Two cops hover over a group of boys
who have their feet spread and their hands
pushed up against an azure-tiled wall
outside the Blue Jay.
One of the twins is in the lineup,
and when I see him, I stop short
on my way to the trolley. The twins’ names
are DaVon and DeVon,
and the older one is bigger, say the neighbors.
But I can’t tell them apart, and not when one twin
passes by without the other. I just know
they both go by Von,
and I can’t go wrong. The drunks congregating
around the scene mumble that the cops
want the boys against the Blue Jay for a rash
of Avenue stickups.
I can’t understand that. Whichever Von this is,
maybe he’s into bad shit off the street,
but on the street he calls me, Mister Iain,
and when he says it,
he looks me in the eye. The other Von too.
The worst they’ve done in my sight: throw
empty liquor bottles onto the train tracks
below our blind alley.
Nothing I didn’t do as a kid. Nothing
I haven’t seen grown men do. And I never
saw it happen again. The smaller of the cops
standing over the line
is still a big, bullnecked guy, and when he orders
Von to turn around and face him, he also shoves
a shoulder blade, spinning the boy forward.
I see Von see me,
and say, Leave him alone—he’s a good kid,
and the other cop, the real big one, stares me down
as if he just witnessed me smash and grab
in broad daylight
and can’t wait to slam me into the concrete.
I back up farther into the crowd, which has grown
as people waiting for the always-late 15 trolley
join the drunks.
The smaller cop starts barking at Von and his friends.
I can’t hear their responses, can just see them shake
and nod, shake and nod until, with a final push for Von,
the cops let them go. The friends split
in different directions, a pair of them north up 29th,
a pair east on Girard, and Von by himself to the west.
I wheel around the crowd and think to catch him up,
but he’s moving fast,
and I can see the trolley car at the 31st Street stop.
I call after him, Von, you okay? And he calls back,
Yeah, Mister Iain—I’m okay, but he doesn’t turn
to look at me, keeps his head
cocked down and walks toward our street.
When the trolley creaks to the corner,
he’s halfway down the block. I climb the stairs,
and drop in my token,
which hits the other coins in the fare box
with a dull clink, metal on metal, like the jangle
of cuffs a boy doesn’t register as he goes
from cracking jokes
with friends to rammed against blue tiles
and the wall.