IN THE COUNTY FOR A PR
(Petition to Revoke Probation)
What did I know of the ghetto?
Or of a big, black man from Chicago?
My Cabrini Green was a laughing track.
Reruns of Good Times kept me company,
home alone after school, a white girl
whose parents had freshly divorced,
suddenly on free lunch in the trailer park.
Fascinated that Penny Woods was Janet Jackson
and that a dude like J.J. could land a stone cold fox.
At that point, no one could imagine Florida
as a crack feign. Not when Bobby sang,
“I found a tender Roni and the Roni is so right
I think I’m gonna love her for the rest of my life.”
At that point, no one knew his Roni was the Princess of Pop,
or that she would die in the communal bathtub.
Xanax in the water is like blood to the shark.
Not even Elvis foresaw that the boy
with the runny nose would grow up to be
Tupac Shakur. That he would fuck
his bitches, then use his .44
to make sure all his kids don’t grow.
But these songs did not quite match your own.
Without bravado, you were shot in the back
four times. By whom, you’ll never know.
You survived. That was all. A bullet, encased
in the spine, left you with a nervous twitch
and the inability to trust your own blood.
When I met you, you were sleeping on the floor
of some lady you had just met,
but I knew where to beg for subsistence,
and before long, we had found you
a HUD-approved slum. No matter.
Finally at 41, you had place of your own.
On a bright blue day, the charcoal smoke drifted
down to the parking lot, and there you were
on the balcony, spreading your warmth
like crumbs over the twice baked mac’n’cheese.
You offered me a pork chop. You were
shouting: “Sky’s the limit, motherfuckers!”
That afternoon, you could erase a childhood
of cartoons and cockroaches. You could
to read, get a GED, go to college, become
maybe even smoke a little weed…
Then one dirty drug screen, and you’re back
in the county again. I pick up the black phone,
sticky with hairspray, and look up at the screen.
At night, keep your ass to the wall or mattress,
and sleep like a leopard listening for hyenas,
and ignore the swastika on the ankle of the Aryan brother,
your cellmate, try not to wring his scrawny, pale neck when he says
stupid-ass shit about The Races, or complains about the oatmeal.
Remember it’s a Class C felony if you rough him up,
a Class A if you really enjoy it. Try not to think
the penitentiary, a thought that repeats like a car alarm
you wish somebody would turn the fuck off.
Instead, try reading 2 Corinthians 1:4 for the 80th time,
or listening to Lady Gaga troll through the PA system
every 20 minutes, Rah-ga-ga-ooh-la-la. I want your love.
I want your ugly. I want your disease. Write your woman
and remember the smoothness of her feet. Do whatever
it takes to get through, hell, if you need privacy
to take a shit, then throw the damn blanket over your head.
You’ll make yourself sick holding it in.
I ask if you called your PD. You shake your head.
A lot of good it would do now. Then I hold up
receipts. All fees paid, a mistake was made.
Like an elephant calf in India, pulling and twisting,
beside a field at night. His right ankle chained to a tree.
He pulls and twists until the iron cuts the hide, bleeding.
After a while, the farmer only has to tie a twine to the same
ankle and wrap it around a bamboo pole, stabbed into the dirt.
When the elephant feels resistance, he lies down to sleep.
But what if you and I woke up to our rage?
The rage caused by generations of neglect.
Would it become a stampede? Not of elephants
or gangstas but of Martin Luther Kings.
One by one, they would take our faces in their
hands and turn them away from our screens.
Up to the sun, reigning over a lush, green field,
where no longer blinded by this artificial light,
we could go in any direction that we chose.
—from Rattle #37, Summer 2012