At the Tribunals
Once, in a brawl on Orchard, I clocked a kid with a ridgehand so hard I could feel
his top teeth give. His knees buckled and my homeboy let loose a one-two
to finish the job. I turned around to block a sucker punch that didn’t come.
We ducked under the cops’ bright red hatchets that swung around the corner.
I never saw the first kid drop. He must have been still falling when I dipped
from the scene and trotted toward Delancey. He was falling when I stopped
to check my leather for scuff marks. He was falling when I slipped inside
a dive to hide from a girl who got ghost for books. He was falling when I kissed
the Santo Niño’s white feet and Melanie’s left collarbone and the forehead
of a roughneck whose nose I was about to bust for nothing but squaring off
with me, his head snapped back to show his neck’s smooth pelt. Look away
long enough and a boy can fall for weeks —decades—even as you get down
on one knee to pray the rotting kidneys in your mother’s gut
don’t turn too quick to stone.
I didn’t stick around to watch my own work. I didn’t wait for
a single body to hit the pavement. In those days, it was always spring
and I was mostly made of knives. I rolled twenty-two deep, every
one of us lulled by a blade though few of us knew the steel note
that chimed a full measure if you slid the edge along a round to make it
keen. I’ll tell those stiffs in frocks to go ahead and count me among
the ones who made nothing good with his bare hands. I’ll confess,
I loved the wreckage: no matter the country, no matter the machine.