Ghetto rain





Rain brings truce to summer warfare here.

Silencing the boom-box shoulder-born cannons,

Needy ghetto boys cars to the corner

To advertise their whereabouts to God knows who.

They cling behind the steamed picture windows

Of neighborhood grocery stores, praying for the rain to stop

Or hover in the windows of their family homes like prisoners.


I watch the grayness of the day

And the ripple of rain assaulting each puddle,

Me, half expecting new life to evolve out of the mud.


Not all is still, of course, since the streets

Still squeals with panicking brakes

And the thump of delivery trucks over the humps

Of grave-like utility digs public service can’t quite fill,

Drivers cursing each other and the city for ruined shocks


Self-proclaimed auto mechanics rattle their ratchets

In the mud-streaked car port behind my house,

Rolling out their half-fixed classic cars

From the line of rented garages with leaky roofs

When rain permits,


Slick ghetto kids ease into the mouth of the driveway

With new machines, paid for by easy credit

Or drug sales on Third Street

Too dressed up, hair-greased too perfect, to risk the rain,

Leaning on their horns instead

To hurried the harried resident they’ve come to take

Car windows sealed tight against the wet

Yet vibrating with the heavy back beat of hip hop

Loud enough to raise even me from the death of sleep,

Vibrations so intense they spread through the court yard

Like a earthquake or a tooth ache,

Leaving me numb when they finally leave.


In between, I heard the rattle of the rain against the glass

And the impatient thumb of dribbled basketballs

In the sheltered alley where kids wait for the drops to stop

So they can hop over to the school yard courts,

The thump, thump, thump my heart soon imitates,

And I fear will stop, me, sealed up inside the coffin

Of my ghetto apartment, cut off from the world by

The constant dripping, no scent of sweet supper

Drifting in at me from the neighbor’s kitchen

No sound of the Latino gossip which always

Gives it spice,

Just me, myself and I, listening for something

I never quite hear, but ache for,

As if my life depended upon it.





Cobwebs round out the corners of the room,

Anchored in the cracks of pealing paint.

I wonder why I am here

My face reflected on the inside of dusty glass

My fingers gripping the splintered arms

Of a cracked wooden chair.


I keep thinking something must be wrong with me

For sitting here like this,

Yet I make no move to leave

I think the room is lonely instead of me.

I imagine the window shades and closet doors, mocking me.

Even the chair groans as I shift my weight,

And I think it is me.

I’m barely 27 and preparing myself for death

Needing to die for lack

Of anything better to do with my life

Yet I keep looking at my face reflected in the dusty glass

Trying to figure out,

Just exactly who it is I’m looking at.





They tell me not to worry

That I don’t have office spaces

Filled with love

No coaches for secretaries

After hours

In fact no office

Except for a phone booth

In Grand Central Station

Where I remain at almost any hour

Night or day.


My life is a party line

With two slick chicks

Pulling tricks,

Collecting nickels and times

For me as charity.


Ugly as they are,

They sometimes get lucky,

Scoring five dollars

For a trip to the toilet,

Ten if the john wants more

Than a warm mouth

Each man dressed in business suit

Carrying a brief case

And a wallet full of wives and kids


Some call for reservations

Then flock in

Their pockets stocked

With ripe bananas

Each voice still whispering

As if still on the phone

Their palms full of sweat

And their eyes full of acid


Some men want men

To accommodate them

Which doesn’t pay as much

As my girls do,

Or as much as my shinning shoes

Used to, though I still get down

On my knees.


I hate my face being inches

From the edge of a greasy toilet

And look for lingering lice

While the man above me moans,

I always ache from something better

Something more than the grunting impact

Of man inside man,

Wondering why my turn never comes.





The change comes in little ways

A name or in tainted snow

She stands so small

Baby riding her hip as if a saddle,

She looking staggered, stomped or stone.

I ask if she is in pain

Does she feel the miles

She’s been dragged along

At the end of her rope,

Her dreams banging asphalt

And dusty roads,

Old cowboy movies

Paint the scene just right,

Maybe even Greek myths,

She is Hector, not Helen,

Dying ignobly,

Harassed by life

Even after the fact.





The forest is new

Only the trees are old,

Roots transplanted

From a more innocent age,

Lined up against

The barroom wall

Like ten pins


Sweet young women

Swaying in the breeze

Of cool rock

And hot cocaine


Stone axes blazing

Through them from the stage

Search them like cops

From limb to limb,

Stealing their virginity

With a stare and

Seductive wind of sound


Bay Bunyan types

In t-shirts and jeans

Kicking the heals of Reebok sneakers

On the chair rain,

Waiting for their chance

To climb on for the ride,

Each endangered tree

Drawn to the heat

Of this budding

Forest fire





You walk by night

Strolling streets of broken beer bottles

And littered with the carcasses of shattered men,

Star light illuminating their faces

Their eyes glittering with dripping tears

Of self pity.


It is never easy living in a concrete jungle

Beating back weeds of desire with will

Rather than machete

Brushing off Roman hands

Without Rosary beads


But you love the scene

A silky lady with loose hair

Whispering around your face,

Your fingers flirting with each strand.


You know you don’t need them

And they know it, too,

Though they never stop pelting you

With tired lies, offers of drink

And, of course, more.


You like the danger, too,

The precarious fly strolling

Over the outer edges of a spider’s web

Taunting the dark bulk

With your delicate vibrations


They think you are inviting them

When you’ve come merely to mock,

They think you are happy to see them

When you want only drink of cocaine

They think they have a chance with you

When all you ever really want

Is to walk lightly in the dark





“It’s a lazy way to spend the day,”

she says leaning back against

the splintered porch rail,


Two flights up and dreaming

Of that paneled apartment

We saw above the head shop

She says she will miss this view.


She says the new place is upscale

A better place to bring a baby

Though her heart always gets restless

This time of year,

Stirred up by the rustle of

September leaves.


She says she’ll mist the view

That narrow space between the trees

Where a silver sliver of the river runs

Cutting through out lives

Like a scalpel.


It is a slice so small we might not

Recognize the river at all

If the old landlord never pointed it out,

One of the attractions he gave us

When suckering us into moving in,

Giving us green trees and fresh waters

The way white men gave blankets

To Native American Indians.


“It’s a lazy way to spend the day,”

she says, coughing back unwanted tears

as she hurries off to finish packing

for our two block trip to new digs

and rooms without a view





They locked him away

Like a rare stamp

Postage due,

Brain expansion

Pressing against his already

Weary skull

The stroke a legal notice

For eviction,

Testimony on

How he has lived his life,

Bad diet,,

Too much booze,

And a tendency towards perversion,

Me, standing at his door

My hat in hand,

Waiting for the nurses to decide

If a nephew was

A close enough relative to let in,

Fascists in white

Prophesying the next generation,

More death merchants

Than the street pushers,

Who sell hope on the street,

Waiting for the moment

When they can declare him dead

And can stamp him with

The cancellation notice,

One less soul left to circulate

Among the living





They teach you first to be tough

To get your shit together, man,

Or get the hell out,

The congestion of school desks,

The sock top switch blades

The fights in the street

The real report cards,

Jungle halls strew with potential victims,

The frightened weak ones

Bending over backwards or forwards

To keep from getting beat up,

By meaty boys of any color

Who used any kind of excuse

To get the girls to giggle

Being too smart,

Wearing glasses to thick or not hip

Being too straight

Or honest,

Or talking to the cops

Who are as bad as thugs,

Talking to teachers too frightened

To do anything,

Except to survive,

Thinking “better you than me,”

Turning deaf, dumb and blind

As you get raped or drugged,

Never seeing your bruised face

When you come into class,

Never hearing the beasts outside

Until you come in with a gun

And start shooting,

At which point

Everybody asks:

What’s wrong with you?





They gave the storm a name

And now it pursues us,

Beating a path up from the south,

They say, to soon knock on our doors.


This is no bluff like the puff pieces

Of past storms,

But one thick with bent trees

And ruined lives,

TV images showing South Carolina’s

Blurred faces and strewn lawns,

Trash and leaves whirling by the camera

Along with reports of death.


I sit in my Passaic apartment

Casting a glance at my world,

Walls heavy with books which I envision

Cast down and over-turned,

The scent of spilled cologne rising

From not yet shattered bottles.


In my mind, I ride highways before the storm

Seeing its wrath in my rear view mirror,

Hearing its roar in the back of my head,

Yet for some reason, unable to stay ahead of it,

Losing ground inch by inch,

I feel its storm clouds creeping over me,

I feel the cold chill of its painful touch

I scene myself being sucked up into it,

And know I will never escape it,

Even as my cat purrs and rubs against my leg,

I reach down, fingers feeling fur,

In a desperate effort to touch

Something real.



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