Poem for Lenard Clark

It doesn’t seem big enough now
For softball games,
But this was the playlot.
This was Rightfield.
This Left.
These houses were not here then.
There were fences and bleachers
and a league of boys.

Across the street there–
(you took my hand)
was the bakery.
That window–
Three
floors
up–
My mother’s window.

And
these
black
lines
of
iron–

This skeleton of folding stairs
Bolted to the bakery brick–
The fire escape
we had hoped to never use.

I told you that day
About the Pilgrim Virgin we prayed before
to save us from the fires of hell–
And the time I dropped my allowance,
A dime
that rolled into a crack
on the stairs and was gone.
That sadness of a gone thing.
But I did not tell you everything.

I did not tell you about Robbie
Who woke up a black man asleep on the bus
by breaking his arm.
I did not tell you about the sound
of a broken arm.
Or of Crazy Ray Ray who beat up a Mexican
with a baseball bat
in front of Bernie’s–
The way the Mexican’s knee bounced
on the iron step of the store–
almost alive–
As though it might be used again.
I would not have told you that.

Neither did I tell you of
Lenard Clark.
The black boy who had come to Bridgeport
that spring
To get air for his bicycle tires.
Not much to ask, it seems,
Air.
Instead they took life from his brain
Traded him a coma
for a bicycle.
I would not have told you that.

I told you about the fire, though.
Fire is different.
How I stood in a room of gray smoke
and looked for my shoes.
In the smoke—
the smell of bread.
I told you about fire.

And there is the door to the stairwell,
And inside the door,
Stillbrown stairs,
And how did I know there were thirty-three?
Because I used to count them.
I counted them until I could not forget–
I counted them until the reason for counting
was gone: Memory.

And what did the note say
That was taped to the wall?
It said That People Live Here.
That these were stairs
to living people,
It Was Not A Toilet,
This place.
It was Not A Place to Piss.

I gave you that word.
I could have said pee,
You were only five.
But I was not thinking.

Look, I said,
This is the place I lived.
The place I was five.
I was a boy here.
And there was fire and fear
And there was blood and hate
There was glass and ice and loss.
There were fists.
And after the playlot
There were still these baseball bats.

And now this sign on the wall
Where I was once a boy.

But I swear to God
there was a playlot right there, Kane,
Across the street.
The older boys would come here
To my lemonade stand,
And to muss my hair.
They
mussed
hair
in
those
days.
And a bakery, too.
Right here.
There was bread and
There were doughnuts
and cannolis,
and Jesus,
To smell that every day.
It was some kind of way to live,

This was a place once.
And now this.

And we were going to leave,
The key to the car was in my left hand,
Me, wondering what there was left
to give you now that everything was gone.
Now that you had reached a remembering time.
But when I put the key in the door,
You put your hand on the crook of my arm,
As though to stop me,
As though to say a thing to me
that could only be said on the
hardscrabble streets of that place.
And on those streets
you told me you were honored
to be taken there.

In front of an old bakery
That had fire and hatred
to remember.
That had glass and blood and smoke and fist.
This is the trade we made that day.

You were five and held open your new memory
and I gave you piss to put there.
And before we left that place you
gave me honor–
Taught the old man
Something about Honor.