Glass in the alley, my alley
Back up and take a look
Too many broken beer bottles
Glass shards turn me around

Grafitti, Ramón, and Javier--not theirs mind you--
None of this work theirs--be clear on that

I'm in a gang but this isn't from a gang,
Ramón tells me. There's no sign.
They had a girl, Solita. See that?
Pointing. That garage door, there--signed.
See the Sureños?

I write songs.
You don't write songs with that bandage.
That's funny.
I'd like to see your songs. Do you write poems?
You want to write poems--songs, with me?

I want to paint that wall. That ain't right. It makes me mad.
Those guys had no right to do this.
Javier wants to paint this for you.
This is my community too, Javier says.
Javier--my neighbor--we have each other's back.
Backs of artists and writers.

What's up with this bandage?
I got hurt.
I see that. What happened?
I hit a wall. It hurts.
It looks like it.
I was mad.
Tell me about the anger.
I hit a wall.
It looks like it.
I put out my hand.
He give me his, still looking in my eyes.
My fingers feel the soft flesh
that never grew into fingers.
The guy was making fun of my burns.
Tell me about the burns.

I was six.
I was in this garage with another kid.
He poured gasoline and lit it.
I couldn't get out.
I had to run through fire.
I was on fire running through broken glass.
When I woke up I was in Harborview in Seattle.
I was there for months.
When I got out my Mom
had been sent back. No papers.
I was in foster then.

Yeah, I was born here.
Schools? Oh, I went to lots of them.
Seven, including Juvie.

We'll paint that wall. Javier says we'll paint that wall.

Multiple voices from my neighbors in the alley. Good kids in gangs. Gangs gone bad. Bad things. Bad things going on. But Javier. I can holler out to him in summertime from my bed. Turn it down a bit. OK, Jim, Always the accompanying apology. Politeness and manners. No estamos mal educado. Javier's place. The small rental beside our house. Alley entrance. I'm a recluse. Javier, the artist. Javier who put one poem on the Poetry Pole. Is that the original, I'd asked him. Always make a copy, keep the original, I'd said. giving him copies I'd made. "I belong to this community too." "I'm a recluse." "Jim, this is my P.O." "Jim, can we borrow some charcoal starter?" The one-way book exchange. Poems, Chicano literature. "What did you do with my poem? Do you still have my poem?" in crossings, saying good morning. Crossing. Passing.

This kind of relationship for two years. Always touching and skirting the real. The real right there, below the surface.

And now Ramón with this bandaged hand and the hand that never quite arrived in the world. Ramón with the burns and the seven schools in foster with mother gone writing songs--but not writing songs now. Ramón forgetting himself looking into my eyes and offering his hand the way it arrived from his mother's womb. Ramón who walks through fire.

Just a minute, I say, I'll be right back.

I'm not looking for a paint brush. Not yet.

Luis J. Rodríguez' poem, The Calling, is always close in Xeroxed copies. I can reach for it like I reach for my toothbrush in the morning.

The calling came to me
while I languished
in my room, while I
whittled away my youth
in jail cells
and damp barrio fields.

I carry the poem like I carry my wallet, close to my body, back pocket.

It brought me to life,
out of captivity,
in a street-scarred
and tattooed place
I called body.

Here it is again, laid out on a green plastic garbage dumpster in the alley I've known for 38 years in this neighborhood. Chest high dumpster, my kind of altar.

A few poems alongside The Calling, including a half-page from an unpublished manuscript by my friend Inés Hernández, her "Alchemy of Erasure." Somos tan invisibles que somos visibles. Parece que es un contradicción, pero no lo es. When a woman has to be made invisible, it is because she is powerful and her presence reverberates, touching everything in its path.

Shadowlands. Right here. Common neighborhood. The commons. Where I've been given a life.

My young neighbors. Naked honesty coupled with an equally fierce guardedness promising to look at things later. Ramón's hands that can neither hold a paint brush nor write songs. We'll get the paint. And they do.

Then it came.
The calling.
It brought me out of my room.

When we arrive. Cuano llegamos. We never arrive. We're always getting there.

Jim Bodeen
2 November--10 November 2010
A Common Neighborhood


  1. i read this on vonnegut's birthday, after reading some things kvjr says about writing, but the alley and the broken glass is the story today, the fire, the poem kept close. papa v would appreciate all that you put down today, its many ways in the world.

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