When I Was Growing Up
kids could still walk to the candy store.
There were candy stores.
I walked up West Cliff Road with the other kids.
Pat, Tommy, Jimmy, my kid brother, Willy, and me.
We didn’t walk in a pack. More like a string.
Kick rocks as you go.
Throw some junk in the creek as you pass by,
me now with Tommy for a few rock tossings,
then maybe walking with Jimmy.
Never with my brother if I could help it,
and all of us, essentially, walking alone,
but loose like a flock of birds,
now one going this way,
the others slowly following,
one going that
the rest veering behind.
Mostly, we took the same route
to the candy store,
unless one of us got brave
and took a different block.
Sometimes, we went by going up Smith Street
instead of Orlando,
and Smith meant you’d come to the Golden Eagle Bar,
and have to go through the parking lot
and then through the fence,
and then into the lot of the candy store.
I never saw a single person come of the bar’s back door.
Never heard a sound. Never saw anybody drunk.
I might even have hoped to, but didn’t, even when that door
was open like it was all summer,
and you could see a dark gaping space
that was clearly the way
to an adult and alien world.
What I did see was worse:
a dead cat in the gravel by the fence
where we had to pass through.
With a stick poked up its ass,
with sticks poked into its sides,
one through the neck.
One of the boys picked up the stick from its back end
and held it in the air.
You know what a dead cat looks like:
matted, dusty, stiff.
Just a dead cat.
With a stick up its ass.
That someone had put there. Had shoved there.
The boys speculated.
I can’t speak for their feelings.
I was not a we; we were a small collection of just forming Is.
I was not afraid, exactly. But I knew something new,
that people were capable of things outside my imagining.
It was the summer we all talked
about the kid a few blocks away
who had to go to the hospital
because a teenager, a nameless older kid,
had hammered a nail into his skull;
the summer two kids and a police officer
who had tried to save them
got washed into an overflow storm pipe
during a flood and drowned;
the summer we all stopped at the creek
one day on the way to the candy store
and climbed inside that storm drain
and showed each other our private parts.
As if we could actually reveal what was happening to us.
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