Reginald Dwayne Betts

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).