I have traveled the pitted miles of melting asphalt
overlaid on rows of peeling houses with cardboard windows;
adorned with grandmothers in white gowns and pink slippers
rocking in rusting metal chairs, as if waiting.
I have warmed my bare feet on their fraying braided rings of ancient rugs
stretched across cold wooden floors of their parlors;
the smell of rubbing alcohol loitering in the room.
I have seen the youths of these cross-patched neighborhoods
riding on the amber waves of their veins,
their pain rising with the tide of the needle in their skin;
their faces turning red, then white, then blue.
I have seen that early light of dawn etched on the shadows of alleys
hidden by a carefree moon,
transforming the glittering neon streets
into dingy avenues of stacked cases of half-empty beers dripping on the walk
onto the cardboard forms snoring in the subway stairs.
I have slept in the doorways of the finest of establishments,
my face against etched glass and the disapproving glance of the night watchman;
my hands and feet wrapped in gray cloth discarded at the Goodwill drop;
my blanket yesterdays NASDAQ quotes neatly layered
over my sweat-soured pants and shirt.
I have sat in the puddles of the colonias
waiting on the open pit to rise in flame
as papa skewers the tire- scarred skinless carcass of an old jackrabbit
too slow to cross the road;
while my sister feasts on the green mud soaking our skin.
I have stood on Telegraph Tower, breathless from the climb
as black limousines pull into the circle to watch the red dusk,
my skin tight on my failing frame;
avoiding the glances of the plush children emerging from the cars
pointing at the skinny man with the sores on his face.
I have watched the ramparts of the Galveston Sea Wall
while hauling in a net of stinging shrimp,
my skin fouled with the smell of dead life,
staring at the young girls in pink and red thongs
lying prone on unfolded chairs, charring their skin.
I have seen the red glare in Fallujah
angry voices casting stones
at a burning Humvee
the spoils of victory
the tarnish of success
I have seen the burnt stalks in dry rows
being pulled by men with dirty dripping brows,
the skin on their hands broken and torn from the fine edges
of the crackling, crumbling leaves;
their stomachs aching from the fear of the coming winter.
I have seen the homes of the brave men,
crumpled in wheeled-chairs, their medals pinned to their shirts,
as their wavering hands lightly touch their faces in salute
to the raising of the morning flag;
their raspy voices restating their pledge.
I have seen the land of the free men;
their spangled flag draped over them,
as blackened widows stagger to their boxes
laying down one last rose
before the silver platform of belts and wheels
affixes them to the earth.
(Originally published in Cosmic Debris 1997)