That was when

the young priest

opened the parish gym

on week nights

to keep us off the streets,

cornered us one by one

demanding to know how many times

since our last confession

we spilled our holy seed,

promised us paradise

if we kept our fists

out of our pants.


And when

girls like Rosemary

from the convent school

poked against us

in the wild, windy midnights,

their mothers in ragged gowns

hissing through cracks

in screen doors,

girls like Rosemary

who panted until their skin shook,

then stepped back

because the good sisters implored them

not to step down,

sent us home feverish

to wait for something better.


And when

police stalked us

through glaring, dangerous streets

because we happened to be there,

mexican, black,

youngest in a family of ten.

We searched alleys and trash bins

looking for booze or fistfights,

something to steal or break,

running from the young priest

who wanted us to wrestle or box

or play basketball,

tell him how many times that week

we hungered for girls like Rosemary

with scented hair and the warm place

we could feel through their skirts.


When the red eyes of patrol cars

turned a corner suddenly,

we hid under old chevys,

ripped our shirts and our skin

rolling over fences

to escape being slammed

against paddy wagons,

to escape being beaten into better boys,

willing and ready to sacrifice.


And when

the ex football player, the ex marine,

the newborn Christian

campaigning for city council,

came to our school

to tell us of the vision he had for our future

and explain how he once felt as we did,

felt he knew everything

but now he knew better,

knew we could create a better world

and be like our forefathers,

the founders of the Republic,

the great generals, the great frontiersmen,

who believed in God, hard work and gold,

if we’d only listen and obey

and sacrifice.


And just beyond those days

we woke one morning

to see the dream of our future

brighten under a banner headline

in the photograph of the rumpled carcass

of a helicopter gunship

smoking human flesh

in a place we never heard of

along the muddy road to Hue.


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