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wrrodriguez.com

the bootblack


the bootblack

neither

creates the shoe

nor kills the cow

has no theories

but the preservation

of leather

and the soul’s thin hide

burnishes a small

part of the world

pounding wonder

from the mundane

clodhoppers

loafers

wing tips

combat boots

the legendary

puerto rican fence climbers

pumps and

police brogues

reality is unique

as a world worn foot

these walking streets

are beautiful






my little red fire engine


my little red fire engine

i sit i steer i pedal

toward imaginary disasters

as though i were important

but today no kids are out

to save from the flames

too hot this august morning

for many emergencies

this holy day of obligation

at early mass the stone walls

of saint luke’s church

chill the bronx heat

señoras in black dresses

finger rosaries

the last irish knights of columbus

guard lonely pews

priestly latin drifts

through the morning peace

firemen beside the holy water

on the threshold are ready

to scramble but the alarm

does not ring

the offertory bells

startle all to salvation

hook and ladder 29

just across the street

its art nouveau facade

wondrous to a young boy

searching for heroes

and glory

engines shiny

freshblood red behind

a trinity of corniced arches

prepared to rescue all

from mortal infernos

nothing burns

devotional candles melt with prayer

the priest’s homily

is in the vernacular

heaven is heaven and hell is hell

earth is the mystery to me

o for the paradise years

before riots and assassinations

and the arson that burns

through the safety of sleep

brickbats bottles the rage of the mob

greet the saviors

so many willing to throw stones

at so few

before despair there is hope

which flickers away

save the apartments we desperately need

the building beside the church

is torched one winter night

the top two floors lost

before the ladder is raised

five stories overhead the lone fireman

directs the hose

he is a silver angel

in the white spotlight

the orange flames

the black sky

the brown smoke

it is all just another insurance payout

a cheap eviction of unwanted tenants

this is the incense

of the church of the bronx

charred tenement skeletons

stand like sentinels of death

acres of crumbled brick and broken glass

fill for years with garbage

weeds grow amidst the rot

faint promise of a green life

the trash is set ablaze

these are the prairies of the slums

where wild dogs scavenge

and there is wailing

and gnashing of teeth

we make our offerings

and we eat the divine

we are blessed and are sent

into the stark sunlight

of bronx streets

at the bakery the cinnamon buns

are still warm

mother perks the coffee

and sends me out to play

in my shiny red

little fire engine

and i roar up and down

but the arsonists are sleeping

and there is no one to save

save the apartments we desperately need

the building beside the church

is torched one winter night

the top two floors lost

before the ladder is raised

five stories overhead the lone fireman

directs the hose

he is a silver angel

in the white spotlight

the orange flames

the black sky

the brown smoke

it is all just another insurance payout

a cheap eviction of unwanted tenants

this is the incense

of the church of the bronx

charred tenement skeletons

stand like sentinels of death

acres of crumbled brick and broken glass

fill for years with garbage

weeds grow amidst the rot

faint promise of a green life

the trash is set ablaze

these are the prairies of the slums

where wild dogs scavenge

and there is wailing

and gnashing of teeth

we make our offerings

and we eat the divine

we are blessed and are sent

into the stark sunlight

of bronx streets

at the bakery the cinnamon buns

are still warm

mother perks the coffee

and sends me out to play

in my shiny red

little fire engine

and i roar up and down

but the arsonists are sleeping

and there is no one to save






sledgehammer man


i need a couple bucks he says

sleeveless white tee shirt

skinny muscles

that sledgehammer props him up

that sledgehammer says maybe he’ll bust up the place

his friend smiling like something nice gonna happen

he’s scowling

i need a couple bucks

and i don’t know what to say

i just see that sledgehammer

i need a couple bucks

and uncle reaching towards the cash register for his billy club

i need a couple bucks

and cousin whips a lead pipe

from beside the radiator and says

you’re not getting any money

you’re not getting any money

and they walk away

the smiler the scowler the sledgehammer

fade in the long streets

to lives of anonymity

because everyone knows al’s shanty

gives the best shoeshine in the bronx

but nobody’s heard of the sledgehammer robber

nor his smiling sidekick

but maybe if he had said please

maybe

if it weren’t for that sledgehammer

he might have gotten some money

free money just for being down and out and telling

some tale of rotten luck but he didn’t

maybe he should have tried the pawnbroker

it was a decent sledgehammer

really

quite formidable






the spectacle


they came to see us bleed

we fought like friends

i was bigger and he stronger

so many people gathered one summer sunday afternoon

to watch two kids fight

and blur eyed i saw a man

offer him a toy pistol to beat in my brains with

but he didn’t take it

he was above them

a hundred bored people

and we became an event

i could’ve been watching from my own window

like the great cockfight bust or a minor riot

o blessed and peaceful is the vicarious

yes yes we are the subjects of a wordsworthian poem

i’ll bet there are even lakes somewhere

beyond the cloud capped tenements

and if we had some money

we might see some beauty in this too

but we’ll crawl out of this half blind

and half dead and our consolation

will be to know there are those worse off

like that highland lass reaping and singing

melancholy and plaintive forever

except now poetry doesn’t rhyme

and she harvests subminimum wages

while the molds fill with plastic and metal

in a third world toy factory

where no vote counts but the right one

or the left one and no union strikes

so we gather our leeches where we may and sell them

we make bets on children’s fights

and stake our bucks on the rooster’s razored claws

and we long for our brief childhood perhaps

if it were not so terrible






the cockfight bust


police barricade the entire street

squad cars detective cars a police bus

spectators everywhere

like celebrity seekers at a broadway opening in some old movie

and down the police lined path

prisoners are herded to meatmarket justice

booked and sentenced

to live their lives in anonymous apartments

to fatten and die in the bronx

but judicious wheels turn slowly

it takes a very long restless time

for two patrol wagons to return and reload

return and reload again and again

everyone gets bored amid all the excitement

so cops run round the corner to roundup strays

escaping through canyons of basements

and catch no one to the crowd’s delight

while i count seventy eight men and women

with blankets and picnic baskets

children and babies

parading out to our applause

they wave and cheer back in temporary fame

everyone is happy as when the circus comes

to the puerto rico theater if not happier

because we are all on the stage of a great dramatic irony

and know from the corners of our eyes

that just down the street el lobo sweeps

the sidewalk he don’t know nothing

he’s just the janitor here

but damn those are his best fighters

hauled off in the unmarked car

while the bull in charge stands

proud as the cock of the walk

and tomorrow at dawn roosters again will crow

will they betray him he wonders

and who got the money






logic


people wonder why i curse so much

and act obnoxious and do everything i can

to keep the blessed human race off my damn back

me who was brought up to be a nice kid

by a nice italian mother and a nice castilian father

taught to speak nicely and to respect others

and elders and all god’s creatures and all that crap

like the cat i befriended for ten minutes

and i don’t like cats them being sneaky and all

until some stone throwing kids killed it

me who learned in junior high school

while the elders were not watching

or saw only the past or pretended not to notice

when some gang walked into math class

while the teacher was discussing the history of infinity

with academically advanced seventh graders

and beat up a girl who helped grade papers and left

the teacher did not move from his desk

and no counselor came to counsel us

and no principal stopped by to smile and to say

what an unfortunate incident this was and to lie

that this would never happen again it was just

business as usual at arturo toscanini junior high

where gangs chased intellectuals and jews

and anyone else they did not like

and the social studies teacher taught

what a great melting pot america was

when she wasn’t at the police station filing assault reports

and with every punch and with every bruise

and with every broken year of my youth i learned

that the more i cursed the less i fought

and the less i fought the less i got beat up

and the less i got beat up the better i looked

in this land of ugliness and that logic of course is power

the power to subdue a curious mind

the power to bully a loving heart






the great american motorcycle boots


black leather

red white and blue paisley inlaid

pointed toes

two american eagles stare me in the eyes

mean beaked and feisty eyed

all trimmed in neat white stitchery

these are the great american motorcycle boots

and this is the best of all possible ghettos

soon the city will hammer

sheet metal painted with white windows

red and blue curtains

to beautify the abandoned tenements

but the junkies are too stoned to notice

and tourists do not come here

the crazy puerto rican my uncle calls him

just a quiet guy on a loud bike

lean jeans greased hair and a slick jacket

everyone is categorized

johnny the jew who sells shoes on sundays

and slumlords on the side

the dumb guinea bookie

but we ain’t hit big yet

the shanty irish cop

who may or may not pay for our honest labor

we shine their shoes with a smile

we hate each other and we love each other

better than we do the government

of this america where only the rich are free

and we are too poor to afford justice

and the looney dude speeds off on his harley

he tips big and his boots beam

bright as an immigrant’s smile at the statue of liberty

red blood white eyes blue bruises

the flag won’t mean a thing

when the police beat him senseless in the alley






democracy


it was decided by the noisier of the people who are delegated such powers by those who just don’t give a damn that america was not such a bad place after all it being july and who needs heat or hot water in this weather anyway and at night when everyone is out the tenements don’t look quite so bad and who sees them in the daytime when everyone is sleeping away the heat and the war was good for the economy reducing unemployment by sending the men to war and creating jobs for the women who could work for the guys who did not go to war and who were making big bucks and the underground economy was providing enough luxury items to go round and so it was decided by the noisier of the people who are delegated such powers by those who just don’t give a damn that america was not such a bad place after all to celebrate by doing what would have been done anyway as it had become a tradition for the fourth of july so each side sent out its scouts to chinatown and little italy to gather up as much firepower as could be bought or stolen and to smuggle it and stockpile it and to distribute it at just the right time which was sunset on the fourth of july when it was decided by the noisier of the people who are delegated such powers by those who just don’t give a damn that america was not such a bad place after all to celebrate by doing what would have been done anyway as it had become a tradition and so the two armies of teenagers too young for draft cards or too mean by means of their criminal records for military service assumed positions on their respective rooftops the ruddy irish above their red bricked tenements and the swarthy puerto ricans and leftover italians above their brown bricked tenements and it was decided by the noisier of the people who are delegated such powers by those who just don’t give a damn that america was not such a bad place after all to celebrate by doing what would have been done anyway as it had become a tradition that the war at home had begun which was signaled by a single rocket’s red glare which began the shooting of bottle rockets and m-80s and strings of firecrackers and sizzlers which went on for hour after hour keeping the old ladies and babies awake and driving the dogs crazy they cowered in corners like shellshocked veterans though casualties were light as the street was wide and nothing more than a sputtering rocket ever hit the other side mostly everything landed in the street which was by mutual decision a free fire zone and anyone or anything in it an enemy to both sides and mostly there was no one in it except a few unfortunate passersby unaware of this great fourth of july tradition and a line of parked cars which would be pockmarked by morning when the sidewalks were covered with red white and blue paper and the air reeked of sulfur and it was decided that everyone should cease fire and get some chow and shuteye and rest up for the night when it was decided by the noisier of the people who are delegated such powers by those who just don’t give a damn that america was not such a bad place after all to celebrate by doing what would have been done anyway as it had become a tradition and the sun went up and down on the ceasefire and the irish and the puerto ricans and the leftover italian guys and their girls and their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers got back out on our street to hang out to rock babies to gamble to play loud music to drink to gossip to party and to wait to wait to wait for a job for a baby for a draft notice which had become a tradition in not such a bad place after all






they told me not to sing


they told me not to sing

it was sixth grade and all the little puppets

with the sweet little children voices

in the disney exhibit were singing

it’s a small world at the world’s fair

where they who were not warring or starving

or working paid to stand hours together

on line to see fire dancers and the wonders

of the future like slick cars and clean

nuclear energy

communist china wasn’t there because it wasn’t

a country but it had the bomb

at the vatican exhibit the sistine chapel and the pietà

god and man forever reaching

the son of god dead in his mother’s arms

and we were taught to sing in a castle of a school

collegiate gothic architecture to be exact

with a raised stone basement and a tall grate

upon a concrete moat to keep out the world

william lloyd garrison elementary

the great abolitionist but we were not free

from american values

learn much work hard for the corporation

pay taxes to support the war

buy records and toy machine guns

public school 31

where the teacher took away my tomtom

because i could not carry a beat

but they let me be a dead indian in the play

because i died well

or maybe they were just being kind

i lost so many fights my uncle called me canvasback

but i didn’t cry and they told me not to sing

and there was nothing to sing about

where stray dogs tried to sneak into the cafeteria

for a great society lunch

i was door monitor a demotion from safety patrol

a fat kid beneath the central tower’s tudor arches

mom did not want me to cross the street anyway

but i missed that white plastic sash and shiny silver badge

i once admitted a mangy scrawny mutt too kind

to slam the door on its tail and the lunchroom went nuts

crazier than when some kid ate a gefüllte sandwich

i liked the gefüllte fish eaters

i figured they saved me from a lot of fights

because bullies can’t beat everyone up all the time

like we could bomb cambodia but not china

and at recess we played the jets and the sharks

without the singing in the west bronx

and without the suicides

we didn’t have to kill ourselves

too many others wanted to

and we lived on television dreams

but we did it the american way

tossed a coin to see which class was the sharks

then the fifth and sixth grades got it on

with fists and belts and sticks

ethnicity did not matter

just violence

and the blacks and the puerto ricans and the jews

fought like an italian gang until the bell

rang and we had to pretend to be nice

to each other and to the teacher

who made us sing but not me

because the hand raisers raised their hands

he’s flat they said we can’t sing

because of him and it was always my fault

the flat songs the lost ball games the war

the kennedy assassination the lost dreams

all my fault and she agreed and said

why don’t you mouth the words for a while

and i sat through the dumb songs

like a goldfish mouthing through rainbow colored gravel

and the art teacher removed the bowling alley

from my construction paper dream house

but what did she know about my dreams

commuting to the suburbs

only in xanadu is pleasure art

and i took to the treeless streets

mouthing words for years for life

hoping to remain invisible






the malthusian theory


like every long shot it seemed like a sure shot and his legs were so long his stride so swift his torso so lean his need so great he scooped up the stakes from the 534 east 138th street crapshoot and the race was on four lucky gamblers in pursuit what do the losers care who gets the money but it was their game too and it was once their money and what else was there to do now that the game was over and the beer upset so as he passed 530 east 138th street they took after him too he led by ten yards with eight lucky and unlucky gamblers after him and their friends took notice because what else was going on to take notice of so by 526 east 138th street he was twelve yards ahead and eight gamblers and eight lucky and unlucky but otherwise bored friends were hounding him and by 522 east 138th street sixteen acquaintances of theirs must have thought how can he do that to our acquaintances because they took off too while asking each other what did he do anyway and he was sprinting in fine form with thirty two gamblers friends and lucky or unlucky but no longer bored acquaintances huffing and puffing and shouting and screaming which got everybody’s attention so by 518 east 138th street thirty two pedestrians took up jogging after him and at 514 east 138th street he was still about five yards ahead of sixty four gamblers friends acquaintances and lucky or unlucky but very excited pedestrians which got the attention of the official 138th street spectators who watch everything and see nothing and sixty four of the fleetest official spectators joined the mob as our part of 138th street ran out of numbers and he turned the corner while one hundred twenty eight not so fast spectators streamed out of their doorways making that two hundred fifty six gamblers friends acquaintances pedestrians and lucky or unlucky fleet or not so fleet but no longer solemn official spectators rushing onto brook avenue to be joined by two hundred fifty six brook avenue strangers making that five hundred twelve gamblers friends acquaintances pedestrians fleet or not so fleet official spectators and lucky or unlucky brook avenue strangers who were met by five hundred twelve lucky or unlucky nondescripts from the mill brook projects making that one thousand twenty four in the curious crowd only twenty four of whom could actually see who got him first or who got the money when the ambulance carried him away which only goes to prove that the hunger of a crowd for entertainment quickly exceeds society’s ability to produce amusement






beyond the window


i awaken to the feeling of noise

open the window onto the mob

convinced they would get me at last

burn me like frankenstein

lynch me from a fire escape ladder

but i am fifteen and pretty invisible

and insignificant in the grand scheme of things

this is a major operation

police and people everywhere

i can see which is all that matters

and it is always so exciting

the world beyond the window

but at night in my dreams

i am the sufferers i behold

and it is always so dark

and i am always alone in the unknown

which i know so well

familiar faces chase me

through the familiar streets of childhood

i become a stranger in my own neighborhood

who cannot see his enemy

and awaken in lonely sweat

red lights circling the ceiling

everyone is running or watching

whatever happens i will not be a part

beautiful and ugly are the beholder’s eyes

o how do i walk in such a crowded world

in a riot of reality without getting lost







the spectacle


sledgehammer man


the cockfight bust


logic


the malthusian theory


beyond the window




Audio & text:  concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx  part I


Click the triangle to listen to the poem while you read it.




concrete pastures of the beautiful bronx is available as an e-publication from Smashwords:

www.smashwords.com/books/view/490854






the bootblack


democracy


my little red fire engine


the great american motorcycle boots


they told me not to sing