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Friday, March 25, 2005


by Ben Valentin

Houston to 14th,
east side of the strip,
split on 6th, the projects
are the feathers of Avenue D.

From its wings, the imagination
of its youth soars around the world
searching for an olive branch.

Yet when viewed up close, strangers
are afraid of its beak and claws.
Maybe they get their info
from the Discovery Channel.

But we as a group of families
do not embody a vulture,
but an eagle surviving
a long winter trail.

After WW2,
whites flew from the city to the suburbs,
we flew from the Caribbean to the projects
up north to find racial tension,
language barriers,
gang warfare,
Vietnam draft;
Rockefeller Slave Laws;

FBI destroying activism;
heroin destroying families;
slumlords burning tenements;
NYC bankrupt;
cocaine money;

AIDS epidemic;
TB outbreak;
music cut out of elementary schools;
asbestos postponing the start of school;
scandalous special ed.;

lead paint in every apartment;
outrageous rent hikes;
and now hip hop betraying our children.

Hot, human pee frozen on snow,
we survive year after year to find
every other month is January
and those in between is December.
It is cold in the summer when city hall
cuts youth employment.

But we warm ourselves near
the music radio or the mix tape booming out
of someone's bedroom or someone's car;
or the live d.j. in the basement jam;
or the battle rap outside the bodega
or on a bench echoing off the projects
all around.

Perched on the rooftops, we oversee
Alphabet City. From high in the sky,
we saw the slumlords burning down
family homes. Now we see investors
rising up yuppie closet space.
We know about those rats below.

With a double consciousness,
we are an American eagle.
Endangered, sí,
but with wings too strong
to return south.

From Houston to 14th,
east side of the strip,
split on 6th, the projects,
the feathers, of Avenue D.

Ben Valentin's poem concerns the rapid gentrification taking place in various New York City low-income neighborhoods--in particular the one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the reactons of long time natives such as Ben himself.