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Neighborhood Statistics

Gunshots punched holes in the silence. I looked up from my book, feeling before I knew, yes, it was a drive by shooting. In the street, tires screeched, a car sped off. Each second pulsed like a heartbeat. Between the drapes, I saw neighbors peeking from their windows and then a woman’s scream rose. Bitter and helpless, it rose into the air.

Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.

I ran down the steps. What if the old man who walks his dog is dead in the street? I spun on the handrail. Or my friend, Charles, head blasted apart? I jumped on the stair landing, turned again. Or my girlfriend, she’s on her way to see me, what if she’s choking for air through a bullet torn throat?

Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.

Out the building, into the bright blinding day. The halos around them receded, I see neighbors at the crime scene, holding hands and talking as if to stitch reality back together after the violence ripped it apart. The police stretch a yellow ribbon. The police hold a mother back as she yells for her son.

Medics walk out with a limping man. He holds bloody gauze to his hip, wobbles to the back of the ambulance, face screwed in pain and rage and shame. I am thankful. I don’t know him. It’s no one I know. I can breathe. The mother has collapsed on the ground, hands over her face, weeping.  

“Damn, summer done just started,” a man, covered in tattoos, says what we all feel. Shame. I am ashamed to be here. To belong to this neighborhood. To belong to this people. I am ashamed at being ashamed. But for now, I don’t care. I hate how we live, cheek to cheek with death. I hate that yesterday, I watched boys playing in the rainbow of water spray from an opened fire hydrant and wondered how long they have to live.

A detective walks around the crowd, gingerly asking who knows what. Everyone says the same thing, a black car, sped down that direction and aim with their fingers to the vanishing point. He asks me. I say the same thing. I look down the street and imagine the car, imagine the boys, smiling like Halloween jack-o-lanterns at their fresh kill.

How many times have they shot? Do they know each bullet travels for years in our sleep? It flies at hundreds of miles an hour through hundreds of dreams, hitting everyone we love. We have nightmares. When we wake, we watch the children closely, worried they may get caught in the crossfire.

Do the boys in the car know that we know them? We once were them. Angry and bitter and petty. We were trapped in small worlds too. We wanted to blast our way out too. I know I did. My mom was one of these moms. Tired and overworked. Barely holding on. Dating broken men who wanted to break her as if she was the last measure of their strength. One of them knocked her up and she tried to raise me, alone. I was one of these boys, playing in a rainbow of water spray from an opened fire hydrant.

She sent me away to a school before the streets could take me. I came back to New York like it was a magnet forcing me to witness my unlived life. Every day, I see who I could have been. I see him on the corner. I see him passing drugs in handshakes. I see him when I point to where the black car sped away. I don’t tell the detective that I’m one of the boys, laughing as I point the gun at us, the other me, the less real me.

I leave the scene, go back inside. My girlfriend comes home. She asks what happened. I look at her, frizzy haired and beautiful, Overworked. Barely holding it together. We talk of having a baby. I think of who our child would become and kneel in front of her.

She is worried. She asks what’s wrong as I hold her, press my face against her belly, saying, “Please. Please. Please. Please.”

If you haven’t seen Proximity‘s latest issue, themed GUNS, begin with Stacy Muszynski’s Letter from the Editor and work your way through a complex collection of true stories. This issue’s contributors include: Susanne Sener, Priscilla Nemeth, K.N. Johnson, Nina Gaby, Melinda J. Combs, Jessica Server, Daniella Lang, Terrell Fox, and Travis Klempan.


NICHOLAS POWERS is an poet and associate professor of literature. He has written for The Indypendent, Truth-Out, The Village Voice, and Alternet. He has reported from Hurricane hit New Orleans, the Darfur Genocide, Burning Man and post earthquake Haiti. (@egophobia)

  1. Malika Duggan says:

    You really caught it and told it Nicholas! I have felt what you wrote so beautifully as a wife and mom of a man and boys as we lived in the condition you described so well. I am so thankful every day, that my sons, in spite of the frightening reality you describe, have lived to become, as you did, successful men.

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