At seven in the morning, rocking at the stoplight
a turquoise convertible bounces on its whitewalls,
curly-haired white guys, naked from the waist up
quaking in the front seat. We’re student nurses,
twenty years old, fresh from night shift,
pediatric ward. I want to climb into that car,
drive with them straight out of this town.
Every night we tiptoe past the children,
ethereal in their pale, shallow sleep,
listen to their whimpers and their coughing.
Across the street, Audubon Ballroom
glows orange-neon over the empty building
where Malcom X was shot six months ago.
While we walk back to the dorm,
my best friend blurts:
I lost my virginity yesterday!
She’s praying she won’t have a baby,
her lover already on his way to Vietnam.
Yesterday, she spooned medicine
into the mouth of a dying toddler,
swollen like a pumpkin and the same color.
He spat the thick pink elixir
back on her face three times. Before
she could stop herself she raged
at his nagging mother,
If it’s so Goddamned easy, do it yourself!
In day sleep, I wake the turquoise girls,
the neon boys, take them down into the street,
teach them to rock past the elevator’s whir,
into a childhood free of oscilloscopes,
show them how to twist and roll,
hop to the noise of their own hearts.