Friday, January 15, 2010

Belmont and City Line Mid-day; Rough Draft

Snow lingers longest in the shadows
the cold clinging fingers of winter scrape and shape
sidewalks and front yards: crumbling concrete
bricks turned to dust in the tumult of shovels
and plows and beaten down lives.

Breath takes form against the cold
its beating heart alive only moments
as it shivers and dissipates into the lower atmosphere.

Snow and ice packed mounds line streets,
plastic and fake wood cheap chairs
put holds on street-side parking,
explaining to the value of hard work,
that though shovel and cold hand can undo
chemistry dropped from cloud and sky,
these spaces carved out not for passersby,
not for the weak of mind or frail of body:
in this city of brotherly love.

I leave work early, the price I pay for working with students on a cold December day.
Bundled against cold on otherwise clear day,
I navigate icy paths that mark haphazard sidewalks,
I turn the corner and quietly I pass three young men;
mere teenagers in the fast tick lives of African Americans.
Down Belmont toward a bus stop marked for the 40,
head down, looking forward to the evening of my birthday.

A yell fills the air between my ears,
I turn to look, three men huddled together:
against the cold?
Not another word, so I guess who would want to talk to me,
who would even know me, here where I work, here where
I pass only moments between bus stop and HLC.
I turn, and yet I wonder, did I drop something,
is some gentle spirit trying to help this wayward traveler?

Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet,
and another gruff yell, but I think if someone wants my attention,
better to address me than general utterances to the open air.
But still, I wonder, did I leave something drop?
Swinging my backpack onto one shoulder
I rummage, checking its contents.
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet.

I am now halfway down the block, halfway to the bus.
I turn again, these three men now following me,
now halfway again between me and the street corner.
“Can I help you guys with something?” I ask obviously impatient.
Still huddled, their thin leader asks, “What are you getting out of your bag?”
He sounds angry, perhaps slightly afraid.
It is now I know they do not come to return something I might have dropped,
but could they really think I mean to pull a gun on them?
I pull out a bus token.
Their fears extinguished, they stride towards me,
thin leader demands, “Give us a bus token.”
Anger tinges my voice, “I don't have anymore.”
“Give us some money,” as they walk closer.
“I don't have any.” I am lying,
but I'm yet unwilling to forsake the sixteen quarters I keep tucked deep in my bag,
emergency funds for emergency rides.

I sling my backpack back on, and turn, pace is quickened.
But they follow even quicker.
Soon amidst craggy mounds of ice and snow,
three boys, mere teens, their thin leader's teeth bound with braces,
surround me, thin leader demanding my money.
“I don't have any.”
They close in around me, one young thug comes in close in to my right,
thin leader to my left, another, perhaps a tag along, somewhat hides behind thin leader.

I look to my right, and a sudden jab marks a spot beneath my left ear where juts my neck and jaw.
Adrenaline fueled, I feel nothing,
Is this really happening? Are these puppy dog teens really trying to pull this off?
I quickly scramble over a snow mound, step out into a parking space,
create distance where none was before.
Pick up a chair, something to defend myself.
Thin leader insists, “If you hit me with that I'm gonna kick your ass.”
As if I was the aggressor, as if I came for plunder, as if I was the one to trouble a stranger with violence and intimidation.
I see traffic coming, so I step out into it, force the cars to stop, force someone to look around,
But already two have slunk back behind brace faced leader, slunk away not into shadow as this is mid-day, but slunk as if to create distance from themselves and their failed venture.
A sight I must have been! Rickety chair upheld, standing in the street!
But I turn to my left, and see my bus round the corner.
Get on the bus! Get out of here and onto my bus!
I drop the chair and sprint down the middle of the lane,
sprinting waving hands in frantic motion, but the driver doesn't see me.
And then, it slows to pick up an elderly lady, half hidden behind a telephone pole.
I run the final thirty feet, pull the token from my pocket, board the bus,
and am off.
Heart beating a thousand times a minute, mind racing.
And though my neck and jaw will be sore for a few days
I am otherwise unscathed.

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