27th and San Pablo
The Quarter-Pound Giant Burger across the street from my apartment is a greasy beacon of light that watches the liquor store close and the crack den open. This is where the still
but furious grill is the only thing that covers the smell of half-spilled beers and piss,
of stale cigarette roaches and used-condom slugs clogging the gutters.
Perched alone inside at the counter, there is a woman,
mini-skirt squeezing her chicken-skin thighs like cellophane.
Vinyl tube top presses her breasts so hard against her chest it cuts
her cleavage like a loaf of bread. This is where you hope
people aren’t what they look like. The lone cook on duty is a leathery prune
in a stained apron with wrinkles under his eyes that claw down to his jaw.
Out of the alley struts a Mack truck in a do-rag. Thick neck of a forty-ounce fit snug
in his left hand. A stride with the kind of fury that makes my fists ball in my pockets.
He runs right next to me at the take-out window
and shouts, THE FUCK YOU SITTIN’ DOWN FOR?
She snaps, I’m taking a break, Martin.
Well you restin on my investment, bitch.
Well, maybe you need to quit making so many deposits… bitch.
He cracks knuckles wrapped in platinum. They pop hollow in the cold air.
You have to wonder what it’s like to come home to a backhanded hello.
To get into a fight that starts because you didn’t order dinner to go,
and ends with a re-opened cigar burn on your shoulder. For a second,
she looks at me like her boat’s sinking and I’m just standing on the dock.
Then, THE FUCK YOU STARING AT? is shouted in my ear so loud,
I feel it more than hear it. This is where a woman was found face-down
under an overpass the other night, a black plastic bag from the corner store
knotted around her neck in a wrinkled scarf. I imagine a blade cold as a railroad track
sliding under my chin. A motel mattress rushing up to my face as it soaks my blood
down to the box-spring. Swallowing the knot in my throat I say, Nothing.
Martin punches a window like it owed him money.
But now he’s gone and got the cook involved. There is a steady hand
moving under the counter and the clap of metal gears
as a round advances to the chamber.
This is where loud cracks in the middle of the night never mean
a car backfiring. Where the tension pulses in time with the neon sign.
Martin makes it my lucky night and backs down the alley. Arms up
in a vulnerable goal post, bottle dangling in his grip like an empty windsock,
face fixed to a high beam glare of Imo see you, later.
This is where I cross the street to a warm, dry port.
Count my change, loose blessings, and can feel her gaze
follow me from the corner as the deadbolt slides home.