The nightmare returns: It is 1981,
Inauguration Day, and on the television screens
The Good Guys are in. “Today the world is bright,” they say.
Now we will be led by
People like us.”
In the glare of celebration, whole neighborhoods dissolve
Off the screen, invisible,
Walking toward the subway, from where I have been teaching
Young adults who never learned to read in school,
With sudden clarity, I see
Dazed and aimless men standing on corners.
A grandmother holds a child by one hand,
Dragging a half-full grocery cart.
A broken church marquee proclaims: JOHN 3:16:
AND GOD SO LOVE. .. . .
Though I ride this subway line, under decaying streets,
And come home to this block of shabby walk-ups,
I could blend in with those bright rulers and their wives.
Our apartment here is newly renovated.
My face is white, my clothes are new.
I am a “young professional”
Desirable tenants, we are just passing through.
The housekeeper has been here.
The walls seem whiter than I remembered,
Clean without my labor.
But on the gleaming window frame
A brown cockroach, the size of my thumb
Looks at me.
In this city, such creatures inhabit all our houses.
The rich use chemicals to remove them when they come.
The poor live with them, having no choice.
Reaching for the spray can, I forget for a moment
The colonies of his fellows
Who live within these walls, and under these streets,
And in my neighbors’ houses.
Looking back at him,
Because I can decide
To let him live.