As the riders step out into the glum,
deadbeat day, greasy, thick, and the dingy air
crawls from the door to my seat—I think
of the time hands tightened around my throat
and face. How from the off-white wall,
my legs dangled, and he slung me to the floor.
I could not read it, the word that got me beaten
and bloody. Sounding it out ruh-ing—
knocked upside my head for not knowing
what I was spelling meant, r-i-n-g. I step
onto the grid, Western Avenue, where on either side
of the street the guts of houses still stand,
rickety on their foundations.
Work 6 blocks, on the corner of McKinley,
where inside I stack dishes, clean grease traps
and flip burgers. Two blocks, through an alley, craggy,
shattered bottles of Mickey's, the smell of grease.
I see a mutt, its coat almost cinder-gray, mangy
at the tail and neck, sniffing its way through a bag
of trash it must have gnawed open with its teeth.
Mobbing out of the alley and onto NW 23rd,
a store—every window barred, folks out front,
leaning up against the wall, paper-bagged bottles in hand.
I walk to a cooler of beer and find the tallest,
cheapest can of malt. Rattle of change,
the beeping door, back out on 23rd.
Twilight, 90 degrees, some kids shirtless,
licking Red Bomber popsicles, ice-cream truck
chiming its way up the block. As I make
my way through McKinley Park, I remember
the time, amid an onslaught of lights,
the cops found a teenager in the parking-
lot dumpster, shot through the dome.
How do I sound it out, even still, dreading
a barrage of blows coming after every misread
word? How do I spell grease popping
up from the grill and onto my face and hands?
On break, cigarette burning on my lips,
wheeling a load of soggy-bagged trash
to the dumpster, reminds me that the bus driver
said the victim was a kid that lived on 10th
and Kelly, and that the gunman is still a mystery.