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Mike Rios walks

below the yellow street lamp glow.

White T- shirt,

 black pressed pants.

He is wearing The Uniform.

His hands

are tucked away

in his pockets.

He shuffles his feet from side to side

and looks up,

head tilted,

he is saying something.

 

I do not remember

the words,

but I cannot forget the

sentiment.

 

It is the wistful scolding

of a boy who cares

 if I make it home

 unscathed.

The words are muffled,

under his breath.

 

I get a

“get your ass home now” look,

with a

“because, I can’t always stick up for you” glance.

 

Sometimes I am just too careless to take care of.

 

My mind,

 lost somewhere,

far from this street.

 

Sometimes

there are too many boys,

 testing the parameters

 of their aggression

out on a loner

like me,

 to defend me in any way,

 without a fight.

 

 After all,

they,

are his friends too.

 

I try to be tough around him, so he does not have to choose.

 

We have different conversations

When it’s just him

and no one has to be on guard.

He is street wise,

and I am not.

He is kind and I am just naïve.

 

We share his boom box

and my garage.

We make parties out of nothing at all.

 

Life on Atlantic St,

and off of Del Monte and Garner,

is not easy for either one of us.

I do not understand this

 then.

I am the one running all the time.

 

He has to fight

more than I have to run.

To stay in one piece

To stay whole.

To survive.

 

Boys in the barrio cannot run.

 

We moved away from the east side of Salinas a long time ago,

but we carry the bravado inside.

 We used it differently

 to make it through

 to the present moment

 in our lives.

 

 

I am 12,

almost at the corner of Atlantic St.

If I turn around

 I will see him watching me.

 

I am home.

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