Wet Charles dropped by the homeboys
in his busted high-top burgundy Chucks, hand
out for a buck, or two, from us young bucks,
also rocking Chucks, trying to cop a couple ends
for a few gallons of gas or diapers for his newborn
daughter. Wet Charles could spin into splits. Quick
he never begged, traded, or borrowed
anything he couldn’t first steal. The highest point
in many homes is the attic. The jester’s hat
jingles. The dope fiend’s pipe rings.
Is it the fire or the smoke that makes a comedian?
Even when I mad-dogged Charles, telling him
to kick rocks with them ashy-as-hell Chucks
I never actually looked into the stones
of his eyes. I had known him since childhood,
we all had, before he began chasing a rock
up and down a hill.
Stoned every day. Think of addiction as never being
able to find your phone. We were not embarrassed
by Charles but by what we might one day become.
The way bigger sand tiger shark embryos
feed on smaller embryos in the womb,
we served classmates we had joked with in gym.
Slanging dope smokes up your sense of humor.
We never understood why the police chuckled
“circumstances” as the reason for harassing us
when we stood in a circle smoking on the block.
Charles didn’t dozen about dope, just surged
in his circuit, looking for ways to get high.
Biking from the trolley to the Four Corners
of Death, the intersection of Euclid and Imperial:
Greene Cat Liquor, Réal taco shop, the gas station,
what was Huffman’s BBQ,
where the only constant were entrepreneurial
young men setting up corners in front of constantly
changing businesses with hastily painted front windows,
where the persistence of the C
in “Chicken Shack”
could still be seen on the glass door
of the new no contract cell phone store.
Archetypes have a way of worming into beauty.
The flaw is the small writing of a hero.
Through what crack did Orpheus
sneak a minute fire from hell?
The sweet chemical scent of someone smoking rock
in a broken light bulb is a plasticity I can’t forget.
I didn’t pay any mind to the moralism of Nancy Reagan’s
eggs or D.A.R.E. commercials in the eighties.
As we went most of those dampened days lighting
something, or other, listening to the mercurial philosophies
of Ice Cube, Wu-Tang, Spice-1,
or Sugar Free. We smoked water, or what a hip
toxicologist might nasally call angel dust.
You can be full of agua and not well.
If you’re not careful, time will find you a fiend.
that rappers name themselves
now with Lil or Young followed
by randomly chosen abstractions: Lil e.g.
Back in the stone age of hip-hop,
in the early nineties,
late eighties, so the stories go, rappers
went into the kitchen and whatever
they had milk and honey
of, voila, they had their stage name.
I was just another empty, scattered wrapper
on a sidewalk in the city.
That’s how I became Slim Jim.
Though, that was more about stealing
cars than beef.
We would spend summer evenings at the wooden
roller coaster in Pacific Beach, never going
on the ride but circling the beautiful
boardwalk that was only slightly less majestic
than the older homie’s
convertible with three tall
white walls and one ever altering spare.
Everything was so gorgeous in the back
seat of that Impala.
The moon was so brilliant in the sky.
It was quite the shiner.
I’d watch the women around my way
rub petroleum jelly on their forehead,
then their cheekbones, before a fight.
Taking off your golden earrings
does not make hearing
the truth any easier, but that water
made the bass and elasticated cadence
of “Pocket Full of Stones” even more
resonant as we waded the highways home
from the rollercoaster with a trunk full of
18” box speakers rattling our bodies:
six sixteen-year-olds in the cramped
back seat of a Datsun Wagon trying
to release our own trapped music.
Copyright © 2021 by David Tomas Martinez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 10, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.