the block a loose square
like sardines. loose screw
keep up the pace. people
know a
streetlight’s bedtime like a
back hand
road. people know parole
don’t keep
the cartel sleep. moms say
we’re sick
for picking a block with
such a back story.
the building shot up. last
year before demolition.
the uneven foundation of
body could be swept away
by a storm of smoke
as I’m left gasping for fair
housing rights.

at least I know my neighbor’s name.
her perm waving a stiff hello from
the front porch, or the window of her
bedroom, where she watches the building
swell fat with broke young people.
pockets too thin to notice the paint peeling,
the blood waiting to escape my veins,
to rep his set once he hits the street air.
the boy out on the corner who could trigger
initiation. the woman with the nice garden
who makes sure he won’t.
since I moved here I walk twice as fast
because of what my family tells me
about this patch of Chicago land, a city
caught in the wrong throat. I walk like I don’t
know how quickly saliva decomposes. like
I don’t know how quickly a mouth can swallow
a whole people before even checking
for nutritional value. before even knowing
the block’s name. all the words that make
Park Manor a home.

Patricia Frazier is the national youth poet laureate.