Luis J. Rodríguez
The Concrete River
We sink into the dust, Baba and me, Beneath brush of prickly leaves; Ivy strangling trees--singing Our last rites of locura. Homeboys. Worshipping God-fumes Out of spray cans. Our backs press up against A corrugated steel fence Along the dried banks Of a concrete river. Spray-painted outpourings On walls offer a chaos Of color for the eyes. Home for now. Hidden in weeds. Furnished with stained mattresses And plastic milk crates. Wood planks thrust into thick branches serve as roof. The door is a torn cloth curtain (knock before entering). Home for now, sandwiched In between the maddening days. We aim spray into paper bags. Suckle them. Take deep breaths. An echo of steel-sounds grates the sky. Home for now. Along an urban-spawned Stream of muck, we gargle in The technicolor synthesized madness. This river, this concrete river, Becomes a steaming, bubbling Snake of water, pouring over Nightmares of wakefulness; Pouring out a rush of birds; A flow of clear liquid On a cloudless day. Not like the black oil stains we lie in, Not like the factory air engulfing us; Not this plastic death in a can. Sun rays dance on the surface. Gray fish fidget below the sheen. And us looking like Huckleberry Finns/ Tom Sawyers, with stick fishing poles, As dew drips off low branches As if it were earth's breast milk. Oh, we should be novas of our born days. We should be scraping wet dirt with callused toes. We should be flowering petals playing ball. Soon water/fish/dew wane into A pulsating whiteness. I enter a tunnel of circles, Swimming to a glare of lights. Family and friends beckon me. I want to be there, In perpetual dreaming; In the din of exquisite screams. I want to know this mother-comfort Surging through me. I am a sliver of blazing ember entering a womb of brightness. I am a hovering spectre shedding scarred flesh. I am a clown sneaking out of a painted mouth in the sky. I am your son, amá, seeking the security of shadows, fleeing weary eyes bursting brown behind a sewing machine. I am your brother, the one you threw off rooftops, tore into with rage--the one you visited, a rag of a boy, lying in a hospital bed, ruptured. I am friend of books, prey of cops, lover of the barrio women selling hamburgers and tacos at the P&G Burger Stand. I welcome this heavy shroud. I want to be buried in it-- To be sculptured marble In craftier hands. Soon an electrified hum sinks teeth Into brain--then claws Surround me, pull at me, Back to the dust, to the concrete river. Let me go!--to stay entangled In this mesh of barbed serenity! But over me is a face, Mouth breathing back life. I feel the gush of air, The pebbles and debris beneath me. "Give me the bag, man," I slur. "No way! You died, man," Baba said. "You stopped breathing and died." "I have to go back!...you don't understand..." I try to get up, to reach the sky. Oh, for the lights--for this whore of a Sun, To blind me. To entice me to burn. Come back! Let me swing in delight To the haunting knell, To pierce colors of virgin skies. Not here, along a concrete river, But there--licked by tongues of flame!