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 one punk whose nose I busted
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 weeksódecadesó
even as you get down on one knee
to pray the rotting kidneys in your mom'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.