The alley portals me back to that alien world – a dead baby
found by cops in the trash can, mass murderer Richard Speck loose on Chicago streets and two-bit drug deals
in abandoned cars – all part of normal in my neighborhood.
I can see kids and me from the hood on those roof tops
playing hide-and-seek late at night or shooting at each other
through chipped-glass holes in abandoned buildings
with sticks for guns and rocks for grenades. I stare
at that war-torn window toward the top of my tenement,
which triggers images of my down-and-drunk uncle
who held his Down Syndrome baby girl out that opening
in a rage, one of many torrents fueled by booze.
While gang graffiti is faded from the ribs of my tenement,
I still catch it pissing on broken-down Chicago brick,
struggling business back doors, any flat alley surfaces.
Gang lieutenants, my cousins, staked their significance
on paint tags, like military medals measuring worth.
My eyes stare back at me, an eight-year-old, running dazed
down the alley after flying head first from a truck
into a deep pit at a construction site, our new playground.
I still suffer today because money for doctors back then
was only spent on the dying.
I recall wearing my handmade wedding dress
at our apartment-sized reception, which college friends
even attended. I see the cheap framed copies
of masterpieces I’d hung earlier on the broken-down walls
to class up the place for these friends
who I’m glad left before relatives started their liquor ritual.
Today, I am seen as a rare arts book noted
for intelligence and beauty, in excellent condition –
free of fingerprints and mishandling. Public school gave me
a new identity with untarnished gold stars – three
degrees, principal of the year, publications –
far from my ill-lit start.
The spotlight on success, my youth is never
in conscious view, but for photos that stare up at me,
without warning, from buried boxes.
Out the door by seventeen few memories linger
but bitter winds off the lake.
I wore two coats one backwards hunching
at a 45-degree angle fighting raging gusts
freezing my flesh between button holes.
I stayed awhile in my undergrad abode an indifferent
corn-belt patch below the Great Lakes animated
by homecomings or Mississippi floodings when locals
sandbagged her seasonal tantrums.
A dirge of moody Midwestern dwellings
cloud together the same singular traffic light
resigned quietness and neighbors’ coffee cakes.
Forty South Florida years steamed
in hot-tempered weather and third world urban rifts
helped kaleidoscope my world perspective.
On social security near grandkids
in the cleavage of another college town
I’ve come full cycle
to the cold-weather rinse of my Chicago youth.
Patsy Asuncion’s Cut on the Bias (Laughing Fire Press, 2016) depicts her world slant as a bi-racial child raised by an immigrant father. Publications include The New York Times, Artemis, Cutthroat, Snapdragon, voxpoetica, New Verse News and numerous anthologies, most recently Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. Patsy has presented at the Woody Guthrie Festival, Indiana Writers Conference, South Florida Writers Association, Miami Writers’ Club, Poetry Society of Virginia, and Virginia Writers Club. She promotes diversity via her open mic for ALL (11,300+ YouTube views), and local initiatives – Nasty Women Poets, Women of Color, International Mother Language Day, Social Justice Poets.