Let us, instead, consider the pockets 
Martin Rodriguez sewed onto the insides 
of his jacket and pants. 
                                      This was 5th grade.
This isn’t about the fact that he got caught 
jacking a bunch of shit from Market Spot. 
All of us wished we’d thought of it first. 
                                                                 We need 
to stay focused on those extra pockets. How 
big those caverns must have been—that fortune 
of whispered temptation. 
                                           Boy-genius, we said. 
Pockets for bags of apple-rings, beef jerky. A Pepsi 
2-liter. Crunch bars. Cans of Cactus Cooler, 
maybe. The lonely monster of desire bent us 
away from boyhood, made it something small 
that we wanted to toss rocks at. 
                                                    Rolls of Oreos 
in those pockets. Enough Doublemint gum 
to anchor friends on a green recess field. A few
sheets of temporary tattoos to offer in class 
while Mrs. Hawkins continued her lesson 
on the Gold Rush. 
                               I can see those pockets 
pomegranate when pulled apart: a bloom 
of endings across the Market Spot parking lot 
as he tried to run. Bomb Pop ice cream bars, 
or the cartoon kind with gumballs for eyes, 
oozing out. 
                   Look, I am talking about collapse. 
As always. The rest of the poem wants to go 
like this: I don’t know what happened 
to Martin Rodriguez. He never came back
to school. But the truth is he returned to class 
the next day. 
                     We stood in a circle, laughing 
about what he took until the day Manny 
got caught smoking weed. Then we talked 
about that until someone’s cousin got shot 
after school by the computer lab. We played 
Oregon Trail on Thursdays. None of us 
could ever cross the river. I kept dying 
of snake bite. 
                       We got older and painted walls 
for different crews. We became enemies, me 
and Martin, drawing exes over each other. We 
turned into no one, and then, 
                                                finally, we became 
fathers. I saw him, years later, with his son. 
We crossed each other on the street. Both of us 
nodded and kept on moving toward the sidewalk. 
So many years collapsing into each other, 
I thought. 
                  Someone has changed the sign 
in front of the store. But if I say Market Spot
today, the homie points to where we watched 
the cashier jump the counter and snatch Martin 
into the air, splicing it with sugar. The sharp kick 
of a boy’s legs. A body jolted into enough quiet 
that police were called. Officers with notepads, 
                the cashier waving flies away from his face.

Related Poems

from Forgetting Willie James Jones

1.

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 resuscitate,

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.

Mercy, Mercy, Me

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.

You Rode a Loop

You rode your bike from your house on the corner to the dead end of the street, and turned it around at the factory, back to the corner again. This was the loop your mother let you ride, not along the avenue with its cavalcade of trucks, or up the block where Drac the Dropout waited to plunge his pointy incisors into virginal necks. You can't remember exactly your age, but you probably had a bike with a banana seat, and wore cutoff jeans and sweat socks to the knees. You are trying to be precise but everything is a carbon-like surface that scrolls by with pinpricks emitting memory’s wavy threads. One is blindingly bright and lasts only seconds: You are riding your bike and the shadowy blots behind the factory windows’ steel grates emit sounds that reach and wrap around you like a type of gravity that pulls down the face. You can’t see them but what they say is what men say all day long, to women who are trying to get somewhere. It’s not something you hadn’t heard before. But until then, you only had your ass grabbed by boys your own age—boys you knew, who you could name—in a daily playground game in which teachers looked away. In another pin prick, you loop back to your house, where your mother is standing on the corner talking to neighbors. You tell her what the men said, and ask, does this mean I’m beautiful? What did she say? Try remembering: You are standing on the corner with your mother. You are standing on the corner. This pinprick emits no light; it is dark, it is her silence. Someday you will have a daughter and the dead end will become a cul de sac and all the factories will be shut down or at the edges of town, and the men behind screens will be monitored, blocked. And when things seem safe, and everything is green and historic and homey, you will let her walk from school to park, where you’ll wait for her, thanks to a flexible schedule, on the corner. And when she walks daydreaming along the way and takes too long to reach you, the words they said will hang from the tree you wait under.