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Parkhill, Son (Johnny L.)

The following slam poem was submitted by a poet who goes by the name "Johnny L.", hailing from Colorado. This poem is provided as a written poetry piece, and is about reconciling the present with the pain of the past. Leave a comment to move this slam poem up in the rankings. Our poetry comment system is intended to facilitate feedback for our artists, and to promote creative communication. Don't just read he poetry -- take the leap by, submitting, commenting, and following. --Slam Poems Editor 


Park Hill, Son


My wife sometimes 

Jokes that she

Wants me to be a 

Bit more polished.


Maybe wear capris

Like rich Italian guys.

Or maybe like a scarf 

Or something.


And I say what 

I always say.


I'm from Park Hill.


It's part of our schtick.

She shows me some 

Ruffle-necked Versace

Model in a magazine,


And I remind her:

I'm from Park Hill.


Lest she forget.  

There will not be

Manicures and

Sculpted eyebrows

And whatnot. 


I mean, I've made

My concessions.

I mostly wear clothes

That fit.  Button ups

Even. The occasional

Bright colors instead of

Navy blue and gray.

Oh, and I drive a minivan.

The list goes on.


But there are limits.

I'd be lying if I said 

Park Hill isn't down

There, a hard edged 

Jaw line, eyeing my

Softness and shaking

His head. He still 

Carries some weight.

Even after all these years.


In Park Hill, we

Are not soft. We 

Learn that. 


In Park Hill, we wear

Baggie jeans and 

Hoodies. 


We don't make eye

Contact, unless we

Are ready to fight.


Park Hill gives us

Nicknames like 

Rusty razor blades.


Mine were:


Piss skin.

Halfbreed. 

Nobody. 

Punk-ass.

Chicken. 

Menace.


I was a gangly, 

Fearful, punk-ass kid.

Park Hill did not approve.


Soft wasn’t the currency 

In my neighborhood.


The popular kids 

Were the kids who could

Punch faces bloody

And cuss, and tell

Filthy jokes on the bus. 


The ones who were not victims.
Not scared of everything

Like me. 


Park Hill favors

The strong and 

Snacks on the weak.


I want you to smell it:

Gray air and cracked streets.


The liquor store sleeps

During the day.

Hunkered down,

Wrapped in the 

Tart smell of urine.


I want you to taste it:

The delightful burst of

Sour Apple Laffy Taffy 

In our mouths

That we bought with 

Food stamps


That my homey's cousin 

Would give to us 

To buy candy and bring

Him the change.


When you are a drug

Dealer, and clients pay

You with food stamps,

This is how you

Liquidate your 

Assets.


Little did we

Really care.

Because … candy.


In Park Hill, my reflection

Was alleyways and 

Liquor store and 

Barber shop and

Broken fences

And bullies.


I learned myself.

Nothing and nobody.

Never gonna be

Anybody. 


I remember when 

I gave in. I thought

To myself:


If that’s what the 

World thinks of me, 

Then that’s what I’ll be.


I tried to be a menace.

I was pretty bad at it.

But I gave it a shot.


Hung out with guys

Who thought violence

Was funny.


I was in the car

When crazy E

Leaned out the window 

And threw a heavy

Traffic cone at a lady

Standing at a bus stop

As we drove by.


It hit her in the chest.

She crumpled.

And we didn't even know her.

And that was the point.


We burnt rubber

Laughing. 


I was half laughing.

This outfit didn’t fit me

And I knew it.


But I tried it on for a while. 

It was the only outfit 

In my closet.


The one I was 

Being told

Was mine.


It felt good to give in.

With others who had given in.

Like a brotherhood.


We never asked,

Why do we do this?

Why do we surrender

As an act of war?


Why do I take the label

That you etched on my face

With a knife


And get revenge

By taking your knife

And cutting it into

My heart?


Sometimes when I tell

My firecracker five year old

To go to her room,


She fights me, and disobeys

And gets a consequence.


And then I say again:

"Go to your room."


And now, she goes to her room.


And then looks back at me 

With a cleverness in her eyes,

And she says:


"That's what I want to do.

I like it in my room."


We don't like the story,

So we write fiction

Right on top of it.


Go ahead and take it.

I didn't want it anyway.


Go ahead and kill me.

I wanted to die anyway.


Smiling as the tears

Fall down our faces.


Park Hill, I don't 

Think about you much.

With your streets

Cracked as lips.


You're a complex knot,

A confusing hardness

In my belly.  Like a relative

In prison you don't 

See anymore.


You are a jumble of

White mom and 

Black dad and piss skin

And liquor store and 

Bloods and crips,

Video games at 

The corner store,

Comic books.


Park Hill, you 

Stole my bike

Like it was a hobby.


In summer, your air

Could get so hot

It would liquify 

The asphalt in places.


I'd poke the gummy

Blackness with my toe.


You gave me my

Best friend.


We would draw

Comic book characters

Together for hours

And hours.


Quiet together. 

Always together. 


Dion, my blood,


I never told you

I loved you.  I didn't

Know.  We didn't talk

Like that. But you are 

My blood. My own blood.

Family.


When I left Park Hill,

I never looked back.


I didn't know how to

Hold it all. I couldn't make

It all fit. I ran.


You remember how

We used to whip

Those dudes on 

Street Fighter 2

At the Seven Eleven?

We had them donating 

Quarters, bro. 


Remember that apple 

Cobbler at the food court

At the Tabor Center? 


Closest we ever got

To heaven, and that brother

Would always smile and 

Scoop us extra.


Remember that alley behind

My house where you

Could avoid the gang

Members, if you were

Willing to risk 


Walking by that pitbull

Who had dug a hole

Beneath his fence

Big enough to shoot

His head out sideways

Like a hungry hippo 

And try to drag you

Screaming into

His yard?


I remember the day

My dad grabbed my mom

By the front of her shirt,

In the kitchen,

Burning his rage

Into her eyes 

With his eyes.


I remember his jaw.

Hard, like he had 

A mouthful of

Thumbtacks.


Like Park Hill.


You remember

The parking lot

At Stapleton airport

Where the snow plows

Would dump all the snow?


Snow for miles, snow

Miles high, filthy beautiful 

Castles of snow that you

Could explore for hours.

Adventure, a thick smoke

In our lungs.


Park Hill, I am one

Of your sons. 


You are that black pitbull.

In my alley. 


Silent as a kitten.

Until the right moment

When you lunge

And rattle the fence

Like thunder,


Jaws wide, shooting

Beneath the fence,

Whining for someone

The chew.


I guess somebody

Loves you because

Someone kept feeding you.


But I wonder how many times

You bit them. I don't

Wonder. You bit us all.


I ran from you. And I love you

And I hate you. And I love you.

And I want to forget you

And remember you.


And I guess I'm a little 

Proud that I survived you.


And you're the reason

I still can't wear red.

I feel like I'll get shot.


And I want to go 

Back in time and visit

Myself, that Park Hill boy

In all his gangly

Nappy-headed insecurity,


That screechy voice that 

Makes me sick whenever 

I hear it on video.


That skin that wasn't 

Black enough to be black.

And definitely not white.


That kid who was

Always out of joint.

Out of the socket. Kind

Of hanging there, limp.


I want to scoop him

Up and tell him. And Dion

Too. Like a big brother

Who made it out, and comes

Back with a sweet ride,

And big, booming stories 

Of the big wide world, 

And gifts, and secret 

Handshakes and 

Big hands cradling

Your knotty head, 


And a grin that stares

Into your eyes 

And knows you. 


And somehow

Loves you. 

And really does.

For some insane,

Incomprehensible 

Reason.


And I want to tell them:


You guys are not worthless.

Look at me. Look at me.

There's more.


Park Hill isn't the world.

There are places out there

That don't eat you alive.

I'm serious.


You are precious. Park Hill

Doesn't know any better.

Pitbulls make for bad

Nursemaids.


It was a setup

From the start.


Pitbulls bite you, not

Because they hate you,

Not because something's

Wrong with you. They bite

Because they are pitbulls.

And that's what pitbulls do.


Can you imagine

A pit bull baking you a cake?

Come on, son.


You don't have to hate them.

But you don't have to

Put your arm in their 

Mouth, either.

Hear me?


And it's OK for you to 

Hug your homies and tell them

You love them.  I know,

I know.  You're going to

Pretend I never said that

Punk-ass stuff, but it's true.

I love you. Say it with me.

You love each other

Like brothers. And that's

A gift.  You can say things

Like that.


You have no idea

What's possible.


You can dream, homies.

The world is big, and 

She bites sometimes.

She bites hard. But,

There's more.


You are loved.


I don't know what to say

To you, now that you're

Here in my arms. It's 

OK to cry.  You can be

Who you are. Breathe

Out.


There are different ways

To be strong.  Not just

The hard-edged 

Bloody-fisted toughness

That Park Hill smiles upon.


Kindness is stronger.

Compassion is stronger.

Love is stronger.


Your gentleness that 

Feels like such a 

Curse that you would

Rip it out of your chest

If you could,


It's a gift.  There's a 

Place for it.  You are

Fearfully and wonderfully

Made.


You are not defective.

At least, not in any ways

We aren't all defective.


You are perfectly fashioned. 

A beautiful child of God.


I know this sounds 

Like punk-ass nonsense.


I know. I know. And 

Tomorrow there will be

A bully who wants to 

Punch your face, and 

This will sound irrelevant

To the point of absurdity.


Just let this in a little.

Like a seed. Like an 

Echo of a song

Somewhere.


A sweetness that you

Are brave enough

To long for.


You are more than

What you see around you.

I promise you. 


I never got tattoos.

This poem is my tattoo.

On the inside.


Here's the design:


The liquor store

And Dion. And 

A vicious black

Pitbull. A Nintendo

Game controller. 

A scowling traffic cone. 

A spiderman face.

A bicycle with

Angel's wings.


All these images 

Entwined in the vapor

From a bowl of steaming 

Apple cobbler, with this 

Recipe beneath:


Two parts fear,

Two parts longing,

One part joy.


I went back to you, 

My little corner of

Park Hill, years ago.

Maybe to drink 

Memories like a 

Bitter forty ounce.


To walk your cracked

Streets as a man.


I went back to you, Park Hill,

And you weren't there anymore.


A bunch of white people

Now. Luxury apartments

And coffee shops nearby.


I didn't even get to 

Watch you die.  


To give my gritty

Eulogy.


To tell your fading eyes,

I forgive you. To make

My peace with your

Broken teeth.


To tell you I would not

Trade your scars

For all the money 

In the world.


To kiss you

In the end. I think

I'm strong enough

To do that now.


I went back to you, Park Hill,

And you weren't there anymore.


Just what's left inside of me.



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