Like petals falling from our view Your loss now added to our snow Compassion bright as any blue Like petals falling from our view Our spring, a timeless deja-vu We wait our turns to fall below Like petals falling from our view Your loss now added to our snow ***
Years ago, I was addicted to writing triolets, so this was a welcome blast from the past.
It was also a good way to honor the passing of a shipmate I served with on the USS Ingraham from 95 until 98. Ronnell “Brooklyn” Warren passed away on March 30. Dude had a photographic memory and knew my full name, date-of-birth, birthplace, and social security number even twenty years later, which should’ve been somewhat alarming, but he was just so damned kind-hearted, and it reflected well upon his character that it never even occurred to him to use his superpowers for nefarious means.
Quite frankly, Ronnie was the kindest, sweetest man I have even known. He was also a poet with an optimistic voice.
He always had a kind word for everyone. He was one of the few people in my life whose positive attitude made me want to step-up and just be better to get on his level. Hell, I think he loved the 90’s Chicago Bulls more than I did! I heard that he went quickly and unexpectedly, from a heart attack, but I don’t know the details.
It made me think about how we will all soon be parting from one another.
I’ve never dealt with this type of loss well; I tend to stuff it down where the feelings can’t hurt me anymore. And though we hadn’t spoken or kept in touch since our ship’s decommissioning ceremony, this is a most unkind cut that will take some time to stuff down.
Ron, your passing over was most unwelcome news. I’ll drink one for you. We have the watch, shipmate.
My dad demanded that I learn to code-switch and speak the corporate lingo so I could “make money in the white man’s world” (his words). Big ups to pops for making sure I could earn a living wage, but yeah, I almost never feel like my authentic self, whoever that may be.
This one hit me where I live, so I just let it flow in one take.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.
Warning: The language used in this poetic narrative and opinions conveyed by some of the story’s characters may be offensive to sensitive readers. Bad things are frequently said and sometimes done. Reader discretion advised.
One final word of caution: some of you might need this to wade through some of the thicker urban vernacular.
frigid air burns lungs
breath, crystalized diamond-dust
we release our jewels
On our third time circling the block, I swallowed my nerves, looking at the rubble-pile we’d lingered at twice before. Suddenly, it became clear to me that the rubble-pile was where the old neighborhood corner store once stood. I must have been really preoccupied with my predicament to not have noticed before.
Shit was not looking good, fam. Still, I allowed my mind to wander. It helped to pass the time and relieve some stress.
“Yo Tony, what happened to the Arab store?” I asked.
“Nigga, you serious?!?” baby bro snorted from the driver’s seat. “9-11 happened, my nigga!”
Uncle John, cousin J-Rock, and Unc’s frat bro laughed.
John added, “Fools knocked down our buildings and they shit went up in flames that night, son!”
J-Rock co-signed; “These hood niggas ain’t gone let that shit slide!”
“That’s fucking stupid!” I said, incredulous. “They probably had nothing to do with 9-11!”
“Probably,” said John, mocking my earnest tone. “What, you an FBI nigga and an army nigga too?”
“I’m not army, I’m navy,” I shot back. “And that’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.”
“Spare us your morals, mayne,” said the nameless frat bro. I mean, he probably had a name, but fuck that guy. “Those Arabs didn’t wanna be in our hood after that. Sheeet, mayne, they prolly collected that insurance money and fucked right on off back to Saudi Arabia or Agrabah, or… or… wherever the fuck the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come from.”
“Narnia, you illiterate fuck,” said John with a chuckle.
“Fuck you, nigga! You know I loved college! I just wasn’t tryin’ to hear all that white-washed knowledge.”
“This muthaphucka,” I scoffed. “Oh, so you came back home to help with all the senseless riots, right?” I found it hard to believe that two hours ago, I admired that frat boy for his knowledge, confidence, and charisma. I even wanted to swag like him. But now all I wanted was to finish with their ill-advised mission so I never had to see the arrogant prick again.
Fuck. That’s right. The mission.
Even with the heater cranked up, I felt the arctic night chill in my bones.
“All that time at sea and they ain’t teach yo ass shit,” said the frat bro, shaking his head. “You must think niggas invented rioting or some shit. White folks been wilin’ out since forever, mayne. The Boston Tea-Party is a pretty cute way to describe white boys getting drunk and destroying government property cause them hillbillies don’t like the taxes, ain’t it?”
The frat bro took a leisurely drag from his half-finished square. He blew out a halo of smoke before continuing. “Fuck outta here with that mayne. Even King said that riots is the language of the unheard, and that was one turnin-the-other-cheek muthaphucka. White folks who have all the money and power call rioting unnecessary because for those elite muthaphuckas who have fuckin’ everything, rioting is literally fuckin’ unnecessary, knaamean?”
“Yeah, but those Arabs ain’t at the top of America’s power demographic!” I countered. “Y’all went too far!”
Everyone in the car laughed. “Y’all,” mocked frat boy. “Nigga, I was in school. I don’t even live around here anyway. I’m from Evanston, real-talk.”
“Y’all,” mocked baby bro. “Nigga, I was at work. Nobody fuckin up my money no matter how mad I get!”
“Yo, what’s yo alibi, Unc?” J-Rock asked.
“Unc don’t need no alibi,” John said. “I’m a grown-ass man. Just know that I didn’t burn down that particular store that particular night.”
“Word,” J-Rock co-signed. “They ain’t have no high-end electronics or jewelry in that bitch. What we look like, looting for a gallon of milk and some fuckin Cheerios?!?”
The car filled with laughter as my keyed-up fam talked over one another. I stared out the window at blackness interrupted by amber-jeweled streetlights and the random light flurry that hinted at snow.
I can’t believe we’re about to do this. Please, God, let this be a dream.
Then Unc John’s face turned as somber as the moonless frigid night outside. “Yo Tony, pull over for a sec.” The hooptie moaned to a stop. Unc reached over and turned down Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” before turning to look at me as I shivered in the back seat.
“Desmond,” said John softly, “I know you just visiting on leave, and shit, man. You ain’t gotta be caught up in this shit. Unc understands if you wanna bail. We can get even another night.”
“Helluva time to ask,” I spat back. “Look, just do the shit and get it over with. I’m staying in the car, tho.”
The fuck am I saying? Fuck I’m weak. What a bitch I am.
“See?” baby bro Tony shouted, beaming at me. “My big bro ain’t no bitch! Let’s do this shit!”
Unc John nodded approvingly. “Aight then, fuck it. You stay in the car. We don’t want you getting your hands dirty anyway. You be getting all intellectual and up in your feelings and shit over a wack-ass nigga that deserves his reckoning.”
“Shhh! There he go!” J-Rock shout-whispered. “He getting out the black Escalade right now!”
“Wait,” said Unc, watching the man bundle his coat and hurry to the sidewalk. “Wait… wait… wait… Yeah, that’s him!” Unc paused to let the man step back inside the nightclub. “Let’s go!”
frosty, ashen still
night falls in jagged spaces
our joints fill with hurt
Fifteen minutes earlier, we were all in that club getting turnt! I was making googly-eyes at a cute girl across the bar. She made eyes back, but she was growing tired of waiting on me to summon the nerve to go spit game at her, even growing bold enough to make the “hurry-up” beckoning motion at me with her hand, wrist, and forearm.
I downed my shot, took a breath, and hopped off the stool, thinking of what to say to her as I slowly bridged the gap, wading through humanity writhing to the pulsating 808-beats when I heard shouting. Unc has a distinctive, booming voice, so I knew he was involved in the dustup.
I saw a well-dressed man flash his concealed piece at Unc, which I’m sure is a major breach of clubbing etiquette, as it insinuates that you’re just one sideways glance away from reaching for your Roscoe and putting two slugs between a man’s eyes for having the audacity to annoy you. Unsurprisingly, this breach of etiquette immediately enraged Unc. I don’t know what Unc studied in college, but it clearly wasn’t diplomacy. I think Unc secretly thinks he’s the Joe Pesci characters from those mob films.
“Oh, you wanna show me you strapped?” Unc boomed in peak-bravado. “I’m strapped too, nigga! My cousin and nephews strapped too! My whole crew is strapped! The fuck you wanna do, nigga?”
Technically, I was part of Unc’s crew that night.
I was not strapped.
Shit, the last time I touched a weapon was during my M-14 sentry training. I’m pretty sure the Navy don’t let twenty-four-year-olds take firearms home with them on Christmas break.
I should point out that we were only in the club on Boxing Day because I came home for Christmas, and Unc wanted to show me a good time.
I’m just saying it felt like he might’ve taken his eye off the ball for a moment.
Bouncers, security, and the owner quickly deescalated the situation, but Unc, and our whole crew – myself included – we were all 86’ed for being 80-percent strapped. Unc was still trying to flex though. “Flash! Flash! You throwing Me, out, Flash?!? I gave you seed-money, Flash! I helped you build this shitty-ass club, Flash, and this is how you treat me? Aight then, nigga! I see how you are!”
Unc was pulling that performative masculinity bullshit I’ve grown to hate, but I knew him from when we were both shorties. He’s my uncle by blood, but he’s only two years older than me, so I know when that fool is vulnerable and all up in his own feelings. If you’re around a muthaphucka your whole life, there’s just some shit you can’t hide. You can’t lie about who you are over that many Captain Crunch breakfasts and Saturday morning cartoons, fam!
Hurt people hurt people, and Unc’s eyes had a lot of hurt in them, so I knew he would try his damnedest to make Flash pay.
But I didn’t know the exact cost until about fifteen minutes later.
knotted, barren, ice
embracing leafless branches
they bend till broken
Flash had hopped out of his sleek, black Escalade, tightened his leather coat against the light flurries, and scuttled back into the club. I heard much later that poor Flash had left the club right after we did, hoping to smooth things over with Unc, but in a Shakespearean twist, Unc’s crew had already sped off, circling the block, plotting payback.
And I was among them, just wanting the night to be over.
Tony gunned the engine, and in an instant, we were parallel to Flash’s gleaming Escalade. Unc, J-Rock, and frat-boy jumped out at once, swarming like hornets. I could hear and feel the concussions as glass shattered and metal was punctured and bruised. Within seconds, that Escalade went from being pristine to a modern art masterpiece. Its wailing alarm went unanswered as the drive-by bricking continued unabated.
“Shit! Y’all hear that? Jake’s coming!” Tony shouted as police sirens wailed in the distance. “Let’s go!”
Everyone piled back into the hooptie except for frat-boy, who lingered, glaring at the twisted, dented, Jackson Pollock-forsaken monstrosity he helped create.
“Nigga, is you deaf?!?” Unc shouted as the sirens got louder. “Jake’s almost here! I ain’t gettin’ arrested again! Get yo ass back in the car! We out!”
Frat-boy swaggered away from our getaway vehicle, lifted the biggest boulder he could find, and sent it hurling through the wounded windshield with a terrible, calamitous sound. Then the jackass took a bow before no one before proudly hopping back in the back seat with J-Rock and me.
“Nigga, you stupid!” Unc admonished his old friend, in a glorious little “pot-meet-kettle” moment.
Tony gunned the engine and tore down Roosevelt Road at approximately Mach 2.5. Unc had to coax him into slowing to the speed-limit so as to not draw too much attention. I shook my head and glared out the window. The snow was heavier now, and it was sticking.
slushy asphalt plains
molded by glaciers’ past lives
stories left unheard
That’s it. That’s the story.
No moral lesson, no plot-twist, or comeuppance. To the best of my knowledge, we all got away with that shit. Nobody learned a goddamned thing that night.
No one came out the other side of the drive-by-bricking a changed man or any heavy-handed symbolic shit like that.
From beginning to end, this was just a bunch of nigga-synthesis; just a bunch of young, spiteful men getting together to commit young, spiteful vandalism because some young, spiteful jackass in a club full of beautiful people looking to have a good time didn’t like how another young, spiteful jackass was looking at him.
That’s just how quickly shit escalates in the hood.
Right after we vandalized that car – and I say we because even though I didn’t touch that Escalade, I had the chance to stop it before it happened, but I didn’t so that makes me complicit – we went out for burritos. That may not be “Goodfellas”-level mafia shit, but that was still a pretty cold piece of work.
I went back to the Navy a week later. I got my wish and never laid eyes on that Evanston fuckhead again, but I also never again saw that lovely woman who impatiently made the googly-eyes at me.
I still give Unc grief over killing my chance with a potential soul-mate, but he was all like, “Nigga, I saw y’all! It would’ve taken yo bitch-ass fore-score and seventy-five fucking years to shuffle over to her with somethin’ sensible to say! It’s the twenty-first century, my nigga! Bitches ain’t got time like that no more! And wait; wasn’t yo dumb ass married at the time? Just how many soul-mates you tryin’ ta collect at one time? Greedy ass!”
All fair points, but still.
Unc got arrested a lot – but never for wrecking Flash’s whip – and he eventually cooled off, married, had five girls, and basically became Mr. Mom, if you can believe that shit. He’s virtually unrecognizable from his wilin’ youth. He and Flash even mended their friendship, but obviously not immediately. Dude called Unc while we were waiting on our burritos, yelling threats and unfounded accusations, besmirching our good names and shit. Unc’s words, not mine.
Cousin J-Rock is still J-Rock. You’re probably wondering why I rarely mentioned him, and there’s a very good reason; J-Rock is fucking mental, and he scares the shit outta me. The lesser said, the better. I often worry about him catching wind of this story and getting offended, but it’s not like someone’s going to read it to him.
My baby brother Tony flips houses and helps homeless vets get back on their feet. Before that, he started a small business detailing cars. I know! Ironic as fuck, right?
As for me? What do I do now? I do well. I’m good. I definitely stay true to myself these days, knaamean?
I guess I lied. There might have been a moral lesson or two at play. I dunno. Fuck it.
You read the shit. Do you, mayne.
snowfall dampens sound
there is only who we are
echoes are empty
Written for dVerse MTB – Writing narrative poetry, hosted by Bjorn. Others contributed to this prompt here. This was supposed to be a condensed poetic story, but the freaking muse slapped me around a bit and it got away from me. Sorry about that.