Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

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.