayfield’s hero
turned skinny jeans wearing teen. This street
inhales Du Bois. Inhales Shawn, too. Men left out
of imagination’s prophecy. Wading in the water.
Men that slept with the city’s youngest girls,
believing virginity a talisman that would
protect them against death –men who still died.
& there are names. I’m only talking about Ray-Ray,
& Mario, Damon & Mike – people we called
bereft, a fancy name for being in a fight with God
& the Devil, for a small child begging
for his mother, who is not here, who too
has been flooded by the suicide of asphalt.
Newports & fried chicken. There is this sadness
in the world when all the stereotypes seem true.
A calling for a block party, where men in
the streets stop pretending to be Crispus Attucks,
stop thinking one more nameless man
can get named eternally after a bullet bursts
through his skin, through the tattoo that marks him.
I’m here, another body navigating what mother’s
fear. There is nothing you see while cruising
down the Ave. that explains what’s in the hooded
head that stares into your car. But he knows
the revolution starts with whatever is left
after WIC checks get cut. When I tell my brother
I’m hustling, I mean it. Damn it, I mean it.
“For the City That Nearly Broke Me” is performed with Tsitsi Jaji, and is from Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015).