Lengua* at the High Street Gym

I do sit-ups on a mat beneath a clock.
Two guys rack weights and argue
about where to find the best lengua
from food trucks throughout the city,
compare sauces, taste, heat,
while above me an infomercial
promises to grow lawns of hair
on a bare mattress
and flashes photos of two individuals,
one before, and the other ever after.
I’ve gotten to 50, hands
beneath my head, shaping voices
into a lengua served between pages of a book.
My goal is to get to 100. I keep pushing myself.

* Refers to beef tongue, often served in tacos


The Night I Mashed My Finger

I found a seat on the company bus,
swing-shift at the punch-press factory near an airport
where planes left every 10 minutes.

The factory was a butcher block of concrete.
Inside were rows of workstations
and behind each, a tall chair.

A bucket of plastic parts to my right,
we called it lugging, inserted the lugs
into a metal housing, avoiding its sharp teeth

with a trick of the hand.
I told myself stories to pass the time,
reuniting two lovers,

kept stamping the foot pedal,
one hundred completed every hour,
no ear plugs, machines shaking,

two 15-minute breaks
in a roomful of flickering fluorescent lights.
the only white girl

who sat near Eola from New Orleans
who told me life is like powder on a powder puff,
just ready to blow off, and Carmen from Mexico

who said my Spanish was bastante,
On days off, they invited me to their homes,
cooked chili and cornbread,

told me where to shop for the best bargains,
pointed out where the cops had murdered Fred Hampton
a few blocks from where I lived on the West Side

and how they’d never forget hearing Martin Luther King
speak at Soldier Field.
I was treated like a curiosity they couldn’t trust.

They asked, why didn’t I get a job
at the Loop downtown, apply for a position at Sears
like one of their cousins in college?

For eight hours a day I sat at a machine
wondering about all the things I didn’t know
and how everyone saw right through my emptiness.

One night I mashed my finger in the punch-press machine
held it bleeding, the metal staple still sticking up,
was rushed by the foreman to the hospital

who prepped me on the way to make sure
I told the workman’s comp people it was my fault.
No one was surprised when I left for the East Coast.


Demonstrations of Belief

People chained themselves in the street chanting
from Rockefeller Center to Rochdale Village,
Lenox Avenue to Columbia University, in Foley Square
where clerks protested the bombings of school children
repeating, Out of Saigon and into Selma, nearly every weekend
demonstrations at St Patrick’s Church,
the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, banners along Fifth Avenue
waved against police brutality.

It was the Harlem People’s Parliament, May Day Committee,
the Bread and Puppet Theater whose outstretched hands towered 20 feet
above us, the Vietnam Peace Parade,
soldiers who’d lost their limbs across an ocean,
teachers, steel workers, astronauts,
students for free tuition, mothers marching for peace,
War is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things
picketing against segregation in housing, demonstrating
for a Civilian Review Board, Malcolm X
scattered questions throughout his audience like seeds.

I sat, we were women blocking
the draft induction center at Whitehall Street,
a maze of police barricades and yellow tape,
yanked to my feet and thrown into a paddy wagon
before I could assume the duck and cover position
practiced at lunch counters throughout the South,
booked, jailed, and stuffed into a small cell
where we waited behind iron
bars didn’t change our message,
how nothing speaks louder than leaves of grass.


Image via Cotton Bros Studios via Pexels