My Pops Says He Wants His Popeyes Hot

by Bernardo Wade


I take Exchange Alley
pass the parking lot
of the Montelone
where Shorty—
for years, our baby
-sitter—valets cars
& tonight
as I cross the street
he throws me
a half-hearted salute
like he didn’t, just
last week, burn
my teenage ears
when he confessed
his fetish for
women impregnated
by other men.

I nod back
making my way
toward Canal

wondering why
back at home
my sister sits
not doing shit
while I gotta
get the dinners
walk the dogs
make the groceries
or visit the queer
little man down at
the Whitney,
who gives me ugly looks
when I hand him
my pops’s checks.

I’m not mad
it's just sometimes
I get tired
of my own two feet

or I’ve grown
nervous, in a way,
of the Quarter’s less lit
side, where people
act a fool
right on the street

like the man I saw
over there
near the Mexican joint
that’s never open,
playing with himself
he looked over his shoulder
right at me
hopeful I might give him
the satisfaction
of a soft eye
but, like I been taught,
didn’t look down
or too up

but straight like a man
with no question
marks in his mouth
I stayed cool
embarrassed for him so

I crossed the alley
knowing if he followed
I’d be ready
& just the thought
of this, if I’m honest,
makes my eyes hurt
& reminds me
of the blood

just a lil bit further
down this alley
that followed
like a shadow
the boy
who met a knife
inside the Burger King

how when the door
swung open

the screams from inside
followed him out
as they seemed to open
wider his eyes
that searched everywhere
just before
they found mine

& I wanted to run
because it felt like
he’d pried open,
within me, a feeling
I like to keep shut,
found what my pops calls
my sweet side,
stuck his head in
& begged please,
make it stop!

then he fell back reaching
toward something,
I believe, only he
& I could see
because for a moment
the alley went
bright with what looked like
great wings & I thought
thank God, this a dream

but no, 12’d pulled up
& it was their lights
whipping up the walls
coming down
brightening the faces
of those who’d swarmed
out like termites
the heavy air
of the crime scene

the boy, the blood
fell through time

because I blinked
& was, somehow,
waiting in line,
like nothing ever happened,
like I am now,
at the Popeyes
thinking, dang I forgot
to change

Renard is here
working the fry,
his big toothy smile
beautiful & sly
in that way that makes
whatever diss he serves
a little less cruel,
almost okay,

he screams, look!
catholic boy here!
five minutes on the chicken!
tell ya daddy you gon be quick today!

& his co-workers smirk
as he makes prayer hands
then points to my shirt—
its khaki too tight fit
part of a Jesuit uniform
for the midnight shift
he says, shouldn’t you
be studying or something?

which is another way of saying,
damn, my pops
be trippin’ too

or I’mma show you love
‘cause I know this
ain’t for you

or look at you!
trying to act hard
in that tight ass shirt

& before I can get
tight, or at least
look as though,
he’s distracted
by a group of girls
just stumbled in
carrying those grenade
drinks that smell
like the sewers
on Bourbon.


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