It was 1992, just before the Watts riots, one of the family's on my cases invited me to attend Raymond's party. It was his eighth birthday. Many scenes from this party stand out in my mind, in a way such are in time capsules that expand in time while compressing it at the same time. Well the children, the girl children were playing in the small front yard in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the hood. I was amazed by the rhythm, the pure joy, and athletic agility of the young girls' double ductching with two long jump ropes. It was not one double duch going, but two or more going on at once with three girls jumping between the two ropes in each, most of them had their hair tightly braided in the fashions of the time, or in pig tails, or both. They still have not shed their baby features.
Then, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG all of the children hit the ground, rope stopped. Color plastic hair elastics no longer bouncing on the girls' heads in carefree innocent singing child rapturous wonder that seemed completely oblivious to all of life's darker forces; now they are covered with clenched hands. It is as we were in the middle of an air raid.
By the time I hit the ground, they had already said to one another, it was only falling boards. A burst of laughter and sigh of release, shuu, as they instantly resumed their sophisticated jump roping as if nothing had happened.
I was still seeing my life flash in front of me, feeling the shock of experiencing a drive by. Thoughts still ringing, 'this could be it, 'Please god help me, ' and of course the sublime wonder and terror when glimpsing death. Such thoughts flashed through the children's minds as well, but they automatically dismissed them and went on as if nothing had happen, monthly, weekly daily hourly, intrusions of random madness are the norm.
One of the kids stood out, she jumped rope just as effortlessly as the other girls. Many things are unique about her, she was darker than the rest, almost pure black, she had even more energy and was more daring than the other girls and boys for that matter, all of whom already over flowed with gumption. She was about six years old, cute, girlly yet compact with assertive vitality, bursting with energy and life, 'Mom' she yelled, 'play hopscotch with me.' She made a hopscotch path out of color cholk. 'No Tam, can't you see I am busy, I have to pay attention to the other kids, it is not fair if I only pay attention to you, ' her mother Neesee yelled out. To this Tam started crying.
Well watching her cry, it felt to me that all of the disappointment of the world was coming out of her. A tide of sadness and despair that threatened to wash over the world with a force greater than Noah's flood, this coming from a child, this concentrated innocent precocious wonder who had more life, more joy, then the world could contain. Where is her uckine father I thought, why let the poor kid suffer like this.
I played hopscotch with her, The adults looked at me as if I was from another world, which I was, she, Tam looked at me as if I was Jesus Christ himself, Santa, summer incarnated, god himself.
She hopscotch's with skill, with finesse, with abandonment she hopscotch's into the obstacle she set for herself. She set the challenge and she was going to do it, no matter how impossible. She made it through. I thought she was going to break a leg. The only thing broken was my heart. But she, this kid, hopscotch right into it, my heart, into my soul. The accomplishment of this incredible task meant nothing to her, she would have done it again, blindfolded and backwards. What mattered to her was that someone was there seeing her do this, that she did matter, that someone on this earth was witnessing her life, was cherishing it. Tam, 'you are going to fall and cut your ucken legs, you already have ucken knees like a boy from all the time you ucken fell before, ' her mother says. Mom watch. Her mother hold's up the back of her hand, 'watch this.'
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Comments about this poem (1992 by Anthony Cavuoti )
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