Ode to “Ghetto Gas”

We’re moving in a couple of months from the little city with all the big city problems where we’ve lived for more than eighteen years to a rural/suburban island–literally–vastly different from this place we’ve called home.

Lately, I’ve had the urge to commemorate our experiences here, to leave some little legacy of our lives when we were a part of this place.  It’s weird to eulogize something that isn’t dead.

To that end, I’m going to ramble now and again about various experiences that make living here unique.

Ode to “Ghetto Gas”

She weighs maybe eighty-five pounds.

Grey-haired, stooped and cackling, eyes jazzed with crack magic,

an urban witch on the prowl,

she shuffles her sneakered feet on the diagonal,

holding up all four lanes of traffic at the intersection

where unsurprising stabbings happen.

It’s daylight, but even with a high sun this spot is shadowed

by the graffiti on the dumpster

and the filth in the gutter—

Ho-ho wrappers, broken bottles, a forlorn garage sale sign

fading to obscurity.

Everything is for sale here,

but it’s mostly dreams that get scratched away with every

swipe of a dirty penny,

holding up the line with wizened grip as she

waits for sevens—sevens—sevens.

What would she do with $1000 a week?

The next guy in line cradles an inevitable six-pack.

He stinks of unwashed clothes and cigarette smoke.

Toothless, he mouths the tired litany of the disenfranchised.

The cashier rolls her eyes at the food stamps: She’s eighteen and

already hardened to the realities.

“You can’t use those for beer.”

She doesn’t make the rules, doesn’t legislate dubious ethicalities.

He grumbles, something obscene and anatomically unlikely,

and then pays with change painstakingly fumbled

against the counter.

A dime chimes on the dirty floor.

Outside at the only payphone left in the city,

another desperate soul slurs into the greasy receiver.

The view is of a cracked concrete lot where something

Once stood.

Now it’s mostly home to weeds and trash and the occasional rat.

No one stays long.

We gas up, go on, pray that no one holds the place up while we’re there.

We pay at the pump and remind ourselves that next time we’ll get gas at

the nice family-owned place out by the strip mall.

We pretend that these people aren’t just like us,

that this sad mecca for the homeless and oppressed isn’t a half-mile

from where we have an only tenuous grasp on prosperity.

It could be you, the cracked glass door suggests.

It could be you or you or you.

There’s no margin in judgment.

Let[’s] go.