After training as a journalist and spending years covering stories all over the world, I returned to my family home in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and began to listen in a deeper way to the stories of the people who live here. For 15 years now I have been writing short audio monologues in the voice of my neighbors, focusing deeply on place. When these disparate stories are gathered together, a chronicle of a single neighborhood will emerge. The three boys who were 12 and 13 when I wrote the following poem are now all men with children of their own. I am re-interviewing them to include new portraits of their lives.
Truing the Wheel
Three boys lean over an upside down mountain bike.
Turn the pedal back, spin it,
Smooth the spoke, true the wheel.
Andre is wearing a faded tee shirt,
The one with a picture of his father.
Julio says, I wish my father were dead.
Andre looks down at his 12-year-old chest, at Rest in Peace Daddy.
He died in prison, says Andre but the boys already know this.
He unbends a spoke, sends the wheel spinning.
Curtis grabs the tire, stops it cold, I’ve never seen my dad. He might be dead.
Mine’s in Arizona,” Julio says, and spits into the street.
Last time I saw him I was eight.
Julio spins the wheel again, hard, and the chain pops off.
If he walked up right now, says Julio, I’d beat him with this chain.
“Yeah,” nods Curtis.
I watch three boys, truing one wheel and I see the father wheel.
They keep working because when a wheel is true, it is steady and balanced.
It can take them down Snake Hill, to Rock Creek Park, and the river.
It can take them away.
Reprinted from Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Volume 11:1, 2010