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About this Poem 

"I visited the Museum of Modern Art last spring and spent time with David Alfaro Siqueiros’s painting, 'Echo of a Scream (1937).' I got spun out by the way he creates tension and movement through the interlocking details in the painting. This poem began as an emulation of Siqueiros’s compositional style and, in the process, became an ekphrastic aubade about my old neighborhood."
—Adrian Matejka

Mural with HUD Housing & School Bus (1980)


When 213b finally opens in a crack of yellow linoleum, 
Garrett comes out with the left side of his afro as flat 
as the tire that used to be on his mom’s car & the stuck 
snick of the cheap door locking behind him sounds exactly 
like someone trying to light a smoke with an empty lighter. 
Carriage House East, where menthols cough like a window
slamming shut & outside that window, somebody’s radio 
is already popping static. What’s left of the moon is popping 
white on blue. That’s when we stamp past the squat HUD 
brick toward school in the dark: shadow of the green trash 
can gang signed with misspellings, a mimeograph of Mickey 
Mouse flipping Iran the bird in the landlord’s lit window. 
We made the same middle-finger motion to the school bus 
before ignoring our bus stop & kept walking neighborhood- 
style—right hands skimming from chest down to waist 
then behind the back like a bad breast-stroker cupping air. 
Cue the sirens snagging the matted air like a cheap pick. 
Cue the smoker’s cough of early-morning walks to school. 
We strutted a backward lean like every one of the unconcerned 
streetlamps alternating between our side of the street 
& over there—in front of the fenced-in porches missing slats 
like teeth in a punched smile where Garrett’s cousin leaned 
against the side of one of the front buildings. She put 
two-fingered guns to her temples when she saw us: red patch 
of smoker’s skin around her mouth like a raw sun rising. 

Copyright © 2013 by Adrian Matejka. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Adrian Matejka. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 22, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka is the author of The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), which was nominated for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana. 

by this poet

poem

If there was ever a chance to go to outer space,
     it wasn’t here & it wasn’t for me, as off balance
on this distant planet as a buster getting a mouthful
     of knuckles. If there was a possibility of making it
out of this heliosphere, there never really was.
     Four eyes

poem

after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In the wobbly pirouette between song
& dust, dog-nosed living room windows
& a purple couch that should have been curbed
last July: Saturday sunlight cuts it all every
time you lean into some kind of ballet pose.
Your belly & knobby

2
poem

In 1981, Eris’s spacious face hadn’t been discovered
yet, my mother hadn’t taken a day off from Fort Ben
yet, & Pluto was still a planet. One of nine celestial
bodies snapped into drummed orbits around the Sun
like the orthodontic rubber bands no one in Carriage House
had. I hid my gaps