Mercy, Mercy, Me

John Murillo
Crips, Bloods, and butterflies.
   A sunflower somehow planted
in the alley. Its broken neck.
   Maybe memory is all the home
you get. And rage, where you 
   first learn how fragile the axis
upon which everything tilts.
   But to say you’ve come to terms 
with a city that’s never loved you
   might be overstating things a bit.
All you know is there was once
   a walk-up where now sits a lot,
vacant, and rats in deep grass
   hide themselves from the day.
That one apartment fire
   set back in ’76—one the streets
called arson to collect a claim—
   could not do, ultimately, what
the city itself did, left to its own dank
   devices, some sixteen years later.
Rebellions, said some. Riots, 
   said the rest. In any case, flames;
and the home you knew, ash.
   It’s not an actual memory, but
you remember it still: a rust-
   bottomed Datsun handed down,
then stolen. Stripped, recovered,
   and built back from bolts.
Driving away in May. 1992.
   What’s left of that life quivers 
in the rearview—the world on fire,
   and half your head with it.

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from Notes on the Shape of Absence

We trace the dust lines left behind from the appliances, fumble for the brick foundations between the steel beams, peer at serrated stairlines where the wall paints stopped. Reincarnated. Tenement apartments become dance spaces without barres or mirrors, in the dank basement of a bank on Market Street, in anonymous green-carpeted rooms on Mott Street.