Oh those days on Lawndale,
The summer sweet weed smell
and 40 ounce behemoth breath
left its mark upon me
like a flame searing flesh.
I was in the present moment
more attentive than ever,
Now reflective upon feeling
a certain fire of uncertainty,
A vivid emptiness internally.
Identity was an infant
like a restless spider weaving
an endless web of discovery,
And every day was different
discovering the hate and love in me.
The teenage angst of city life
yet somehow I found a bliss
not in coins, but in pitching them
under the sun’s scream on concrete
where teens crowded corners
There was pressure to conform
to the image of the Cobra.
To weather the storm of youth
and not slip into that swamp,
To seek some sort of truth
in finding out who you are
and who you’re not.
Oh Chicago I remember,
Walking up to Jensen in September,
Ready to play ball in brilliant weather.
80 degrees and counting.
The court with its austere gleam
called teens to play.
We played ball that day in September,
Without any thought to what we’d do next
caught up in the moment until
we ran out of breath.
I took a break to grab a drink
and watched the dreamless
drinking on a park bench.
I was a question mark
consorting with exclamations.
Surrounded by dreamless
drifters and street bums
hearing the distant sound
of harmonica beats
as the marijuana seeped
into sewers of Seagram’s.
I grew up in this ageless
aimless teenage kingdom
where void was the concept of authority,
A kingdom of anarchy
and ranting of strange minds,
I saw the “powerless” feel empowered
in the proclamation of gang signs,
But I felt power on the court.
There was pressure to conform to their ways,
Though insecure about myself
I never bit the bait,
Denying my desire to belong.
My school days were lonely
like the loneliness of my disease,
Reaching with its forceps
and yanking out self-esteem.
Most classes I would cut
to smoke a blunt in the Cutlass
trying to regain a sense of composure,
I fled to the neighborhood
drifting in the currents of Cullom.
A place where teens found identity
and self-worth in the image of the Cobra.
Where did I find my self-worth?
I found it in my dream of playing ball,
Basketball at Jensen,
Soaked in September sweat
dribbling up and down the court
as mad men looked on
eager to participate.
I stuck the dagger in
with a swish to end the game,
Damn!! I felt good about myself,
Forgetting my limitations
in a blurring moment,
I ran like how the river runs,
Free from diabetes consciousness,
Free from the label of being dysfunctional.
I held the ball, smelling the dirt, the musk,
The burnt roach weed smell
from the fingertips of felons.
I fell in love that day at Jensen.
I fell in love with dreams.
“Come on Matthew, you coming with us?”
I watched them that day after the game
disperse from the park to hang out on Leland.
About ten of them. Green eyes, green and black
back bruises, tattoos, shaved heads,
40 ounce behemoth breath.
Alone, I grabbed tight onto my dream
and dribbled it home down Lawndale,
Watching the dreamless go into a restless
Matthew J. Lawler is a poet and Chicago native. He is published in numerous online journals, Visual Verse, Unlost Journal, Caravel Literary Arts Journal. You can find him on facebook.com/matthewjlawlerpoet