Whenever I return a fight breaks out
in the park, someone buys a lottery ticket,
steals a bottle of vodka, lights
a cigarette underneath the overpass.
I-5 rips the neighborhood in half
the way the Willamette rips the city in half,
it sounds like the ocean
if I am sitting alone in the backyard
looking up at the lilac.
This is where white kids lived
and listened to Black Sabbath
while they beat the shit out of each other
for bragging rights,
running in packs, carrying baseball bats
that were cut from the same hateful trees
our parents had planted
before the Asian kids moved in
to run the mini-marts
and carry knives to school, before the Mexicans
moved in and mowed everyone’s front yard—
white kids wanting anything
anybody ever took from them in shaved heads
and combat boots.
On the weekend our furious mothers
applied their lipstick
that left red cuts on the ends of their Marlboro Reds
and our fathers quietly did whatever
when trying to beat back the dogs of sorrow
from tearing them limb from limb.
Lents, I have been away so long
I imagine that you’re a musical
some rich kid from New York wrote about credit,
debt, and then threw in Kool-Aid
to make it funny for everybody.
I can see the dance line,
the high kicks of the skinheads, twirling
metal pipes, stomping in unison
while the committed rage of the Gypsy Jokers
square off with the committed rage
of the single mothers.
The orchestra pit is filled with Pit bulls
and a Doberman conducts them all
into a frenzy.
In the end someone gets evicted, someone
gets jumped into his new family
and they call themselves Los Brazos,
King Cobras, South-Side White Pride.
Dear 82nd avenue, dear 92nd and Foster,
I am your strange son,
you saved me when I needed saving
and I remember your arms wrapped around
my bassinet like patrol cars wrapped around
the school yard
the night Jason went crazy—
waving his father’s gun above his head,
bathed in red and blue flashing lights,
all American, broken in half and beautiful.
About Matthew Dickman
Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008). The recipient of The Honickman First Book Prize, The May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Award from Claremont College, and the 2009 Oregon Book Award from Literary Arts of Oregon. His poems are forthcoming or have appeared in Tin House Magazine, McSweeny’s, Ploughshares, The Believer, The London Review of Books, and The New Yorker among others. W.W. Norton & Co. will publish his second book in 2012. He lives and works in Portland, Oregon.
In the Boston Review poet Major Jackson had this to say about Dickman’s work:
“Matthew Dickman’s melancholic portraits of impoverished white teenagers dazzle me into the always painful, yet easily forgettable, awareness that many people suffer psychically under the knife of American prosperity…Dickman hails from a neighborhood called Lents, a largely white underclass suburb in Southeast Portland, Oregon. He knows something about the sorrow of this world, its call for a kind of toughness of spirit and a sensitivity that must go underground if one is to survive and, more importantly here, the violence that such poverty recreates and echoes in the lives of the dispossessed. His authority is that of the native, unwavering and resolute. But it is his artfulness and large spirit, telescoping without sentimentality the single outlook of a speaker who has escaped such conditions and now looks back, as bluesy as such projects go, that gives his poems a universality of feeling, an expressive lyricism of reflection, and heartrending allure.”
“Lents District” © Matthew Dickman and was reprinted with permission from the author.