Monday, May 1, 2006

Cream City Bricks

The grade school on 18th Street
had the same hard black brick
as all the others, charcoal outside,
soft and yellow inside.
The hallway walls wore
crayon meanderings, up
the warm, wooden stair to the third
grade, where Miss Schneider
read us stories—gave out
gold stars I coveted
in neat lines next to my name
on her clean white chart.

I didn't know about the
buttery insides of bricks till David,
the kid with buckteeth,
who died driving drunk
somewhere in Saigon,
threw stones at me and missed,
taking golden chips
out of the dark fa├žade.

The year they sand-blasted the courthouse
we went downtown on the bus
every Saturday
to see the next installment of gold appear,
like sunrise slowly crawling
over that domed horizon.

Even South Division High,
where I left my illusions,
came clean under the harsh interrogation
of sand and steam.

But always, in a year or so,
the dark effects of weathering
crept back,
smeared over the brick
like a scum of dirt and straw that
floats on new milk in the pail.

In the dairies, my uncles
skimmed milk, turned cream
into pale Wisconsin butter,
then came home to complain of cows,
low wages, and hippies
in the old neighborhood bars.

I loved those East-side bars—
biker bars squeezed between
the headshops and Watertower Park,
where you could get three good hits of
white-cross for two bucks,
or strawberry mescaline on Sunday,
where we learned to stay away from
crazy Pete’s weed laced with dust.

By graduation I knew three dead boys,
David and Pete and Michael.

Michael, all light and music,
danced his motorcycle
off the 16th Street viaduct.
My dad, who’d never liked long hair,
chanted a new lyric about

But I remember the vibration
between my thighs
on one forbidden ride
and the heat
of pale, creamy skin

under black leather.

Originally published in Penguin Review, Spring 2006

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