Trap Music

            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
to say

             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.

I’m told
that rappers name themselves
            now with Lil or Young followed
            by randomly chosen abstractions: Lil e.g.
                                                           Young i.e.

                         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
            primer-painted Glasshouse

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.