from Forgetting Willie James Jones
It's not water to wine to swallow harm,
though many of us have,
and changing the name
of Ozark Street to Willie Jones Street,
won't expose how the sun roars across rows of faces
at the funeral for a seventeen-year-old-boy,
won't stop the double slapping
of the screen door against a frame,
causing a grandmother, by habit, to yell out, Willie.
It can't deafen the trophies in a dead teenager's room.
That day in '94 I felt strong.
I walked down the street with nickel bags of weed
in the belt loops of my Dickies,
and a bandana strung from my pocket.
That's when I thought trouble could be run from,
could be avoided by never sitting
with your back to the door
or near a window.
I swore by long days and strutted along a rusted past,
shook dice and smoked with the boys
that posted on the corners:
and men cruising in coupes, men built so big
they took up both seats,
I rode with them that summer.
That was the season death walked alongside us all,
wagging its haunches and twisting its collared neck
at a bird glittering along a branch.
Willie was shot in that heat,
with a stolen pistol,
in the front yard of a party.
It poked a hole
no bigger than a pebble
in his body.
The shooters came from my high school:
we sometimes smoked in the bungalow
bathrooms during lunch.
A few weeks before Willie got shot,
Maurice had been killed—
An awning after rain,
Maurice and Willie
sagged from the weight.
Some say it is better
to be carried by six
than judged by twelve.
Some say the summer of '94
in Southeast San Diego
was just another summer.
Copyright © 2015 by David Tomas Martinez. From Hustle (Sarabande Books, 2014). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.