John Murillo

The Corner

Hard rain and reggaeton score the night. On this block here,
At this hour, when even alley cats know to keep in shadow, backs
To the wall and ears piqued, the few renegade rain-soaked heads
You come across are here on business. Transactions and sales,
Give and take in the marketplace of the moon. If you wait
Long enough, they say, you can hear the hellhounds’ bay. The Cross-


Roads, in the swollen tongue of work-weary bluesmen across
Geography and generations. Hoodoo Land. ‘Legba’s turf. It’s here,
They say, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to learn the sweet
Secret of conjuring moonlight from string and wood. When back-
Roads all seemed to lead to the same place, men fresh from their cells
Came to strike deals on a new start in life, to get ahead.


Take this young boy, Jojo. Fresh out the joint, before he’d head
Anywhere near his mama’s house, he’d run straight here. Across
The street from the carryout and check cashing spot, he’ll peddle
His rocks to anybody who pushes past. Even little Ebony. Hear
She was almost prom queen, drove the young boys crazy back
In the days before Jojo got hold of her. How the weight


Melts from face and neck. How skin cankers, and blood and sweat
Crust corners of lips licked only in wet dreams. How she gives head
Now by the dumpster behind the church, fucks, how fast five bucks
Find their way back to Jojo’s hands. And Jesus, on a stone cross,
Watches it all from on high. How it begins, ends, and begins again here,
On the corner. Tonight, rain clouds bruise the sky. Jojo sells


Like a man with plans. As if he can buy his way away. Sells
As if he were the first to have such ideas. As if moving weight
Wasn’t just a new name for an old dream. When his mama was out here
They called it pushing. By the time his daughter’s head
Can fit the first pink wig, they’ll be calling it something else. The cross-
Roads has seen it all. Seven hundred sixty-two Jojo’s, Jojoing back


To the days of fire-can crooners, doo-wop daddies and off-key back-
Up singers, warming hands and running from the ‘rollers. As if their cells
Were hardwired for trouble, they’d find new lines to cross and cross
Again. And find themselves back on the courtyard, lifting weights,
Or back on cots, crumpling “Dear John” letters, slipping heads
In and out of nooses. After years locked down they all end up right here.


Maybe you’ve seen how they come back—years lifting or losing weight,
Thugs turned saint or cell-block Muslim, some with heads
Full of cross-the-system schemes, some half-dead. Always, always here.



“The Corner” was first published in Ninth Letter, Vol. 4 No. 1, Sp. ’07, and appears in Up Jump the Boogie (Cypher Books, 2010).