Little Child Runnin’ Wild
Smooth peals of Curtis Mayfield offer the story,
a warning that repeats too many times in cities
all over the world. The third person turns into
love letter because each time the song plays
in the heads of young players, they think
I didn’t have to be here. Curtis keeps singing
as if he’s pointing out that a game is always
set for losers and winners who look nothing
like Harlem. Expect the next move to be
a against a jaw, a 2 x 4 in a dark hallway,
an overdose of a friend who knows too much.
Curtis knows it’s all finance, the brutality
of paper and coins, and a chess board is easily
checked by whoever can afford the most knights.
Sad, quiet eyes and plotting minds populate portraits
in the world’s cities, but not one of them is a still life
until they turn the wrong corner on the wrong day
fallen through the trap door of alley and after dark,
maybe the same places where their mamas called
them from before streetlights brightened into curfew
above their once small heads. Streetlights excite
more than dim living room lamps and glimmer
on a roach’s back. Each player imagines clothes
crisp as vines, Cadillacs with more shine than those
old streetlights, women like new leather coats
for every day of the week, while Curtis keeps ringing
in ears beneath taut brims holding each choice
as close as long lost relief pleading Let me be.
Let me be. Let me be.
The White Mouse Will Not Explode
The blue tomcat stays glued to the radio
rolls the volume knob with his agile paw
adjusts to hear the pointed bulletin. White
mouse ingests explosives and escapes labs
that still exist. Repeat—the white mouse will
explode. Tom slams the window shut, peers
into the night’s blue toward tall hedges, fences.
He takes a break from taunting a brown mouse
who simply wants a corner, a fraction of home
that magnifies into palace when he’s swatted
from refrigerator into a wall as juvenile comic
relief. Jerry, the mouse, smacks his imprint
into the plaster, jiggles a shelf and tips loosely
capped shoe polish fit for first communion shoes.
The mouse lies in the milky pool, eyes closed as
Tom quivers through a radio warning. Be careful.
The white mouse will explode. Jerry realizes
and flaunts his liberty like a cheap cocktail ring
snaps his tail at the cat, compels Tom to smash
his own head beneath piano top, hammer head,
and fear, a dish served via satellite and flat screen
to domesticate people trembling indoors.
When Jerry splashes into dishwater, he loses
his white threat, dripping from his sienna fur.
Tom holds him up to a mirror, dropkicks him
from the front door, only to offer oblivious
welcome to the combustible rodent who hints
at the color of ashes. Tom tries to launder this
white from the intruder he could drown until
the radio blares—The white mouse will not
explode. Tom becomes equal opportunity when
he opens the window for a goalpost kick, mimicking
the style of the conspicuously absent maid in kerchief.
Skies go black with technicolor firework blossoms,
so Tom discovers all mice are not separate but equal
or that one mouse might be more of a threat than
the other who cha-chas in your kitchen, so Tom
slowly states his admonition. Don’t you believe it.
A Soft, Bright Absence
Oddly enough, relief rises when he opens the door.
The steady thud of his steps, a falling night stick.
He holds me & my heart thumps like the pulse
of red & blue lights. The helicopter whir of anxiety
slows its chopping in my chest. When he’s late,
my searchlight does not go black. I breathe deeper
knowing that his rights have not been read.
His wrists cuffed only by crisp shirt & his father’s
bracelet, shiny as a revolved just cleaned.
When he says hey baby, hey honey, it is
a soft, bright absence of siren and megaphone.