Lob City

After Martín Espada

In Lob City,

there are no streets,

only alleys and every alley

has a basketball rim

and every rim has a Kia

sports car parked underneath

and you don’t walk around anything

in Lob City, you jump over the Kia,

catch a lob, throw down, and hang on the rim

for just a second.

A lot of people are late in Lob City,

but that’s ok

because even time stops

to play a game of one on one with gravity.

The loser goes away till the next game,

so in Lob City sometimes we fly,

leap over buildings,

and sometimes our Saturdays

last for a month.

Everyone loves higher education in Lob City

and students go to class

to study MJ,

the language of air,

and the physics of flight

Workers show up to the office

wearing shorts and jerseys

dribbling brown bag lunches and basketballs.

Surgeons perform surgery,

celebrate success by chest bumping the nurse.

Get a surprise Gatorade shower at lunch.

Office workers ask their bosses for a raise

and earn it by winning a game of one on one

in Lob City.

In Lob City, when someone asks “what’s up?”

You say “I’m wide open.” In Lob City, high fives

are always ten feet tall. We communicate with

our whole bodies, we talk with nods,

spins, hand claps, fist pumps, shrugs, and finger wags.

In Lob City, lovers hold dunk contests

against one another.

Every slam is

Every slam is an “I love you,”

a poem,

a radio request,

a mixtape,

a slow dance.

In the end,

they both win

and share the prize

a kiss,

maybe a lifetime

of sharing a home

court together.

In Lob City, the police officer

stopping you

will tell you that you travelled

and will not let you go

until you beat him or her

in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

first fight

it is May and the trees are flowering and last week all of your boys’ budding adolescence bloomed fists and suspensions. now, they are back and they want to see you fight. yo, josé, how come you haven’t fought anybody, yet? you scared or something? you look at the table where Eric plays pokemon and eats his pizza in silent shame. you are scared that you are Eric secretly wearing a mask. you are scared that if you do not fight, your friends will unmask you like a disgraced luchador. you choose Kenny cause he looks tough, but not tough like The Rock. you push him at recess. call him a punk. push him again. he says your mama a punk. you don’t know how to make fists properly. you got your thumb tucked into your fist waiting to break. you don’t really want to fight. that doesn’t stop you. a circle of kids form around you and Kenny. your hands are trunks of wood and bone. you swing once and miss. you can’t take back punches. punches leave craters between people even when they miss. Kenny doesn’t miss. he makes a crater on your cheek. you are on your back staring at the flowers budding on all of the trees. you and Kenny are still budding. you think about your uncle, who got jumped into a gang, how your grandma had to pay to get him out, how they had to move to a different city. Kenny is coming back at you with more craters for your face. you feel your fists harden into wood. you are not your uncle, but didn’t you start at the same roots?

this is a poem

this is a poem for the 6 year old boys who overheard my mom talking to me in spanish and serenaded us with “beans! beans! the musical fruit! the more you eat, the more you toot!”

this is a poem for the 6 year old me who resolved that moment to stop speaking spanish, stop eating beans, stop being mexican.

this is a poem for all of the spanish words i have forgotten since that afternoon, how they haunt my tongue like angry ghosts.

this is a poem for my confused parents who couldn’t understand why their oldest son only wanted to eat cheeseburgers and piles of ketchup.

this is a poem for my brothers, who i would punch whenever they spoke to me in spanish.

this is a poem for my brothers’ bruises.

this is a poem for the 6 year old me so confused by random hate that he believed the real enemy was playing video games with him or cooking dinner for him.

this is a poem for the real enemy that lived in my head shouting “beans! beans! the musical fruit! the more you eat, the more you toot!”

this is a poem for the beans i now eat, how each bite sometimes has a taste of that tormenting song.

this is a poem for the 6 year old me who thought he could make his enemies love him.

this is a poem for the 24 year old me that sometimes believes the same thing, but mostly knows better.

this is a poem for the 6 year old boys and the men they have grown up into, may they be men worthy of forgiving.

this is a poem for all the me’s that have ever existed.

this is a poem for me.

Bio: José Olivarez

José Olivarez is a poet, educator, and activist from Calumet City, Illinois. He is a graduate of Harvard University and a teaching artist for Young Chicago Authors. His work has appeared in The Acentos Review, The Harvard Voice, and Chicago Public Radio. José can be reached at josegolivarez@gmail.com or on twitter at @jayohessee.

MAY 2013

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