It will be a hot night;
They all are in August
On the West Baltimore streets.
Where people die and rats live.
The sun is setting;
Reds and deep purples
Like a Ravens jersey painted over.
Exhaust and tobacco smoke fill the air.
Cars line the curbs in all directions.
Broken down Toyotas from another century;
A beaten up Chevy that remembers every crash like it was yesterday;
And a sleek new Mustang in a deep scarlet
The color of blood.
Lafayette off Bentalou
Over the bridge with no water underneath.
To the left a sign reading FOOD MART.
Maybe once but no more;
Only an empty lot with a pile of trash.
Probably a grocery store run by the rats.
On the other side, kids play on the playground
Slides long and hot from a day in the Maryland oven.
A game of hoops has started
Teenagers call out insults and challenges.
Somebody gets hot;
The beautiful swishing of nylon that has yet to rip.
A brand new car speeds past;
The music blares,
A rappers raspy voice permeates from the custom speakers.
Everybody sees him but nobody witnesses his passing.
But the bridge like the city is filled with sad stories.
On the white siding there’s a shrine
Not ten feet away from the court where the kid steps back for a J;
He’s money from outside even though his family is broke.
The wind tosses the red balloons;
Catching the eye of the passerby.
The balloons are the same shade as the Mustang;
A tinsel cross sparkles in the sunset.
It’s not Christmas.
letters that tell a story.
“We love you.”
Inscription on the white siding
A fading photo touched by days in the heat
Discolored like the slides where the kids always play.
A boy in a photo on a bridge,
Dark skin and darker hair;
Dread locks cut short;
A shadow of a smile;
On a shadow of a man who couldn’t have been twenty.
His name is written in magic marker
The fallen angel who should have gotten a bronze star.
Everybody knows what happened and it wasn’t a car crash.
Once he was a smiling boy
Who slid the slide and shot the three ball
He probably laughed and cried like all the rest.
He probably dreamed of a future
But there is no future on the white paneled bridge with no water underneath.
All that’s left of him now is balloons in the night;
The plaything of the wind.
“Next point wins.”
A cry from the players on the blacktop.
A drive and a kick and shot from the wing.
That one didn’t miss but I pray the others do.
The kids run home;
On sidewalks that have been broken for decades.
I was born at Union Memorial Hospital during a sweltering Baltimore evening. My family moved to Maine when I was a little more than a year old. In many ways the community I grew up in is the opposite of the one I left. This past August, when I was 17, I returned to the city and was struck by what I saw. I hope that my poetry can bring some sort of meaning to the people of Baltimore.