Here comes a bottle in a bag,
a bag in a fist, a fist on an arm, an arm
waving, and a face pushed up close to mine.
In a dozen languages, it all sounds the same.
Mother says ignore those men.
And here come the trucks with their horns
and their drivers, and there is a trench
dug in the street, with men crawling in
with picks and flashlights, hunting
the pipes that have broken, and here men
and boys stop to watch, while women keep walking.
Each step parts the thighs and quick close.
Because there are smiles that predict attack
and hands hanging loose at the sides,
hands that have stroked small animals,
or turned into fists that beat faces.
And there is a ten-year-old practicing
spitting at pigeons. The pigeons fly up
and return, and I cross the street to avoid
three men, and on the next corner, meet four.
There are dogs with long noses, and birds
with feet sticky from the gutters, and there is
the wet sound men make with their mouths
when I pass, and things they do with their hands
without ever touching me, that make it all
very clear. And there are some men
who are different, who open doors
and dial telephones, and these are the men
my mother hoped I would meet—men with houses
and manners, and clean underwear, men
who will give me their arms, get me a cab,
build me a house somewhere safe because
I’m theirs and shouldn’t be left
on my own in this dangerous city.
You’d kill anyone who tried anything with me.
You’ve bought a lock for my door
and a grate for my window; you want to know
where I go at night, and with whom;
you want to know why, and I’ll tell you—
an answer I never learned at home
that says the men my mother warned me of
run free as dogs; they run in packs sometimes
and tear up anything they find.
And there are some men
who are hunters, and like hunters
they have learned to wait. You’re here
when I come home, chased down, your own
sweet fox, your tired doe, to eat
from your hand, to rest by your side until morning.