The Corner of Telegraph & Durant, Berkeley CA
“Sometimes life hits you like a metal rod to the head,”
said the man sitting on the corner of the street
wearing a brown coat and dirty Nikes
that smelled like piss, holding a Coca-Cola cup
filled with one wrinkled dollar and seventy-four cents,
and squinting up at us four girls.
He told us the story of how he used to
build the tracks that the cable cars run on
through the streets of San Francisco, Jones St.
to be exact- because young boys
are immature and need mature jobs
in order to learn hard work. The air always
smelled like the way metal or blood tastes, and
it was his second year on the job
when a metal rod blasted straight through his skull.
“Two years ago I went to jail
for beating up my brother-in-law,” he said.
“But I wasn’t dishonoring God, you see, because
a man should never lay a hand
on a woman and he was giving my sister black eyes
and fresh purple bruises every night.
I couldn’t just sit around and let that happen, so
I was pinched and did my time like a dutiful slacker.”
He said those cell bars spoke to him every single night,
but not loud enough to obscure the French man
who yelled Va te faire foutre!
to the prison guards, who seemed to hear
through the walls and see through the cameras.
“Anyways, that’s why I had no medical insurance after
I got out and then that pole went straight through,”
he said, tapping at his head with his clever fingers.
It’s not fair for immature men to be punished
for one mistake that they’ve made,
especially when they haven’t been taught any better.
And it’s not fair for young girls to feel like
the world is chasing them faster than they can run.
I know that it’s a tough world out there though,
I’ll learn that from all the nice boys I’ll let
hold my hand and kiss my cheek
I also know that sometimes good people have to do
bad things while bad people can do good things sometimes,
and that doesn’t necessarily make them good or bad.
But when this man took a hold of me,
his tanned sandpaper hands against my clean ones
and salty tears brimming on the rims of his bloodshot eyes
like the heavy water of nimbostratus clouds, I was afraid
of all the metal rods that could fall from
the clouds in the sky and go straight through.
If I had a car that could take me away I would go north
and just keep driving, through the days and nights,
stopping occasionally to admire the sunrises and appreciate
the small diners I discover. If I had a baby cousin I’d take her
with me. She would tell me all her little-kid secrets, like how she
stole 50 cents from the money drawer, and I would tell her all
my big-kid secrets, like how I kissed that boy behind the school,
never worrying if she’ll tell anyone. She would tug on the sleeves
of my sweater with her eight year old hands and ask if I wanted
some “munchies,” then lean over holding out half of some sort of
cookie and say “taste one” before I even get the chance
to answer. She would draw everything outside of the window
with her two favorite crayons, blue and yellow. If I had a cousin
she would call my name when she needs someone to seek
while she hides, or when she needs someone in her pillow tent
as the thunder shakes the house. I would be able to see her
whenever I wanted, there would be nothing stopping us from
being cousins. From growing up in the world by ourselves.
We’d have all the time in the world to spend together; just
talking, laughing, sharing; and I would not have to drive
alone one day, telling my kids why I haven’t seen my cousin
since I was eight years old and we were coloring our names.
We are not birds.
We cannot fly.
Yet people always seem to find a way to leave,
taking off in the middle of the night
and flying straight up into the black sky-
They become a small grey shadow
among the stars and then all of a sudden they’re gone.
Maybe that’s why I’m so afraid
of our ability to hurt others, especially
the ones we were supposed to protect from the cruel world,
and our ability to leave someone we once said
was our everything-
fear makes us reckless.
So we try to fly,
even after we’ve fallen and broken our wings,
we heal ourselves the best we can and take the leap
again and again, calling it bravery
and faith, but we are not birds.
We cannot fly.
As much as we try to believe
that we don’t need anyone else to make up
for the soft crater of twigs and miscellaneous strings
they left behind in the nest, the truth is we never stop
craving the touch of others. Giving ourselves
so easily to the familiar bite of danger
and calling it love-
Trying and trying to fly,
but we are not birds.
I guess the doctor didn’t mean to lie
when he said everything was okay,
I’m so sorry I never got to say goodbye.
Maybe the doctor didn’t mean to lie,
he really didn’t know stage four was nearby.
I thought you’d be here on graduation day.
So maybe the doctor didn’t mean to, but he lied
when he said everything would be okay.