Rain gathers first along the edges of flat rooftops, pooling in the small depressions, sheeting along the slick flashing until it overfills the bead along the outside corner and trickles onto the building face, sucked into its sand skin, seeping down the brush-marked surface like a slow waterfall, like time running down, like the red pool blooming on the pavement around another accident. Fifty feet, a hundred feet tall, they dwarf us from fresh-stuccoed mural walls, the only new construction for blocks in any direction, portraits of our children, felled by bits of quick metal, looking forever a little to the left or right of us, no matter where we stand, at something just behind or past us that we never saw coming and will never bring to ground. The children get what they deserve. They have no business living here. They’re criminals, as in: it’s criminal to live like this and this is where we live. That they suck the tit of this neighborhood is unimaginable; unconscionable their ventures out of doors; that they should thrive another day unnurtured, inexcusable. For their memorials, the mural artists depict a doomed but hopeful look. There’s competition for the biggest walls with the clearest views, not just among the artists; the best commissions go to those whose subjects seem most vulnerable and haunted, like the children who are chosen for milk cartons. You may tell our children all you like that they make their own opportunities. They know exactly what they have coming. They live to be worthy of their walls. God help us but I think they’ve started making deals to earn them. Behind the drugstore, back to the street, wear your black cap backwards. My brother will do you after you do me. They’ll paint us a city block.

Copyright © December 4, 2006 David Hodges

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