Friday, January 25, 2013

Touissant Avenue

My great-grandma boiled chitlins
in my grandma's kitchen. My dad says,
they smelled like something three days dead.
Grandma turned to grandpa, says "That's it,
she goes, or I go."
Granddad built a little house
for his mother and oldest sister, and they lived there

That was on Touissant Avenue alongside Belknap Avenue,
two long streets and a handful of dead-ends, little pocket of poverty
in an affluent suburb of the greatest city in the world-- New York,
Westchester County, City of Yonkers, Tuckahoe Road.
There was only one through street in that neighborhood,
only one way in or out of the neighborhood where my father was raised,
where my uncle was raised, where my cousins were born.
There was a railyard on one side and a golf course on the other
but those were not the barriers--
it was the red line.

Maybe you've heard it takes a village
to raise a child? It took a neighborhood,
this neighborhood, this red-lined neighborhood, to raise my dad
and send him off to an Ivy League college.
Every mother and father in every little house on Toussaint and on Belknap
knew he was the one, the one who'd get out, the one who was bound for something better.
Every kid knew not to come round asking my dad to play ball--
he had to do his homework, study for exams. Joined a national fraternity at Amherst College,
the Amherst chapter was expelled
for admitting him.
We're the lucky ones.
My uncle was left behind the red line.
My cousins were left behind the red line to grow up facing all the dangers that dark young men can face in cities.

My cousin went out in the street
to take a loaded shotgun from a drunken neighbor. He laughs,
telling me this. "Come on, man, you can't do this, gimme that thing, go home and sleep it off."
Said my cousin.
Now in every nightmare he wears Trayvon Martin's wounds and he tells me he was left,
my cousins were left,
left behind the red line.
And will you tell me no child
is left behind?

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

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