What We Made of Relocation

by Joe Engel

The streets were lit

with the same soft hue

as malt liquor, the color

of trouble we drank

after we swaggered 

through the night

on skateboards,

flaunted tricks formed

through endless practice. 

We were good enough

with the crack of wood

and rumble of polyurethane wheels

to cheer.

On those nights,

tricks were like birds

snagged from the air

as we claimed victory

then trained our stomachs

to hold down poison.

Emboldened by the auto workers

laid off from the plant,

that five years earlier

stoked the local economy.

Workers whose friends with families

packed their children

onto searing vinyl seats

of a car that once

came down their assembly line

who banked on a prospect 

that somewhere else

had availability.

Their kids, our classmates

whose jokes or focus

or beautiful faces

were taken at the end

of the school year.

The parking lots downtown

were left to their own erosion

abandoned to shards of glass

we dodged as we skated,

no one to stop us

except the cops

we began to know,

who would tell us 

to go a few blocks over

just to get us off their beat.

We changed locations

while empty store fronts watched,

doors locked, shelves hungry

as we rolled across the blocks,

not one angry complaint

until we crashed the corner store

where the owner saw us 

drawn to the back rack

of Hustlers and Playboys,

tacks to a magnet

with nothing 

but unsure laughter

and unexplainable attraction;

too young to buy.

He banished us

from his store, sure the customers

he really served,

deserved better company

than a bunch of giggling boys.

Oh, those magazines

meant for men, sold in seriousness

to be opened at home

after a double shift

to ease whatever it was

they were missing.

Magazines with images more moral

than paying for a woman 

on the streets in uptown

and cheaper.

But we laughed 

in our surprise

at our own desires, unaware

these glossy pictures helped men

with loneliness, anxiety

over wives who took 

all that they could in a van.

These men with those friends 

who migrated to a place 

circled on an atlas,

the destination for a wage 

fair for labor

that didn’t call for education

as long as they could still stand

after grinding down

some plump highway, I 80 or I 90,

with their families and their ethics 

hanging from their back.

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