A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
You’re the watermark who impresses me
years later. If you’ve lived, you’d be 33,
the age Jesus, forsaken, took the nails.
13 in juvenile jail, Texas,
you net cred for good behavior
to learn song in poetry.
Sweet boy dumbing your brain with Fry Sticks,
you mixed marijuana with embalming fluid,
making a more psychotic high.
When released you’d seek police for re-arrest,
blow smoke in an officer’s face for the cuffs
to lead you home safe to an eight-foot cell
and to the open arms of jail staff,
whose hearts were bars you pried apart
to give the caring you craved.
Class-clown, I loved you, hon,
would’ve adopted you if I’d had means,
after the day I saw this in your poem:
I just want to be a boy again.
Gangbanger at 16
you’d seen blood-sacrifice the older toughs lived
then taught you well. In for drugs, break-ins,
and assault, you boasted gang colors, flexed
the Latino 18 tattooed on your neck.
But you, Diego,
must have yearned to be known, when,
stone-faced, you folded poems to paper footballs,
palmed them to me like bindles of heroin; your
don’t fuck with me love notes
and squared, rocky shoulders
went soft over my comments in the privacy
of your cell. When you thought no one
was looking, your finger caressed my pen’s praise.
Knit one purl two, knit one purl—
With the most cred as a violent offender—
robbery and rape by 17—I’d watch you’d hunch
your tall, sinewy frame smaller
to meet the eyes of the gray-haired woman
whose kindness taught you to craft potholders
and buntings each week.
No one messed with your icy stare
but Sadie; she looked fearless of those massive fists
that had choked a woman near to death.
Sadie would rock in silence, reach blind
into her bag, pull baby pinks and blues
when you ran short of yarn.
I saw how you never complained, sat silent,
as if meditating, sometimes humming along
when she’d help you fix gnarled rows,
your sheer size she called a long drink of water,
bent into a lower-case C, to better hear her hum,
rocking as she knit your rescue.
Javi, 15, your sudden temper rocketing,
turned sullen as a cocked Glock
when the guard took the privilege of poetry class.
You asked me to write Jimmy Santiago Baca
after we read his memoir, to
please tell him my name.
Offering terrible poems as gifts,
you wanted to be a writer.
When we met on your release day,
with the boot camp director, your poems spilled
like fresh water from your hands, drifted
like maple leaves to the linoleum floor.
I gave you a leather journal
and pens you didn’t think you deserved.
Your eyes watery as Jesus’s
beneath his crown of thorns, moved
me to lie when you begged
Am I good?
Car theft, homicides, assaults,
robberies, terrorizing neighborhoods—
possible futures you wore as you urged,
Tell me, am I good?
Copyright 2018 Lindsey Royce