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

that night

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

ten shots

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

behind them

where their target

waited with his girl



My daughter likes the leather and gun-oil smell

of the big cops with their summer shorts

 shoulder holsters

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

but no

 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

so strange.

First part

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

 I thought

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

shoots me

and runs.



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

my neighbor

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


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 Iowa

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

in Vukovar.

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

until this."



Piles of faces. Pieces

of features.

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

the cops

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

are everywhere.



Two weeks later Manuel dies. The cops say the kid "did us all a service"

because Manuel

 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

CHARGE: Murder

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

Donald Gonzales

when viewed through the one-way mirror

looks like more like that killer kid might look

with hair

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.

At sunset

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.

Case closed.

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

without expression

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


with me.



Or this ending.

I am prosecuted for astigmatism

and painted

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

under leather.



 Or this.

The kid gets Death.

A happy ending.

The family can watch.



Is this better?

Gonzales has an alibi

gets off.

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

and say


"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

Ice him.

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

so that

a million refugees in the hills of Goma

will find water from a rock

and all that happens

will have reason.