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Adrian Matejka

04-18-08

Autobiography as Language

 

Blame military life, family scuttling

from Los Angeles to Germany,

 

back again before my words

could find the vocal fold of English.

 

Blame the bilinguality of chance.

German first-- ham fisted umlauts,

 

non-negotiable consonants stacked

by the hubbub of need.  Blame

 

the new neighborhood, four parts

Mexican, no parts half-blood.

 

Or blame me, cardboard color heavier

than a sneaker in the back, fist

 

that makes the jaw clack.  If the Mexicans

bum-rushing me before school

 

was bad, my mother making them

lunches was worse.  You know they

 

don't have any food, pushing me out.

Peanut butter and jelly in tow for Alex,

 

Chucho, and John: brawlers who would

rather swing than understand why I looked

 

like them, but sounded like the man

at the newspaper stand.  Blame pain,

 

turning everyone a ripe shade.  Language

comes before crawling.  Blame that.

 

Crap Shoot

 

Three of us, in a circle, shooting

craps.  Instead of crumpled bills

or food stamps, we used an army man,

 

a Dukes of Hazzard matchbox car

and Coca-Cola bottle caps, all

with "C" underneath.  Never the "L"

 

that would have won us a million,

that hook of phonics keeping

my friends from seeing Mo run

 

from the apartment next to us.

But they saw White Boy come

after, shotgun in the crook bursting

 

the door like Superman, wood

and hinges flying like a drunk dad after

kids.  They saw him aim that shotgun,

 

catch Mo's back with two.  They saw

that man break apart on the pavement

like a carton of milk.  White Boy: Bring

 

back my shit, muthafucka and Mom

dragging me inside, her sweating

fingers braceleted around my wrist.

 

Paris, Texas (1954)

 

White faces spring

                            from the crowd:

dandelions in the front lawn.

 

Ropes so tight I can

feel flies prowl fibers.

Their legs, a twisting frenzy.

 

Police uniforms in flies'

                eyes, floating like fish

breath from the river's

 

bottom, so I stay down,

            crumbs.  Someone near

 

hawks soda and beer

to white people splitting ribs,

            arms against the platform's

 

splintering wood.

Nose mashed into lip,

            unforgiving as the sticks

 

and fists spilling

            over my face.  You

            won't be touching

            another white woman.

 

A dirty child, dirty yellow hair,

perched on father's shoulders.

 

She licks a cone wet

                with sugar diamonds,

ice cream dripping

father's shirt sleeve.

 

Let me have five

minutes with that black

son of a bitch.

                    Re-routed trains

bloating the sweaty crowd.

 

Some woman curses my ape

mother.  Sheriff pulls a knife.

 

He cuts my arm.

My skin,

                the slow fire

 

around the break.  My arm.

 

The hangman: 

Nigger, you gonna die slow.

 

The man cuts my chest.

 

My heart beating,

                        hanging outside.

He starts sawing.


Pieces of skin in strips like bacon. 

 

          -from The Devil's Garden