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History of the Highways

ISSUE:  Spring 1995
                  — with thanks to RP


They don’t teach us the right things,
I thought, riding down the Merritt Parkway.
Did this road have merit,
or was Merritt just a famous guy?
There’s a pass on the Parkway
after the cemeteries of Queens,
only tar spattered grass in the shade of black elms—nothing
For thirty seconds or so,
there’s not a building in sight.


We had no history:
our Revolution wasn’t here,
didn’t involve tea
or fathers who followed us across the sea
like runaways.
Old men swaying like pendulums in the subways
when the wrong train passed
would hiss the toothless consonants:
potatoes, steitel, famine, Vodka:
like a litany, the music of what happened.
The Fourth of July, Civil Rights
Blacks held captive on other peoples’ ships.


It’s raining babies, it’s raining little sisters
off the roofs of Canarsie’s apartment buildings.
That’s what’s in the news, that’s what sells.
Juanita’s mother told us not to walk the streets:
you never know what might come down.


The guy upstairs, a transit cop on the night shift
dances to disco at two a. m.. When we complained
he came down like Moses from the Mount,
service revolver in hand.
My father answered with the Ml—
only I knew it couldn’t fire:
just before they took mother away to St. Vincent’s
the last time, my uncle waited for her to lower the rifle
and took the firing pin. That’s not in the news.
It doesn’t sell because it’s already in every home.


Eddie Medina, raped in the school yard
at lunch, with your pear smooth body
borne like a body on a bier by the Cabalerros
to Jésus with the big teeth, because you like books,
because you were a traitor, a fairy honors spic.
Oh, Eddie, why did you believe them:
pick up the books and become a man again.


Take the Meritt, take the Beltway—
stock boys dance like chorus girls
down the shoulders each night,
and who sees them go?
Nobody writes that history,
we’ll tell you we don’t remember
we’ll tell you we didn’t see
what the wheel struck on the dark road out.


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