Whatever it was, I’d like again the mojo I had at fourteen,
when I’d scale trees, my shoulders & chest tingling, skin too tight,
when I strutted home from fifty-cent movies, still hearing bugles
of Battle Cry, & Aldo Ray’s husky voice, buckled & buttoned
in marine corps green, when I walked a be-anything world.
Around the Korean armistice, we lived on L.A.’s 98th, & I walked
distances, my blood pulsing in my finger-tips. From school
I’d always go to the little market, where, up stairs, my friend
James the cripple lived. His sisters sewed in corners
of the room, a sour cabbage odor aged the air. His mother
drying her hands on her skirt, bowing, James nodding
in his wheelchair; his grandpa’s recliner before the 12-inch
Zenith, the old man swigging Kirin in a kimono;
the tacky surface of the Naugahyde divan I’d sit on to tell
stories for James to smile—which browned the lampshades.
Up 98th was different, misted pylons, insulators ticking,
clapboards squatting behind ice-plant, oleander,
fry-grease odors—bacon, onions, potatoes. Nothing
smelled as fine as 98th between Main & Broadway. A DeSoto
with spoked wheels—the one old Wilks wanted running—
sat like a scuttled barge in the gutter; his son, Stanley, the boxer,
sparred on the front porch when he saw me, to say hello,
since he couldn’t speak but grunts & huffs. That’s where
I had my first fight, in front of Stanley’s house. A black kid
spit on my shoe, his buddies cackled, slapped their thighs.
A priest skidded his Pontiac to make us shake, my nose
bloody, the black kid spitting a tooth. What a grin he had,
that kid. His blood on my knuckles. I threw the bird
when two nuns in the priest’s car wiggled their fingers at us,
clucked like roiled hens. I can still hear streetcar bells
on Broadway, smell blue-steel-electric stench of stops,
so palpably, but I’ve forgotten the sass of my mojo.