Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Few Verses for My Father

Sadly, I've never written much inspired by my father. The truth is, I have so little to go on. The memories are few & fleeting, and the emotions are raw & rife with misplaced anger. However, there are two poems I wrote between 1994 and 1996



Parade

I sat
upon my father’s
shoulders as we walked
the Puerto Rican
Day Parade
along Central Park

It felt just like
our tropical
homeland, Borinquen,
in the June heat
and the endless stream
of Spanish

Except that the palms
were replaced
with Central’s massive
elms on one side
and immense iron
skyscrapers on the other

At the end
of the route my
father set me down
and joined an impromptu
orchestra

I watched
as he sat there
on the curb
feet in the gutter
his bongos between
his thighs, his Salsa
beats drowning
out the horns
behind him

I wanted to know
what it was to be
him, to share that
intensity
to strike the drum
for hours
to have hands calloused
& marbled, smeared
with blood

As the sun fell
behind the Midtown mass
I found myself
upon my father’s shoulders
again, this time headed
towards the subway and home

I felt what I know now
is pride
in my people
in my culture
in my father
But I have to wonder
how much more
the day would have meant
had I known it was the last
time I’d see him

I wonder 

if the imprints
I left
on his shoulders
were as deep
as the ones he left
on the backs
of my thighs






Father’s Daze 

Seventeen ties & handkerchiefs
wrapped in ribbon and sealed with grief
stored in the closet of my soul
where I keep my few memories of you

Seventeen homemade greeting cards
smelling of Elmer’s and growing mold
await you in the closet of my soul
where there is room for a few more memories of you

Seventeen bottles of cologne
in piles of shattered glass
pierce holes within the closet of my soul
from which leak a few memories of you

Seventeen years follow seventeen more
by which time I’ll have locked the door
to this useless closet in my soul
where I'll no longer hold any memories of you


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gone Daddy, Gone


So, in case you haven't heard, I found out yesterday that my long lost dad, the father I haven't seen since I was seven or eight, is dead. He's been dead, since 1997. Funny thing is, I half expected it. After all, my mom died in 1991, and my uncle died a few years later—both from AIDS after years of heroin abuse. Granted, from what I've always understood, my father didn't use, but it's not like I was around him often enough to know for sure. That said, according to my sister our father died of cancer, not AIDS. I suppose that's a relief, however small.

Still, as I searched for signs of my father all these years, I always clung to the hope that I would have a chance to catch up with him, to get to ask the questions that remain in my head after so many years of non-communication. Before I go on, I should make it perfectly clear that I don't blame my father for losing touch. If anything, my mother deserves a lot of the blame. It was, after all, her idea to pick us up and move us from New Jersey to Maryland in 1982 without so much as a goodbye, not just for my dad, but for all our friends—a clean break. Sometimes a clean break is very messy.

So I'm left mourning, not for a father I barely knew, but for the now-dashed hope that we would get another chance. All I have is a couple of poems (they're coming, I have to re-type them), a scant few memories, and the stories I heard from my mom so long ago that I don't remember what's true, what she made up and what I added to fill the gaps in my head. I'll share a few.

The first memory I have of my father was when I was about seven. I was hanging out with my uncle Andy, and he took me into a bar. There, he introduced me to a man he said was my dad. I recognized him because of a picture my mom kept from when she was pregnant with me—a short man (¿What else?) with a hitleresque haircut and a big, bushy mustache. He was very nice, and bought me a Coke. We chatted a bit, but I can't really recall what about. I remember that my mother invited him over for a party soon after, but her boyfriend at the time got very drunk and very jealous one night, shut off the lights, proclaiming the party to be "¡over!" My mom broke up with her boyfriend at the time, and my parents made a brief go at a relationship again, but I suppose things had changed—they had changed—too much. In the end, she got back together with John O'Connor, the man who had made an ass of himself at the party, and they married shortly thereafter.

But what happened the first time around. The story I remember, a story my mother shared frequently with her closest friends, happened in 1970. My mother met my father a couple of years after she'd had to give up my oldest brother to her mother. Apparently, after a terrible bout with heroin addiction (My older brother was born having to be detoxed.) mom had finally gotten clean, perhaps partly due to my dad's influence. They conceived me, got married, had me, and conceived my sister Kyra. All was well in the world, until the cops came bursting through the door of the apartment we all lived in.

Apparently, my mother had developed a brief, but bad history with law enforcement, and that was coming back to bite her in the ass. Although she was squeaky clean at the time, they (allegedly—but planting evidence was common in those days) planted drugs in our medicine cabinet. They had my pregnant mother in handcuffs and were about to drag her to jail, and me to foster care when my father came home. He took the rap. He claimed that the drugs were his. They took my father instead.

It should be no surprise to anyone that while my dad languished behind bars, my mother started using again. Hence, when Kyra was born, like my older brother, she had to be detoxed, too. Who knows what our lives would have been like had the police not held a personal vendetta against my mother.

But what's past is past. It's the one thing we cannot change. And there is great consolation in all this grief. Although I'm officially an orphan now, I found out I have family I never knew I had. I have three Aunts—Margie, Eva and Paula— and a slew of cousins—one of which, Marisol, I got to chat with at length. So while the much longed for reunion with dad is now gone, I do have a link to many of the stories that will help fill that gap. Even better, I have family with which I can make wonderful new memories with. If there's one thing I learned, it's more important to look forward to the fluidity of the future than to dwell on a past that's already etched in stone. RIP Papi.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Handsome Man

Here's another one from my archives, originally written during my second semester at the University of Baltimore. Again, I've edited it to better reflect my current writing style.


I
’m used to dealing with weirdos. The Pennington Hotel down in the deep south of Baltimore is full of ‘em. I call it a three-quarters house cuz although we don’t get no state funding most of the residents are stuck here on their trip from whatever halfway house they come from and the real thing. I doubt any of ‘em will ever be ready for the real thing, being able to keep a full apartment, much less a house. No, most of these weirdos will always be teetering between here and back in the same jail or crazy house they came from, except for Andy. Nothing weird about Andy, at all.

His name is actually Andres, some Porta Reekin version of Andrew, but he likes Andy just fine. He’s tall and thin—some might say lanky—with a face that looks like it’s carved from rock, like those big old heads from Easter Island. A handsome man. Not that I’m gay or nothing. He’s just so different from the freaks that usually live here that he really stands out.

The lady comes first. I worry when I see her. She’s very attractive, something you don’t see here. The few ladies that have stayed here were all kinds of butch and burly and could handle themselves with all these men. This lady looks like she had class and maybe money, so I figure she’s a whore at first. We get them too, but I can’t have no pretty, classy whores here. That would attract attention, and people living here don’t usually want attention. I’m about to suggest a different rooming house when she explains that she wants to rent a room for a friend that was coming out of prison in a few days. She gives me a few weeks rent and a security deposit. She warns me that he’s a might sickly, asks me to keep an eye out for him.

I’ve got no problem with that being as I try to keep an eye on all these fools living at The Penn. One more won’t hurt, right? With that, she leaves me her name, Maria—a pretty Spanish name for a pretty Spanish lady—and a number to call if there’s an emergency, and she’s gone as quick as she came.

Andy doesn’t show up for a few days. I’m standing outside, under the awning, watching the rain come down hard on Pennington Avenue—nothing like watching Baltimore getting drenched on a hot August day. I see a car drive up. Pennington dead-ends here at The Penn, so most folks driving all the way up are headed here. That lady, Maria, might be driving, but I can’t really tell with the rain and all. Anyway, she doesn’t get out. But I see this handsome man hop out, reach in the back seat for a couple duffels, and walk towards me as the car speeds off.

I’m taken aback as he gets closer. He’s taller than me—maybe five-ten—and dark like he’s American Indian or maybe Creole. He’s got the neatest beard I’ve ever seen, trimmed in perfect strips down along his face, across his chin and up to meet his neat little mustache—nothing like the shaggy biker beards you normally see here. “Can you take me to the manager?” he asks, snapping me out of the kinda trance I was in.

I introduce myself, and he tells me who he is, tells me there should be a room here for him. I’d prepared a room for him cuz I figured he’d show up any day, and I wanted to make sure he got one of the rooms fitted for handicapped or older folks being as he’s supposed to be sick and all. Granted, he doesn’t seem sick by the looks of him. I tell him to follow me. Inside, everybody notices him. He’s pretty cool about it, too, giving everyone there a nod.

Upstairs, I show him around. Not much to show, really—just the bed with a nightstand and the bathroom. I tell him that most of the others eat elsewhere, but that if he wants he can get a hotplate. He thanks me all cordial-like offering his hand to shake before I walk off.

He doesn’t spend much time in the rec room watching t.v. or playing on the pool table, except when Soul Train comes on. So he spends a lot of time telling stories. Like how he grew up in New York. Bragging really. Like how it takes balls to rob a bank in New York like he did. How he shot a man in the head for a few thousand dollars in broad daylight in Manhattan, and nobody noticed it was him cuz he ran off with the crowd that started panicking. He tells us how he got high with Mick Jagger and David Bowie in Studio54 in the 70s, and how he spent a lot of time in jail in Bordentown in New Jersey on account that he would always get caught in Jersey.

He got caught one time lifting a couple of cases of Yoo-hoo right off the truck while the driver was making a delivery. He got away with that scam all the time in New York, but in Jersey it was like the cops had radar for him or something.

I tell him a couple of my tales, although I don’t have many to tell. I only did one stint behind bars. Some buddies convinced me to drive the car for a liquor store robbery, one of them that cashes checks so they keep lots of cash around. Got caught. That was enough for me. I knew I wasn’t smart enough to be no career criminal. I did my six years, and went as straight as I could when I came out. Worked as a longshoreman at Dundalk Marine Terminal for years until I ruined my back. Now I collect disability and manage The Penn under the table.

It’s nice having somebody that’s sorta normal living here, somebody that I can talk to that don’t come across as half-baked, or all-baked. He treats me like I’m his friend, even though I know it’s just cuz I’m one of the only ones here for him to talk to. He don’t go out much cuz he wants to stay out of trouble, and there ain’t shit to do here if you don’t watch t.v. or play pool.

He likes cards though. He shows us how to run Three Card Monte, and one time Maria brings him some dominoes, and he shows some of us how to play. Andy may not think so, but I consider him my friend. Ten years I’ve been working here, and I never made no good friends.

Yeah, we talk a lot, but I don’t ever take Andy for being sickly. I mean, he’s real thin, gaunt even, and he has a bit of a cough, and he has those scabs on his cheeks he’s always scratching at, but he’s only forty-something and don’t hardly seem that old even. Things change fast in a year.

It’s August again when Harvey, this drunk that stays here so he can afford to spend most of his social security on liquor, comes down and tells me he smells something burning in 3C. That’s Andy’s room, and I haven’t seen him all day.

I hurry on up there and knock on the door. No answer. I can smell the burning, so I use my master key to get in the apartment. I figure he left real early for one of his walks to the harbor and forgot to unplug his hotplate. Sure enough, when I get in the hotplate is on, and Andy was nowhere around. There was a bit of something black and bubbling on the burner that was smoking bad and stinking up the place. I yank the plug and get ready to walk out when I hear some water running and some kind of scraping noise coming from the bathroom.

It gets me curious, so I open the door and peep in. There’s Andy, on his knees, in boxers and a wifebeater, bent over the edge of the tub. I’m thinking, maybe he’s puking or something. I bend over to look, and he’s cooking. I mean he’s trying to cook something. He’s got this small can sitting on the bottom of the tub, and he’s stirring it up with a spoon. He notices me there next to him. He looks up at me, and he says, “What’s up Mac? I’m heating up some SpaghettiOs. You want some.”

The water’s running, but not hard, and definitely not hot enough to heat up no SpaghettiOs. I tell him no, thank you, and reach over to turn the water off. “I think you need some rest, man,” I say, and carefully picked him up off his knees and lead him back to bed.
“I’m hungry, Mac,” he says, in this sad voice.

I don’t know what to say. “Don’t worry, Andy. I’ll go down and get you something to eat,” is what finally comes out as I close his apartment door behind me and lock it. I hurry downstairs and call 911. They send cops and an ambulance. They must think they got a real crazy on their hands, but I can’t blame them. This is The Penn after all. But still, it makes everybody here nervous.

I take the paramedics to the room and let them in. They ask him questions, but it’s all such a ruckus now, I can’t follow what’s going on. Pretty soon though, they got Andy on a stretcher, and I was following them back downstairs.

A couple of days go by, and I don’t hear nothing about Andy. I remember about that number the lady, Maria, gave me, so I call her. She’s really upset with me at first being as I waited two days to call, but I remember the name of the hospital they were taking him to.

I feel pretty bad about forgetting like that, so I decide to go check on Andy myself. I lock up and jump on the 64 to Harbor Hospital. I figure, it’s been a couple days, they probably figured out what was wrong with him. I mean, we ain’t got no air conditioning, except in the lobby and my office, so maybe it was just like a heat stroke or something like that. He should be right as rain by now.

He’s not. As a matter of fact, I have to talk my way in to see him because Andy’s in ICU and he can’t get no visitors unless they’re family. I tell them that I’m his landlord, and that I need to get word to his family about how he is because they can’t get here right away. They still don’t want to let me see him, but they don’t have no next of kin information for him. I give them Maria’s number, and they tell me that they’ll give me fifteen minutes with him, but then I gotta go.

They take me to a room with glass walls on three sides. “Mr. Candelario is right in there.” The curtains around his bed are closed, so I walk in and around the curtains, and I’m taken aback, again. Andy’s hooked up to all these machines, and he’s under one of them clear plastic tents from the chest up. He’s just really a skeleton now. All those parts that made him so sharp and handsome just look hard now, like they’re gonna bust through his skin. I just stand there in shock, looking at him. I can’t say nothing.

I don’t even realize I’m there so long when a nurse comes to tell me I have to go. I nod. Lord knows I don’t like seeing him like this. “Excuse me ma’am, but what’s wrong with him?” I ask the nurse ask she walks me out of the ICU. She explains that he has AIDS, and that he’s suffering from some complications, including pneumonia. I know it’s sad to say, but the first thing that comes to my mind is that I hope I didn’t get it, wonder if he’s ever been bleeding around me or something.

I tell her how I found him, acting all crazy and stuff. She says something about some toxic stuff, germs that was attacking his brain. She says something about how people with AIDS can’t even have cats around cuz the litter can make them really sick and start acting crazy. I tell her we don’t allow no pets at the Pennington. “Is he gonna come out of it?” I ask her before I leave.
She says, “Not likely.”

I get back to The Penn, and I go to his room and start stuffing his things in big black contractor bags. I want to make sure that if he does get better, his stuff is safe. If I leave it in the room, I know somebody will eventually break in and steal it. I’m careful with his clothes cuz I don’t know how he got the AIDS, but I don’t want to get pricked with no needle. I done had that happen, and waiting for those test results is downright stressful. I drag all his property up to the attic, which has a big padlock that even these folks won’t try to break.

All his property, except the trimmer. I’m going through the stuff in the bathroom, you know, soap, deodorant, cologne and stuff, and I find the trimmer in the cabinet under the sink. It’s a tiny thing, run by batteries, but it’s sharp, sharp enough to shave a spot on my cheek clean when I try it out. I decide to hang on to the trimmer for a bit. I’ll give it back when he gets out.

Andy doesn’t get out though. Maria hears that I visited, so she puts me on the list to see him. She says he don’t get any visitors but her and his mother who comes up from Puerto Rico when she hears he real sick. I guess she ain’t too mad at me. So I try to stop by everyday, but he just lays there. He’s awake sometimes, but he still just lays there, staring at the ceiling, not saying nothing, or worse, mumbling. I just sit there telling him stories about my boring life. After a while, I can’t bring myself to go anymore.

It’s September, but it’s still hot when Maria comes to ask for his things. She don’t say it, but I can tell because she’s just got these puddles on her eyes that she’s trying hard to hold in, so I don’t say it either. I have her follow me upstairs, and I tell her how I packed up his things, not because I didn’t think he wasn’t coming back, but because I didn’t want anybody breaking into his room and taking his things. You can’t trust these guys living here.

I tell her as I help her carry the last couple of bags to her car how sorry I am. I tell her how Andy and I had become good friends. How he was the only tenant I could really talk to. She just kind of nods as she puts the last bag onto her back seat. I stand there as she pulls off, stand there until her car disappears up Pennington Avenue. It’s raining. It’s been raining, but I just notice.

I don’t really talk much to the renters here anymore. Everything is just business: collecting the rent, giving them change for the pool table, fixing their heaters. But every once in a while, I’ll pull out Andy’s trimmers, and I’ll get in front of the mirror and trim myself up real nice. I’ll even splash on some of that aftershave even though the guys’ll tease me about it, calling me a fag and all that. But that’s just fine because you can’t expect them to know how much work it takes to stay a handsome man.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Tree Grows Nowhere


It’s the first weekend of the month, a cause for celebration. Mom gets her welfare check the first of every month and throws a sort of party come the weekend. I’m not invited. The only people allowed to celebrate are her and whatever Flavor of the Month 
motherfucker whose arm she’s hanging on to. This one’s on his fifth month, a bit of a record. Of course, the fact that he just moved us out of New York and into Nowhere, Baltimore County, Maryland improves his chances. It means Mom won’t be meeting any new Flavors any time soon. Anyway, it doesn’t bother me not to be invited—her little parties have a way of getting out of hand.

   I haven’t had a chance to make any new friends, yet. I don’t go to school my first week here. Besides helping unpack and settle the only pair of my shoes that made the trip are some snow boots. The weather here in Nowhere is spring-like compared to the frigid city, and I’m too embarrassed to wear them. Thankfully Mom springs for a pair of Sikes, kind of like Nikes but with the swoop going the wrong way.

The next two weeks are awkward—teaching people how to pronounce my name, clarifying my race. Nobody in Nowhere has ever met a Porto Reekin before, or anything remotely close to one. They’re curious to hear me speak some Porto Reekin until I tell them it’s no different from the Spanish class we all take every day during fifth period, except for the teacher’s grammatical mistakes. I’m seen as a true oddity.

I’m used to moving—lucky to complete an entire year at one school—but never to a place where I’m watched curiously, like some ape in a cage expected to start throwing its shit at any moment. I’m not sure whether to resent these kids or be flattered by the attention. I am, however, one very pissed of Porto Reekin. We left New York on a spur of the moment, practically on impulse—no chance to say goodbye to my friends, never to learn the results of my audition to the School for Performing Arts—the so-called Fame school. I spent the first few nights in Nowhere crying myself to sleep. I felt stranded.

Tonight, I’m still stranded. I watch The Flavor carry in a case of Red White & Blue, and I shake my head. Mom comes in behind him carrying a brown bag, BacardiRon Rico if she’s pinching her pennies. The winter sun’s going down already, my cue to retreat to my room. As they begin playing cards, or dominoes, I start reading Thomas Covenant, a novel about a modern day leper who gets transported to a dying land where he is the only one who can restore its magic. I envy him, leprosy and all.

I don’t know how longs it’s been, but I hear shouting from the other side of my door. I stop being Thomas Covenant and listen. Mom and The Flavor have started to argue, if you can call it that. The neighbors would call it screaming, and the police would call it disturbing the peace. I’m used to it. As a matter of fact I won’t even leave my room unless—¡¡¡FUCK!!!

   He starts hitting her. ¡Motherfucker! I storm out of my room and try to come between them. “¡Please, stop! Don’t hit my mother,” a line I’ve been practicing since I was five. There are cards all over the floor. One of the beer cans is spilled over leaving some of the cards in a bubbly, pale yellow puddle. He has the collar of her blouse in one fist, smacks hers in the face with his free hand. He stops for a moment to shove me away.

My mother stops wailing enough to yell at him in Spanish. “¡Don’t touch my son you sonofabitch! ¡¡I’ll kill you!! She swipes at his head, catches his face with her long scarlet nails. He winces, puts his free hand to his face, feels the blood starting to trickle.

“You fucking whore,” he shouts as he throws her to the floor, redoubles his efforts to beat the shit out her. I jump on his shoulders, try to yank him off her. He shakes me off, whips around and cracks me in the head. Had I not tried to duck the blow, if he were any less drunk, he would have caught my ear.

My head’s reeling. I’m in shock. Not one of my mother’s flavors had ever tried to hit me for protecting her. There have been some who, in their effort to play Daddy, have swung a belt at me. This—this is unheard of. He’s stops hitting her, starts to drag her into their bedroom by her hair. Mom’s hanging onto his fists, kicking as she slides across the floor. I go out the front door.

One big difference between Nowhere, Maryland and New York is trees. While New York is not known for its fauna, at least not in the neighborhoods I came up in, I’m able to step out the door and in little time I have a branch I can barely lift. I storm back in, straight into their bedroom. He has her pinned against the bed. His back is to me. He’s wielding a pair of utility scissors, the ones with the big orange handles, and he’s trying to cut her nails off. “You want to scratch me?” he shouts, “I’ll teach you not to scratch!” My mother, like many Puerto Rican women of her generation, takes great pride in her nails, always keeping them long and painted—complains for hours if she breaks one. He’s managed to cut off three of them.

With tears in my eyes, I raise the branch as high over my head as I can get it and swing it down across his back. I’m about to strike him again when he turns to look at me. He has this look of pure hatred on his face, enough to fill me with fear. I drop the branch. He rises, I turn around and start running. He’s too drunk to catch me, but I can’t run forever. He’s also too drunk to know when to stop chasing. Trees. Again they come to good use as I choose a particularly tall one and climb.

He makes a few attempts to climb up after me, but I don’t think he would have been able to even if he were sober. On his last attempt he makes it about three feet up and falls onto his back. Mom’s outside by now. She runs to him. “¡Oh my God! ¿Papi, are you okay? ¿Can you get up?” She helps him to his feet, walks him back to the apartment.

I stay in my tree for another ten minutes or so when mom comes back out. “¡Ricardo, get back in the fucking house!” she orders. I follow her in. I can hear The Flavor snoring from their bedroom. Mom locks the door behind us, stands in front of me, and smacks me. “Don’t you ever do that shit again,” she tells me, “¡What me and him do is none of your fucking business! ¡Stay out of it!” With that said, she strolls into her bedroom and slams the door closed behind her.

   Stunned, I go into my own room and get undressed. The irony of it all makes me dizzy as what just happened swims about in my head. I flop face down onto the bed. I can’t hold back the tears anymore. It means something that, until recently, I didn’t even wait to get hit before I started crying. Then again, everything that happened tonight probably means something. I’m too tired to figure it out, too tired to even dig Thomas Covenant out of my ribs. I spend another night in Nowhere, Maryland crying myself to sleep.

***

A month later, I still haven’t made any friends. I have, however, made a contact that can get me some pot. This month, I have my own private party. I lift ten bucks from Mom’s pocketbook, and I’m able to get a nickel bag of some decent weed, a pint of Jack Daniels, and a pack of rolling papers. I don’t have enough for a Coke, so I learn to drink it straight.

When Mom and The Flavor start their little party, I sit in my windowsill and enjoy mine. When it gets out of hand, I barely notice—I don’t care. I’m deep in the middle of somewhere not even Thomas Covenant can guide me through. No matter what tears are shed tonight none of them would be mine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Praying in the Temple of the Moon

As my regular readers know, I've been writing a series of poems over the past nine months inspired a newfound love for Luna, our gorgeous moon, along with Italo Calvino's story The Distance of the Moon and my romance with Valerie, my own personal moon goddess. I wrote this one yesterday (07.08.09) after participating in one of Val's rituals. It's barely edited, a bit rough even, but I do love it. I hope you like it.



Praying in the Temple of the Moon

I went to church
last night
the first time in a score
of years,
but it was unlike
any service
I’d ever attended.

I climbed onto a rooftop,
slipped under
a cloud-capped canopy of
night sky,
the fullness of my Moon,
my altar,
the sounds of a Remington
summer night, traffic up
& down Howard,
onto & off the JFX,
my soundtrack.

For a while,
I just sat there
feeling my place
in the Universe,
a floating fleck
connected to
Everything.
Then I slipped out
of my clothing—
bared myself before
my Moon.

I prayed like I’d been taught
to pray by the Witnesses,
the Baptists—The Mormons
did it best—show gratitude
for your blessings, ask
for what you want.

It was harder than
I first imagined:
My blessings have been nearly
innumerable,
my needs seem so greedy
after the Universe’s generosity of late,
But I just knew,
& I knew
the Universe knew,
you know?

I repeated my pact:
for as much as I get
I’d make sure to give back
& I sealed my mystical missive
with the holiest act
of Love.

I awoke to find my Moon
had almost completed its track,
the Sun was creeping up,
His overbearing light
threatening to hide Her
for another night.
But my service was done,
my ritual complete,
my rites restored.

It was not the churches
of old, full of preachers teaching
Jesus, & right from wrong,
defining evil;
but in the Temple of the Moon,
in a pew carved
from the Universe itself,
I was closer to God than I’d ever been.
I was happy.
I was whole.


UPDATE: This poem was later published in Smile Hon, You're in Baltimore, by Eight Stone Press.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

¡For Crying Out Loud! presents Born Free



When: 7/3/2009 8:00pm to 4:00am 7/4/2009

Where: Cyclops Books, 30 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201

What:Help us close out ¡For Crying Out Loud!'s(formerly Speak Freely) first season by attending our ALL OPEN MIC event. Many of our featured artists from the past year will be there. Bring your nature or patriotic themed stuff. ¡After midnight, the event turns into host FERNANDO'S 40TH BIRTHDAY PARTY! As always, there will be free booze and snacks. ¡Childcare available! Doors Open at 7:30pm.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jawbreaker

I don’t even realize I’m alone until I stop near the corner of Fairmount and Lakewood. When I see the blue flashers, I realize I’m screwed. I drop my butcher knife without looking down, hear it clatter on the asphalt, hope it’ll slide down the storm drain, at least go unnoticed. It doesn’t.

The door of the cop car barely slams shut, and already he’s asking, “What’d you just throw down?”

“What?” I ask back, trying to play the fool, a role I can usually play to the hilt.

“This!” he says as he picks up the knife. “You’re under arrest.”

“But officer, you don’t understand—”

“Shut up,” he says as he grabs me by the scruff of my neck and shoves me against his cruiser.

What he didn’t want to understand, what he refused to listen to, was that I was simply standing up for my wife, myself, my neighborhood.

About thirty minutes ago the night had been like any other early summer night in Baltimore, too hot and too humid. Everyone that was still home this Friday evening on Rose Street was out on their stoop shooting shit and drinking their Natty Bohs. Business as usual until some kid, a stranger, started banging on the door of one of the houses across the street. “Teri!” he hollered, “Teri!” over an over again, louder each time.

Maria, my wife, still young and still stupid at eighteen, decided to get involved. “Don’t say anything,” I begged her, knowing her propensity to run her mouth when she shouldn’t. The first rule I learned when I moved to Baltimore was “mind your own business.” She had been born here and still hadn’t learned that.

“Why don’t you leave her alone?” She bellowed as she crossed the street, “She obviously doesn’t want to talk to you.”

The stranger turned around shouting, “Bitch, what’d you say?” and without warning cocked his arm back and punched Maria in the face. Immediately, I leapt from the stoop and jumped on his back pummeling him with my tiny fists. “Get him off me!” he shouted as he tried to shake me off, and as if on command I felt hands tugging at me.

Then I was on the ground, right in the middle of Rose Street, surrounded by the stranger and three of his friends, friends that I hadn’t even noticed. They held me down under a barrage, fist dropping like fat hard raindrops. All I could do is flop around like an asphyxiating fish. I could hear shouts all around me, my neighbors coming to my rescue.

It was over almost as soon as it had started. The four of them ran away from the small mob that had come together to protect their French Fry. But it wasn’t really over. We were all still gathered in the middle of Rose Street buzzing as I assessed the damage— nothing serious: a few bruises and a scraped knee, blood trickling down my shin, when they came back down Rose Street. The stranger began to posture. “We got a gun. Now what are you gonna do?”

Still pumped full of adrenaline, furious at seeing Maria holding her swollen jaw, not seeing a gun, I ran into my house while the rest of the neighborhood joined in the verbal standoff. I did the most Puerto Rican thing I know. I grabbed a butcher knife, and flew back out the door towards the crew—a tiny kamikaze yelling, “You better be fast with that trigger!”

They ran. Again. This time I chased. The neighborhood chased with me. It wasn’t until I had run all the way to Lakewood that I’d noticed I was the only one still running. By then, it was too late. Blue flashers.

I finally get to tell my story as I’m being processed at the Eastern District Police Station. The officers laugh. “Kid, didn’t anybody ever tell you, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight?” Obviously, that officer doesn’t know any Puerto Ricans.

I spend the night on a hard cot with an itchy wool blanket before I’m released on my own recognizance the next morning. I get home to find out that Maria’s jaw was broken. It would have to remain wired shut for weeks. At least I can rest assured that she won’t be running her mouth again for a while.

Meanwhile, no one knows who the stranger is, or his friends, except maybe Teri; but she feigns ignorance. I get charged with carrying a concealed weapon with intent to injure, and they get off scot-free. There is no justice for a half-crazed Puerto Rican running down the street with a knife in Baltimore.