Oakland Work Crew
Dan said, My life is a nine with the hammer cocked,
chuckled, told of standing on a browned lawn
naked, three hundred pounds of pure Mick-Spic,
shooting at a Chevelle, tire marks on concrete.
Told how, inside, you heat a sharpened Bic
and a guy carves DannyBoy or Norteaño on your neck.
Prince talked of faint patterns on ceiling tiles
in his dreams and a pot with a ten in it when he finds
where color begins. He brought a picture: he’s thirteen,
Liberia, wide smile, fatigues, kalishnikov
hugging his shoulder. Told of barefoot soccer,
running on bricks, the grace of a clean pass.
Rich said, I’m worth more than someone I meet,
then talked of his daughter, his girl, and ladies
here, there. He explained what it means to be
a baldhead, why, if he sees a Sudeaño on Third,
he can’t be held responsible for what’ll happen.
Told us which old school Cutlass’ is hella tight.
Larry kept saying, High as an Oaktown sky,
and that’s all he said, aside from seeing vines
or brush or poison oak we cut and pulled
as a J with a hit so big he’d vanish. Never
told us what we knew: clapboard house,
cracked talk, brothers to keep in shoes.
And I went home and wrote a lover, told
how far hills were no matter where I drove,
how I didn’t know what it was to be a tatted
baldhead, raise kids, play barefoot in the street,
one eye on the hammer, one ear to the barrel,
hearing a seashell inside the chamber.
“Oakland Work Crew” was first published in The New Republic, March 24, 2003.