Two Poems

My First Alexander Hamilton

[audio link]

The repairman exits the elevator, hurries 
past through my lobby, his eyes aimed 
at something in his hands, each as large 
as a baseball glove. He looks like a father: 
highways of wrinkles fork on his forehead.

A ten dollar bill lies on the elevator’s 
floor, its six inches a mile of money. 
Hamilton smiles at me; my pupils
enlarge. I never liked Aaron Burr. 
The city built the Projects in 1950, 
each building a brick fortress.

The elevator only accepts my Schwinn
when I turn its front wheel in. I peer 
through its outer door’s porthole. 
The repairman’s right hand touches 
the handle on my fortress’ front door, 
the metal monster a two-arm strain 
for kids my age. It springs open.

I watch him depart. My mind duels itself, 
“Stop!” never near my lips. The elevator 
whisks me to the safety of my apartment’s 
obscurity. Guilt plants a seed. I own one 
pair of shoes. Each Friday evening, my 
mother gives me one George Washington. 

I’m nine years old. Another school day 
ends. I return to the lobby. It’s empty. 
The elevator’s elsewhere. He could 
be in it. I scamper up the stairs.

The Projects house war vets and their 
families. My father served in the cavalry. 
The bill disappears beneath my money box. 
Inside, pennies, nickels, one quarter. 

My Hamilton departs: comic books,
candy — Tarzan, licorice. I can’t remember 
the repairman’s face. The seed flowers.


“Keep Off the Grass”

[audio link]

The kid sprints past me. I don’t know him. 
I can hear his heart pounding. I cover my ears. 
He isn’t older than sixth grade. I am. My building’s 
behind me, its shadow a comfort. 

Seconds later, a locomotive in a housing cop 
uniform rumbles by, the level sidewalk an uphill 
climb. His right hand presses against his holster; 
his gun wants to pop out. I want to touch it. 

The kid steps onto Avenue V, part of the asphalt 
moat enclosing the Projects: He’s beyond 
the Projects’ bounds. The cop crosses the street. 
My jaw drops. I push it back in place. 

The kid glances back. A wind arises, blows into him. 
I smell his fear. Rotten eggs smell better. The cop 
yells “Stop!” — the kid can’t: His mother can’t afford 
the two-dollar fine. I have only a quarter. I need it 
for an ice cream pop (banana). 

Flames soar from his sneakers’ soles. I notice 
the green stains: The kid was playing on the grass. 
I peer at my Keds. They’re still clean. I hear sirens. 
Fire engines. They turn onto Brown Street. 

I run to Avenue V, halt at the curb. Water is gushing 
from hoses, their spray a cloud of foam. I see the cop. 
He’s plodding toward me. His lungs are racing; 
his uniform’s soaked. Unseen weights drag down 
his face. The kid’s not with him.

—Howard Rosenberg, Sewell, NJ