By David Schein
© David Schein 1997
If I could pin
the face of the boy who raised that bat
and brought it down so wordlessly on the head of the other boy
to one of the hundreds of polaroids the cops showed me
the case might break and they might get their man
which is too large a word for this kid.
He stood in front of me
long enough for anyone to snap
before he crossed the street with his partner
snuck up on that boy at the bus stop
raised a bat and broke his skull open.
The cops have been here twice with their photographs
asking me of what I'm absolutely sure.
That his head was shaved
that he was fourteen fifteen
had a fox face
and looked more Puerto Rican than Mexican
that he and another boy popped out
from behind a red truck
and were suddenly on the sidewalk
not five feet in front of me
talking code with head jerks like a couple at a party
as I sipped my Margarita on the restaurant patio
and watched the conversation of their eyes
imagining stupidly something like:
"You wanna eat here?" "Fuck no lets go"
in hindsight dead wrong and blind to where they would not look
the bus-stop across the street
where their target
waited with his girl
My daughter likes the leather and gun-oil smell
of the big cops with their summer shorts
and sizzling radios.
She grabs at the pictures on the living room floor
scattering my piles of Possibles Not Likelies
and Definitely Nots
thinking them toys brought by the big men
for daddy and her to play with
like her cards
of colorful clowns and clouds
these boys slouch in the Thirteenth Tac Squad's flash:
black boys tan boys light boys
piles of faces.
Definitely Nots: too black too white too old
Not Likelies: too fat too square too round
Possibles: young light-skinned
fawn faced like Felix the son of Maria
who cares for my daughter
Felix with a teardrop tatoo from prison left beneath his eye
so remarkably tender with my two year old
has been in jail for two months
and is not a candidate
but his face takes over my memory
as my girl kicks the pictures I've so carefully sorted
into one big mess on the floor.
"Did you hear them say anything?" "No
they were silent"
but the way they turned
a turn in three parts
leading with the head "There he is"
and turning back
then a half-step with shoulder elbow hip cocked.
"Are you ready?"
then turning back then "Here we go"
and so they turned
and walked out of my field of interest.
They've decided not to dine
getting back to my drink
that my wife would prolong her walk
with our baby girl who so loves to fish for ice
it's hard to drink in peace
when that swing
the corner of my eye wide open
to see that bat come down on that boy
and another swing that brought him to the pavement.
The woman screaming "Stop it stop it stahhhhp it"
finally clicked the shutter in my brain to tell me
this is not a picture, this is happening
finally set me running
to call for help.
But in this replay I cross the street, chair in hand
to block the second swing
and use the kick from the dojo
"Crane-claw with Twist"
to send the bat flying
and in that replay I calmly shoot
one of bad-boys in the ass from my chair
with the gun Dad gave me
for my bar miztvah
and in the reocurring replay I tackle the boy with the bat
and the boy who got beat gets up bloody
Two years ago the Lovers on this side of Western
pushed by the Lords to California and Fullerton.
The Lords are related to the Kings
and the Kings rule.
This is the gospel according to Dennis
who has lived here through waves of Hillbillies
Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. He says it's getting better.
Theresa at the Park whose brother is a Joker
has another theory.
Some Cobras told her that the kid with the bat
was a Disciple and the guy he hit
was a Lover
who had "done something"
so he showed heart by wacking him
Two doctors who'd been dining called the shots.
"DON'T move him. WAIT! They'll be here
in a MINUTE! WAIT!
keeping the girl off him.
She tried to hold him
keep him awake keep his eyes open
and they held her to stop her from shaking him as she pleaded
"Stay strong Manuel, hang in there Manuel.
Don't die. Stay strong."
Manuel shuddering howling in pain,
fought to stay in the world
as his heels clattered on the pavement
and when the cops arrived they asked me
"Now what exactly did you see?"
The same face I saw
at the end of the fist in my face on the riverbank
in the flickering globe of world neighborhood news
to harden in the mind's eye as if I'd been there
when the cop put the pistol to the temple of the VC suspect
in the famous newsreel
or born witness to the smiling Serb
posing for TIME with his boot on the face of a body
It was a lovely summer night
when I could not put the same old story
in a box
and no one could render with make-up
the dent and the dead eye floating like an egg in red
and I could not click the girl sobbing "how could they do that?
how could they do that?" off
and I could not adjust the tympany of heels
to any sense.
I could not imagine what I'd seen.
The blonde cop says they wacked the wrong dude
some guy too old to be still
gang-banging. How old? "He won't see twenty
not if his brain swells."
Part of his head was dented in
soft red wet above the temple
a sunken patch.
I saw that much before the cops came
after I ran with the pack of men from the restaurant
to the screaming woman and the boy on the concrete
to find the punks
Johnnie Bolero ran with me and his face twisted
when he saw the boy's eye
sobbed "Oh my god"
and covered his face with his hands as if he'd been hit
but later said if the cops kept coming into his restaurant
bothering him at "peak" about the "incident"
with their pictures and their questions
he'd punch them out.
"They’re scaring the customers.
Business was booming
Piles of faces. Pieces
The cops say that some I've picked are dead
and others are in prison.
"There's a lot of scum out there.
"We're just scratching the surface."
They say they'll be back
and if something else comes to me I should not hesitate to call.
They take their pictures. My daughter cries.
She wants to see more boys.
She wants the men to share their toys.
I don't. Next day
Restaurant Johnny tells me "some kids" came in and asked
about the man
who told the cops he'd seen the beating
so I call
with this detail
ask them to keep a lower profile
not to come to the front door
to meet me in a restaurant
or at the station.
That night a squad car squawks by my stoop
and three cops clump noisily up my stairs to tell me not to worry
then leave boisteriously bantering on the street
about the Cubs.
I shave my beard
cut my hair
on walks with my daughter
watch my back and cars.
I think I see him in a pick-up truck
memorize the plate
phone it in.
The skinny shaved-headed boys
with bats in their eyes
Two weeks later Manuel dies. The cops say the kid "did us all a service"
a real bad guy
with notches on his own bat
had killed and done time before his was batted away.
The letter from the victim-witness division of the State's Attorney's office
says PEOPLE vs. Donald Gonzalez
CASE NO. 96CR -21681
JUDGE: Mary Maxwell Thomas.
I may be called to witness and if any problems have arisen as a result of the crime
The victim-witness coordinator would like to assist me in any possible way.
Dear victim witness coordinator:
tell me how to end this poem.
In this ending
when viewed through the one-way mirror
looks like more like that killer kid might look
than the other boys in the line-up
though his ears are wrong.
After I make him the cops say that Manuel's girl has picked him too.
the shadow of a doubt can dwarf whatever casts it
but in the high noon of indignation I can split the difference
between what I saw and what I remember.
At the trial I beg leeway
for bad eyes and poor memory
not "absolutely sure" but "90% positive."
The jury buys a confession clearly extracted with batons.
Gonzales takes the time he was born to get
and swims in the water of prison with jail-bird gills.
Paroled in fifteen years
he's popped in a month for something else
he didn't do.
He can't seem to get off
or be stabbed in the jail wars deep enough to die.
As a ripe old con he robs a bank
just to get back
but pulls it off.
By that time the secret of his ears is long
Or this ending.
I am prosecuted for astigmatism
as a fool in the news.
Confession thrown out
the kid walks.
At night the Lovers' super woofers pulse by my house.
I wake too late to smoke
and crackling flame.
The papers love the story of the double death
mother and baby of witness
The cops haul in every Lover and their mother.
I want to leave the planet
but am trapped
in a skin graft
unending trials and fury.
In Alaska later I marry again.
My life grows back slowly like bones
The kid gets Death.
A happy ending.
The family can watch.
Is this better?
Gonzales has an alibi
They never find who did it.
Nothing more of this murder
compounds its own sadness.
I ask the kids I work with
Tameka and Happi
where to put these little killers:
Tameka sent her daddy up
when he stole her check for crack
Happi's brother's out again
hanging in the house while Moms works.
A nanny named Trauma taught these kids to dance.
They know too well the dead boys
the murder boys the wounded boys
"Jail don't fix shit
it just concentrates it.
They should mother him
smother him in expensive programmatic love
but if that don't work
Fourteen? Too old. He's lost. Too late. He's gone.
Get him off the street.
You've got to reach them when they're five"
though Happi recalls a ten year old who killed somebody
"his father maybe"
who's now in college.
Yet no resolution
line-up or summons jangles this splinter
from my brain.
Someone in Juvie waits for trial
and I wait for the larger indictment
as if it will ever come
as if this this tiny chip of terror
will ever fit any pattern of best intentions
of goodness justice
tip the balance
a million refugees in the hills of Goma
will find water from a rock
and all that happens
will have reason.