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Sunday, July 14, 2013


by Victor D. Infante

                                          For Geraldo Rivera

When I was 17
I bought a leather jacket
at a thrift store, affixed
a pair of handcuffs
to the shoulder,
and adorned the lapel
with pins from punk bands:
The Specials, The Clash,
Stiff Little Fingers.

I bought a tattered black trenchcoat
for $5 on a school trip to New York,
got home and paid a Russian woman
15 bucks to repair the tears. Didn’t mind
when the seams unraveled. Wore jeans
which were more hole than fabric.
Scribbled them with anarchy symbols,
clipped bits with safety pins.

My hair was neglect –
neither short nor long,
sometimes spiked,
briefly blue, except
that its natural darkness
resisted tinting. The dye
faded quickly. My hair
remained midnight.

When I was 17,
I couldn’t surf
but loved the ocean.
My skin was golden brown.

Strangers assumed
I was Mexican. Once
a cop half-jokingly
asked me for an ID
when I sold him Doritos
at the 7-11 where I worked.
I had a driver’s license, although
I didn’t drive. I had a history
of walking because I didn’t
own a car. I had a history
of violence, although I’m sure
the cop couldn’t tell that from
my identification, just shrugged
and returned it, and I never
spoke of it again, until now.

When I was 17, I had a problem
with authority. Had a mouth on me
but I wasn’t stupid.
Didn’t bait cops. In fact,
had sworn off fighting entirely.
Each punch seemed to wear
the seams of whatever it was
that held me together.
I was fraying like worn jeans
and a cheap trenchcoat.
I held myself  together
with pins.

When I bumped the crazy boy
while running to class, I took
his hits and kicks, until a teacher
pulled him off me; She had seen
the attack, and saw I didn’t fight,
so I didn’t get in trouble. The lesson:
Don’t fight. Don’t run.

When a jock took some childhood trauma
out on me by the lockers, I ate each fist until,
bored, he wandered away.
The urge to reply pulsed in my fists.
My legs ached with the urge to run.
I counted the cost
of what I was trying to prove.

I’m a long way from 17, now.
Haven’t faced a fight in years. Don’t
know what I’d do if I did. I’m paunchy,
my skin has paled from indoor living. Still
wear leather and trenchoats, wear
my hair long, but cops don’t look at me
funny anymore. Too old, too white.

I read the news about the boy in Florida
with pockets full of Skittles and iced tea;
who wore a hoodie walking home in the rain;
how the TV bobble-head says the hoodie
is as responsible as the gun,
as if damaged children never jump
those they perceive as weaker.

I wonder what, at 17, I would have done
if I’d faced what that boy did,
what words would have burbled
from that teenage cauldron
of combustion and leather.

I’m afraid I know the answer.
I would not fight. I would not run.

“Go ahead, coward — shoot me.
What the fuck are you afraid of?”

Victor D. Infante is the editor in chief of Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge , and the author of City of Insomnia, from Write Bloody Publishing.