This is a version of Noose York intended for readers looking to share their own poems in our comment section. Click here to listen to an audio version of the poem.
Waiting for a Crown Victoria
on the corner of Central & Putnam
in the Bushwick section of Old Medina
Waiting here on the corner
for a Crown Victoria which finally shows up
after running past a traffic light
without the thought of a fast child
crossing the street
chasing her mother’s milk
grocery list in hand.
Pulling up to a hard stop
The car doors unlock in a dominos spill.
The driver jumps out
points his finger and barks,
“What are you doing here,
got any drugs on you buddy?”
This is not the cab
I was waiting for,
not the Spanglish taxi man
who always tells me on my way to JFK
I could get more bang
for my dollar Americano
if I spend my money in DR.
who jumps out of the passenger side
with a walkie-talkie chirping
is shaped like a radio DJ
Too many crack-of-dawn diners in his blood
He grips his pistol and also barks,
“Hey big guy, where were you coming from?”
The kids up the block
take their eyes off the moon
and I am center stage
under that same moon, luminous
against the storefront dry cleaner,
shoved toward the cold glass
by the hype man behind the badge
face pressed tough against the cold glass,
needle-and-thread neon sign rat-a-tat-tatting.
I stare at the Selena-shaped tailor sewing inside.
Wanting to speak, even if I stutter,
I still have to utter the words
to these officers
for those kids who were staring at the moon,
for their older brothers,
their uncles dragging their backaches
back from a prideful hard day’s labor.
Wanting to speak for them with valor
capture for these blue bloods
the beautiful confidence
snatched every day on this corner
I pull out the heart to say,
“Yes sir, no…”
An empty can crooning,
“No sir, yes…”
The rhythmless words cut off by the rattlesnakes
these nerves cut short by the quotas
because history on this corner has proven
that collars have to be made
by the end of the month
and these backward numbers have nothing
in common with real suspects
Like outta-town gun laws and Walmart shoppers.
I go over the speech in my head
“What are you going to arrest me for, officers?”
Shit, that’s easy.
“Do I look suspicious by the trends I wear
for standing on the corner waiting for a cab?
On the corner of a street you don’t own…”
Damn, too liberal.
“Sir, why do these men
only get stopped for being black,
for owning their brown skin?”
That is it! That’s the stinger.
But just then
the radio DJ checks my chin and my pockets
while his partner
kicks my legs wide and to the side,
and I finally yell out,
“Do you even know who Israel Putnam was?!”
Do you know this corner was named after
an American revolutionary
who killed the last remaining wolf of
Connecticut in a town called Brooklyn?
You wouldn’t know that, hype man,
cause you did not go to school
to research the beat of your streets
to uphold the law
That’s right, this same corner
where your guns make me feel like
breathing air is a felony waiting to happen.
Is it because of the way we look?
How does this deep hooded sweater
I wear over my head
come with a license for you to kill
when I wear it to block out the frozen world
while the projects are overheated.
Maybe it’s my sneakers
I bought them for running,
but if I run we all know what happens next.
It can’t be the color of my skin
when you both look like distant cousins
If you go back far enough, aren’t we all…
Then again maybe not,
cause in my family we were raised
not to point at people
especially at officers
cause they don’t point back with their fingers.
You want to stop and frisk someone,
stop and frisk the mayor
cause his pockets
are low and his money is high
and the teachers are as broke as a joke.
You will get more out of his spare change
than what you can get
out of these rabbit ears right now.
You want to arrest somebody
go arrest that new neighbor across the street,
the one right there double-timing it
with the checkers-game flannel shirt
that could be mistaken for gang colors on me.
for not helping the doña next door
with her bags of empanada ingredients
up the stairs
cause he is too busy constructing,
plotting a blueprint plan
to open up a Vietnamese restaurant
run by Mexicans,
when Doña Margo been dodging hollow tips
on the corner of Central & Putnam
when your precinct wouldn’t even drive
down this block thirty years ago.
You want to arrest me,
arrest me for being honest
cause I was lying before.
The words never came out,
never blossomed…. Never.
Too scared of this new city
pushing me out
Too many front-page posts
it will be my word against yours
The truth is that you know like I know
that a law like stop-and-frisk
is built to send
more Puerto Ricans to Orlando
Blacks to Camden
and the Dominicans
to Amish country, Pennsylvania
But they will be back when it’s over.
Cause they gotta go home
We all gotta go home.
Read all of the articles in The Nation's special issue on New York City.